Healthy Skratch Deep Dive: Mark Stone

As the 2010 NHL Entry Draft neared, NHL fans, media and teams debated who would go first overall: Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin, both labeled franchise players. Not only did we have two talents worthy of a first overall pick, but there was a deep pool of players to pick from. Jeff Skinner, Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan Johansen among a wide variety of others of prospects with a lot of hype, not all of whom panned out to their projections.

I am here to tell you that with 11 years worth of time to evaluate the group, the best player was taken in the 6th round. Long after every franchise had made several picks the Ottawa Senators took Mark Stone at 178th overall. Yes you understood that correctly, I am calling Mark Stone the best player from the 2010 draft. In fact, Mark Stone is a top 10 player in the NHL. Full stop.

While the NHL media and fans have the habit of calling a player underrated until that player becomes overrated (see players Toews and Doughty) this phenomena has never hit Mark Stone. As recently as two years ago he wasn’t even listed in the top 20 wingers in the league. Mind you, that list was made by the NHL Network, famous for never ever having a bad take (if you could not tell, I winked so hard while typing that my eye is shut permanently now.)

Take a look at his GAR (goal above replacement level). What a UNIT.

Obviously for as long as I have been interested in advanced stats in hockey, Mark Stone has been the king of praise from all the people in the game much smarter than me. All the graphs and data look impressive but can be really intimidating and hard to understand. So let’s start with basic stuff and we’ll build on those to the fancier stats. To explain the impact of a player like Mark Stone we need to look at his play from all angles. Not only is he elite defensively but he’s one of the best offensive play drivers in the league as well.

Lets start with defense shall we?

Defensive impact as a winger can be hard to judge because in today’s game wingers have the least responsibility in their own zone. One thing they can impose themselves on is winning the puck back in the offensive zone and the neutral zone. Takeaway numbers are a tangible way to know how someone is reading the play developing on the ice and is able to react before any actual defending needs to happen. The best defending is not having to defend at all.

Sebastian Aho deserves more praise than he gets as well.

Unsurprisingly, Stone is the best active player at this since the beginning of the 2018-2019 season. Such a sizeable gap between him and the next player shows you the ability he has to strip possession from his opponents; ahead of players that get included the Selke conversation every year (Ryan O’Reilly, Sasha Barkov). It’s important to note that this is not just a list of the best defensive forwards but also includes defensemen who we would assume are best at this.

Takeaways don’t give us a large enough idea of defensive play to make a full conclusion. It’s nice to steal the puck back, but what about when that step is impossible. What happens when Mark Stone is in his own zone and needs to prevent a scoring chance?

Well, we can thank Micah McCurdy and his heat maps for a visual representation of exactly that. Below are two heat maps, one for when Mark Stone is on the ice, and one for when Vegas is playing while he’s on the bench. In red are the locations where shots are coming from more frequently than the NHL average, in blue are where shots are limited.

Overall when he is on the ice, the opposing team is close to 20% less dangerous than when he sits on the bench. Given Vegas is very average on defence when he is off the ice, that 20% difference can be associated with Stone’s ability to block passing lanes and limit opportunities for players down in the slot. Look at that blue wall around the net. NOTHING is coming from those areas. I can only assume every goalie wishes for this kind of support when they throw pennies into fountains or blow out their birthday candles (actually don’t do that last one anymore goalies, I have seen enough germ spreading videos to know that was a really bad collective habit).

Even more impressive is that Mark Stone faces top competition every shift (that’s a no brainer for the coach really). So not only does the team limit dangerous chances more when he’s on the ice, they do it when the opposing players are even more likely to create dangerous chances.

If the opposing team is taking shots from the point as opposed to the inner slot, any coach would go home and write love letters to their players. So simply put, when Mark Stone is on the ice, the other team shoots from the inner slot WAY less, instead all their shots come from the point. Unless every defender is able to shoot like Shea Weber, that’s probably the best outcome possible.

To put this in context below is Patrice Bergeron’s heat maps (with and without him on the ice).

That guy wins the Selke every year based on reputation alone, so where is the love for Stone. Boston is a strong defensive team, and Patrice is an aging star, but it is clear that Stone is having a bigger impact than even Bergeron this year.

What I love about this video is it shows you exactly what Mark Stone does. A steal in the defensive zone, a beautiful tape to tape pass to spring the offence and a goal to finish off the play. Man, Max Pacioretty must be loving life these days. Imagine going from David Desharnais and Dale Weise to Mark Stone and who-cares-the-other-winger-is-Mark-Stone (but also Chandler Stephenson is a good little player as well).

So you saw him score in the video above. I can assure you he does that quite often. Almost a point a game player 9 years into his NHL career.

Points aren’t everything. Sometimes you need more proof of the sheer dominance of a point a game player who played 7 seasons on the OTTAWA SENATORS!

Well fine, there is more proof.

Maybe you want to know where his shots are coming from. Players get lucky and score from outside the dirty areas all the time.

Oh, well it seems like he does get to those dirty areas. Look at the location of those shots. The vast majority coming from within the “pentagon of death.” But the real kicker is he is a better passer than shooter. Sure he gets great chances, but while he is on the ice his team also greatly improves its offensive chances.

Though his teammates don’t score from within the crease area, they do shoot really often from right between the hashmarks. This would lead me to believe that those shots come from one timers and open shots from great passes, both of which Mark Stone is great at setting up. A shooter like Max Pacioretty doesn’t need the same amount of chances as an average player. Their connection leads to unique changes in gameplay specifically with Stone, who as you’ll see in another map later on, used to focus his team’s offence much closer to the crease. I assume he was controlling the offence because, again, he played on the senators from 2013 to 2018. So basically it was him and Erik Karlsson and 15 other skaters that could have been replaced by literally any AHL player, and then Cody Ceci, who could be replaced by me (if you have seen me skate you will know how incredible that burn was).

Special teams, just like the rest of his game, are greatly improved by his presence. The only issue is the minutes are quite limited so far. Small sample sizes lead to large swings in either direction.

Vegas’s power-play is brutal when Stone is on the bench. Like really, really bad. As soon as he jumps on however, they go to above average instantly; a 35% in danger.

The penalty kill also goes from average to a black hole of chances against while he’s on. These numbers are so ridiculous we can assume they will not at all progress at this rate. We can assume that

The best part about Mark Stone is that he’s been this good for the majority of his career. He is always on the ice for more shots for than shots against (Corsi), more goals for than against (GF%, which is +/- but with actual context), more scoring chances for than against (SCF%), and more expected goals for than against (xGF%). All of which all different ways to say that when he is on the ice Mark Stone’s team does well defensively and offensively. Since we are seeing these numbers over a nine year career we can guarantee it’s no fluke. His impact is impressive and repeatable.

For anyone looking for more statistical proof of his dominance in Goals Above Replacement in every situation are calculated by the Evolving Hockey twins.

So what did we learn?

Well for starters next time someone asks you about your thoughts on the Selke trophy, your projected Team Canada lineup at the next Olympics or just an underrated player to keep an eye on, I hope you say Mark Stone. He deserves all the praise we can give him and probably more. Vegas is lucky to have him.

More importantly we learnt that Kris is a huge nerd. And that my friends, is priceless information.

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