The 2017-18 NHL season enters its third month Friday. Though several players have emerged as likely candidates to play in the 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Game on Jan. 28, a deeper dive into statistics helps identify some off-the-radar players who are worthy of consideration.
Even though the All-Star Game format has been a 3-on-3 tournament since 2016, the following lineup is built in the traditional six-player fashion. It is not intended to be the six best players by position, but rather those who are performing in ways that aren't often publicized. it includes the League's statistical leaders in unheralded areas, like drawing penalties, driving possession and playing tough minutes.
Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames
From a statistical standpoint, Tkachuk checks all the boxes. He takes on top opponents in each zone. He has 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in 23 games. His SAT of plus-108 is seventh in the League. He's 2-for-2 in the shootout and is tied with Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov with 17 drawn penalties while taking seven minor penalties. The differential of plus-10 is tied for first with New Jersey Devils forward Nico Hischier (13 drawn penalties).
Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers
Face-off success is measured by which team touches the puck first. From that perspective, Zibanejad's face-off winning percentage of .521 at 5-on-5 isn't particularly remarkable.
Face-off success is measured differently in the world of analytics. When measured as the number of shot attempts that occur within 10 seconds of a face-off relative to the League average, Zibanejad is second with an NSPF (net shots post faceoff) of 18.75, according to Puck Base. The leader is Calgary Flames forward Mikael Backlund (20.43).
Zibanejad, who's out indefinitely with a concussion, leads the Rangers with 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 24 games. At 5-on-5, New York's share of all shot attempts increased from 45.7 to 53.76 percent when Zibanejad is on the ice for a Relative SAT of plus-8.1 that's tied with Columbus Blue Jackets forward Pierre-Luc Dubois for 20th in the League (minimum 10 games).
Video: NYR@CAR: Zibanejad scores on long clearing attempt
Mark Stone, Ottawa Senators
A lot of the credit for Ottawa's success last season went to defenseman Erik Karlsson, but there's plenty to be shared with forward Mark Stone, who leads the Senators with 24 points (14 goals, 10 assists) in 23 games.
Stone also leads the Senators with a Relative SAT of plus-7.8 (minimum 10 games played), which is nothing new. From 2014-15 to 2017-18 combined, the Senators have outshot their opponents 3,493-3,154 at 5-on-5 with Stone on the ice, for a Senators-leading SAT of plus-339. Ottawa's share of shot attempts improves from 47.1 to 52.55 percent with Stone on the ice, for a Relative SAT of plus-5.4 that's tied 11th among active forwards (minimum 100 games).
Jared Spurgeon, Minnesota Wild
Among defensemen, Spurgeon is tied for 19th with 15 points (three goals, 12 assists) in 23 games. However, most of those ahead of him are used in more of an offensive-minded fashion at even strength and on the power play, and aren't assigned the same minutes that Spurgeon handles in each zone and while shorthanded.
Spurgeon averages 19:35 minutes per game at even strength and 3:23 shorthanded, which is 14th and tied for 11th among NHL defensemen. He's third with 20 blocked shots when shorthanded, and 20th overall with 51.
In terms of shot-based metrics, Spurgeon's Relative SAT of plus-7.8 is fifth among defensemen (minimum 10 games).
Video: MTL@MIN: Spurgeon one-times PPG in the 3rd
Josh Manson, Anaheim Ducks
When the Ducks defensemen were hit hard with injuries this season, Manson stepped forward. He is one of a dozen NHL defensemen who have at least 11 points and are averaging at least 3:00 minutes per game killing penalties this season.
Tough minutes can be defined as those that start in the defensive zone and against top opponents. From this perspective, Manson is Anaheim's top defenseman. He has a zone start percentage of 42.62 percent that's 14th among NHL defensemen (minimum 10 games) and a quality of competition estimate that's 12th at 50.71 percent (minimum 100 minutes played), according to Corsica Hockey. Despite the difficulty of his assignment, Manson's Relative SAT of plus-7.4 is sixth among defensemen (minimum 10 games).
Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who won the Vezina Trophy last season, is generally perceived to be the NHL's best goalie in 2017-18. What if there was someone off the radar whose numbers match up almost as nicely?
Video: WPG@COL: Hellebuyck turns away Nieto with blocker
Among those to play at least 10 games, Bobrovsky leads the NHL with a .935 save percentage, is second with 14.10 goals saved above average (GSAA) behind Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (14.49), and is eighth with a quality start percentage of 65.0 percent (minimum 10 starts), according to the data at Hockey Reference.
Hellebuyck is ninth with a .925 save percentage, seventh with an 8.22 GSAA, and is ahead of Bobrovsky with a 72.2 quality start percentage, third behind Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby (77.8.) and Martin Jones of the San Jose Sharks (76.5).