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Tencer's Blog: Dissecting the Minutes

by Dan Tencer / Edmonton Oilers
Jordan Eberle currently sits at 9th in NHL scoring with 54 points, following close behind Pavel Datsyuk and Daniel Sedin (Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club).
Jordan Eberle leads the Edmonton Oilers in scoring with 24 goals and 30 assists for 54 points. Those totals are good enough, currently, to have Eberle inside the top 10 of NHL scoring. Remarkably, he has posted these totals despite the fact that the Oilers have 6 forwards who lead him in average 5-on-5 ice time per game. What I want to look at today is a simple question: does Jordan Eberle have consistent offensive success because his minutes are managed efficiently, or could he produce at an even higher level with increased ice time?

Jordan Eberle is 9th in NHL scoring heading into action tonight. There are 8 players ahead of him in point totals, but Eberle beats them all in points per 60 minutes of ice time. For comparison sake, let's look at Jordan Eberle versus the league's leading scorer, Evgeni Malkin. Eberle, on average, registers one point for every 15:32 that he's on the ice. Malkin needs 16:13 of ice time on average to notch a point, and you can throw in 18:27 for Daniel Sedin of the Canucks and 18:53 for Steven Stamkos of the Lightning. The numbers give an indication that it's possible, had Eberle been given the same average ice time as these players through the season to date, he would be the top scorer in the NHL.

We don't know that for sure, of course, and never will. But it is sufficiently intriguing to note that of the top 35 scorers in the league, Eberle is the only one who averages less than 17 minutes of total ice time per game. In fact, only one other player (Scott Hartnell in Philadelphia) averages below 18 minutes. Malkin plays 21:24, Stamkos plays 21:23 and the average of the top scorers in the league falls somewhere between 19 and 20 minutes per night. It's clear that Eberle is producing points at an elite level despite not seeing the same ice time as the players that surround him in the scoring race.

It was worth checking on the powerplay numbers to try to find an explanation for this. I referenced Eberle's 5-on-5 ice time being well down the depth chart of the Oilers, but a quick glance reveals that he's 2nd on the team (behind only Nugent-Hopkins) in average powerplay ice time per game. These, of course, are the premium scoring minutes. So, in terms of the Oilers team scoring race, it's a big boost to Eberle's totals to be given more of these minutes than just about everybody else. But, back to the comparison against the league leaders, and wouldn't you know it, Eberle is doing more with less on the powerplay, too. Jordan averages 3:30 of powerplay ice time per game. Of the 8 players that lead him in the scoring race, only 3 of them average less. Phil Kessel in Toronto is off by 5 seconds at 3:25, his teammate Joffrey Lupul off by 5 more seconds at 3:20, and Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings clocks in at 3:05. The top 2 guys in the league, Evgeni Malkin and Claude Giroux, are way ahead at 4:30 and 4:08 respectively.

The players in the group ahead of Eberle in the scoring race tend to rely significantly more on their powerplay production to get them points, too. Eberle's powerplay points account for just shy of 28% of his total output. 6 of the 8 players ahead of him have that number at 29% or higher, and in a couple of cases (Claude Giroux & Daniel Sedin) that number is above 40%.

The question that remains is whether or not Eberle could do more with his minutes elevated. I'll admit that there's every possibility that Eberle's success has been, at least partly, as a result of properly managed minutes throughout the balance of the season. If you look at the consistent ice time totals for players like Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Smyth on the Oilers and then glance at how much their production has dropped from the first 25 games to the last 25 games, it's easy to suggest that fatigue is a factor. With Eberle, who has played above 20 minutes in a single game precisely twice in 50 outings this year, the coaching staff might argue that the efficient use of the player is a positive.

In a game like the one we saw in Detroit on Wednesday, however, the disparity in ice time, particularly 5-on-5, opens up the question about whether or not a few more minutes of Eberle and a few less minutes of someone else could change the outcome of a game. The way that Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins have performed all season, and the way that Sam Gagner has performed lately, it's easy to argue that they should be dominating the ice time charts for the Oilers. That's not a commentary on playing the young players because they're the future, it's a commentary on playing the young players because they're the best players. Would it make a difference? I don't know. As I said, we have to entertain the possibility that it could backfire and fatigue them and dilute their production. I guess all I'm saying is that I'd be anxious to find out.

You can listen to Dan on Inside Sports weeknights from 6 to 9 on 630 CHED. Follow Dan on Twitter | @dantencer
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