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Could Carl Hagelin Help Evgeny Kuznetsov?

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Looking for ways to limit Kuznetsov’s biggest weakness

Ottawa Senators v Washington Capitals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Although most of the focus on the Washington Capitals trade deadline acquisitions centered around the (smart) acquisition of defensemen Nick Jensen, the Capitals also were able to snag the well-travelled winger Carl Hagelin.

Initially, most of the focus on where Hagelin could play has been centered around the idea that he could give the Caps 3rd and 4th lines a boost. Indeed, when Hagelin was acquired, NBC Sports Washington’s J.J. Regan speculated that Hagelin would play more of depth role:

The fourth line has been a major question mark for the Caps this season. No combination has seemingly managed to gain much traction with head coach Todd Reirden and this move looks like it directly addresses that.

Indeed, Hagelin’s first few games have indicated that he’s starting in a limited role, as he’s averaging around 12 minutes per game and has played mostly with Nic Dowd and Chandler Stephenson.

But this is perhaps selling Hagelin a bit short! Hagelin, in particular, has become somewhat of an analytics darling for his ability to limit high danger chances. In particular, his high danger heat map on HockeyViz reveal a whole lot of, well, blue in front of the net:

Hagelin’s heat map (from HockeyViz)

As Sam discussed a few days ago, the evidence is very strong generally that Hagelin drives play consistently, and he’s consistently very good on the back end.

This is in stark contrast to the Capitals as a whole, who have consistently struggled, over the last two years, to limit high danger chances. Although I could bore you with stats (like that the Caps rank 29th in high danger chances against and 24th in scoring chances against), another HockeyViz chart shows this quite well:

Washington Capitals heat map (from HockeyViz)

So which forwards are causing this problem? Although the blame should be widely dispersed and targeted at the defense (though perhaps there’s a bit of Stanley Cup hangover still at play), there appears to be one culprit amongst the forwards who stands out…Evgeny Kuznetsov. To see this in stark contrast, below are the Caps forwards (who have played over 100 minutes) ranked by the amount of high danger chances they give up at 5v5:

Capitals Forwards by High Danger Chances For %

Player High Danger Chances For%
Player High Danger Chances For%
Dmitrij Jaskin 53.57
Nic Dowd 50.68
Tom Wilson 48.39
Nicklas Backstrom 45.99
T.J. Oshie 45.86
Lars Eller 44.93
Brett Connolly 44.62
Jakub Vrana 44.41
Andre Burakovsky 43.24
Devante Smith-Pelly 43.04
Alex Ovechkin 42.35
Evgeny Kuznetsov 41.71
Chandler Stephenson 40.95
Travis Boyd 39.2

Although Kuznetsov ranks ahead of Stephenson & Boyd, Kuznetsov averages significantly more ice time than the pair of them, and is obviously counted on to have a bigger role. Again utilizing HockeyViz, Kuznetsov’s heat map further shows his propensity to give up chances right next to the net:

Evgeny Kuznetsov Heat Map

If he’s going to continue to play a big role (which he is), then experimenting with moving Hagelin up to play with Kuznetsov could help mitigate both the Caps and Kuzy’s biggest weakness.


So, if we were to match the two of them up together, what would those lines look like? Here’s one potential option:

Ovechkin-Backstrom-Vrana
Hagelin-Kuznetsov-Wilson
Burakovsky-Eller-Oshie
Connolly-Dowd-Jaskin

This would have a few obvious benefits. First, it would allow the team a chance to reunite Ovechkin and Backstrom…which is something that every Capitals fan would enjoy, Second, it pairs Kuznetsov with two players who are known to have strong defensive reputations. And third, it’d place proven scorers up and down the lineup, and might be tough for opposing coaches to line-match on a regular basis.