Using NHL EDGE to analyze why Phil Di Giuseppe is playing over Andrei Kuzmenko

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Cody Severtson
6 months ago
For the fourth time this season, Andrei Kuzmenko will miss a game for the Vancouver Canucks as a healthy scratch.
Rightly or wrongly, the fanbase has taken issue with Kuzmenko’s place on the scratch list. Since the club’s Tuesday nighter against Nashville, fans on Twitter have exhaustively listed players from the bottom six who they believed should be sat over Kuzmenko.
The player who drew most Kuz-heads’ ire was Phil Di Giuseppe.
“I’m tired of answering questions about him,” said Tocchet when asked about Kuzmenko after the club’s 6-5 loss to New Jersey. “He’s got to forecheck. Let’s start with that.”
After seeing the open critique of Tocchet’s decision to play Phil Di Giuseppe over Kuzmenko, I decided to look into the underlying numbers, courtesy of NHL’s new analytics service, NHL Edge™.
Are the fans right? Should Tocchet be playing Kuzmenko over Phil Di Giuseppe? What is Di Giuseppe doing that Kuzmenko isn’t?
So we’re clear: NHL EDGE is an analytics tool that is still in its infancy and should not be taken immediately as the end-all-be-all fact of the matter.
On a surface level, EDGE is a great tool to use alongside sites like NaturalStatTrick.com, which filters NHL.com’s play-by-play data to provide publicly available stats on player performances.
Combined with the eye test, both tools can work together quite nicely in assessing and understanding a coach’s roster decisions.
With that. Let’s get into it!
EDGE’s raw overview of each player matches the eye test. Kuzmenko has spent most of his even-strength ice time inside the offensive zone and maintains a relatively high-end shooting clip, converting on 14.6% of his shots.
On the other hand, Di Giuseppe doesn’t have the same kind of offensive juice as Kuzmenko—converting on just 7.9% of his chances—but is spending a relatively similar amount of time in the offensive zone while generating almost as many shots on goal.
According to the Shutdownline’s Corey Sznajder, neither player is creating much at 5-on-5 for the Canucks nor profiting off of the scoring chances generated by their linemates.
What separates the two in a major way harkens back to Tocchet’s assertion that to secure more minutes, Kuzmenko needs to be the first guy on the forecheck, backchecking through the neutral zone, moving his feet, hustling on line changes, and generally not cheating for offence.
It’s there that Di Giuseppe has lapped Kuzmenko in the, what we’ll call, hustle per-60 department.
Di Giuseppe has 11 times as many speed bursts over 20 mph as Kuzmenko, nearly triple the number of speed bursts in the 18-20 mph range as Kuz!
If you’re Tocchet, and you’ve spent the entire offseason and preseason talking about player fitness, accountability, habits, and work ethic. How can you take out someone who’s actively busting their ass during their minutes?
According to NHL EDGE, Kuzmenko is below the 50th percentile in every skating speed category this season, and that’s with favourable deployment in the top six to start the season, on the power play, and unfavourable deployment on the fourth line in games where Kuzmenko ought to have been playing to “prove the coach wrong.”
The defining reason why Di Giuseppe plays minutes over Kuzmenko is simple. He kills penalties.
Well, in fact!
For those same people who wondered why Noah Juulsen maintained a lineup spot during the team’s November struggle, all you have to do is look under the hood at NaturalStatTrick.com to see why a player like Di Giuseppe has firmly ensconced himself with this coaching staff.
It’s not just that he’s an able body for Tocchet, Foote, Yeo, and Gonchar. It’s that the Canucks have their lowest rate of goals against per 60 minutes of shorthanded ice time when Di Giuseppe is killing penalties. In fact, of all skaters in the NHL who’ve played at least 30 minutes on the PK (an arbitrary number meant to filter out the guys who play less than one shift on the PK per game), PDG ranks 1st in the NHL for fewest goals allowed per 60 minutes of shorthanded ice time.
And, if you’re worried I’m cherry-picking, here’s the NHL’s PK leaders this season with only 20 minutes of shorthanded ice time!
PDG ranks 8th, which is pretty dang good for a guy who averages over a minute per game on a penalty kill that was once ranked the worst in NHL history!
While neither guy is lighting the lamp the way you’d hope. They’re both for very different reasons. For Kuzmenko, because the guy nearly hit 40 goals in his rookie season, but has looked like a shell of his former self during his sophomore campaign.
For PDG, it’s because his NHL campaign began with such promise. Featuring as a key cog in a hard-matchup, top-six role alongside Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller where they outscored their opposition 12 to 4 at even strength through the first 15 games of the season. During that span, PDG picked up 3 goals and 4 assists. Since being healthy-scratched, and moved down the lineup, Di Giuseppe has just a single assist through 15 games.
If you’re betting on scoring upside, I understand why you’d prefer Kuzmenko over Di Giuseppe in your bottom six. A potential 40-goalscorer will not get off the schneid sitting in the press box.
Unfortunately, the bottom six isn’t hurting for goalscoring! In fact, the team’s bottom six is scoring regularly and getting quality PK reps from those players to boot.
Converting at 14.6% at even strength hasn’t been enough for Kuzmenko to earn the coaching staff’s trust. If he wants to usurp Di Giuseppe for his role in the bottom six, it’s really simple: he has to move his feet.
A LOT more than he has this season thus far.

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