Just say Nosek: Tomas Nosek has been an analytics godsend for the Golden Knights
The former Czech league standout and fringe Red Wing forward appears to be more than an average fourth-liner.
May I be honest for a moment?
When the Vegas Golden Knights selected Tomáš Nosek from the Detroit Red Wings in June’s expansion draft, my first reaction was “Who?”
With Petr Mrazek available — the player that Danny, Ryan and I suggested the Knights take in our mock drafts — why would Vegas take Nosek, an above-average AHL’er but a player with just one point to his name in 17 NHL contests?
Through 24 games as a Golden Knight, we are beginning to see why.
Nosek, who has averaged just 10:43 per night, has been one of the team’s most valuable players on a rate basis. Nosek ranks fourth on the team with 0.87 individual expected goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, a hair ahead of even William Karlsson (0.85), the team’s leading goalscorer.
What about in a full league context?
Granted, it is a mighty small sample size, but it paints him as an above-average offensive talent, something that fourth-liners are not typically known for. His performance was exceptional in those 17 games in Detroit as well, with his ixGF/60 sitting 51st out of 563 forwards with at least 150 minutes played between 2015-16 and 2016-17.
So what are fourth-liners known for? Grit? Heart? Let’s spare the trolls and just say “defense.” As much as this article has served to pump Nosek’s tires, it’s time to deflate them a bit. The 25-year-old has not been a strong defensive player this year, ranking in about the 32nd percentile in xG against per 60 minutes and in the 15th percentile in Corsi Against per 60 minutes (CA/60). However, he has been deployed short-handed as well, which can capture another area of his defensive value, and this is a place where he has shined.
Whether penalty killers hold an inherent value has been a point of debate for many analysts, but one thing appears certain: this guy should be, without a doubt, on the top penalty killing unit. On a rate basis, Nosek has held opposing teams to the fewest shot attempts against and the fewest expected goals against in a PK situation among Golden Knights players. League-wide, Nosek ranks 13th and fifth respectively out of 181 qualifying players in those areas.
For proof, look no further than this clip, where Nosek dispossesses one of the premier defensemen in the league, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, skates up ice and snipes a goal past Arizona goalie Scott Wedgewood:
Further, Nosek has not forced his team into penalty killing situations, taking just one penalty this season (a tripping minor against Montreal).
So where does this leave Nosek? His offense appears far too good for the fourth line, however his defense at 5-on-5 is not necessarily befitting of your typical grinder. I propose more of a third-line role for Nosek, alongside top-unit PK time alongside Reilly Smith. Sure, he has just six points this season, but just 15 players this year average below 12 minutes a game and have five or more points. Nosek did have some third-line time in the absence of William Carrier and David Perron and played considerably well.
Perhaps general manager George McPhee had some recency bias, and took Nosek based on his team-leading 22 points in 19 games when he led the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins to a Calder Cup title last season.
Whatever the reason, it appears GMGM made the right choice.
With all that in mind, let’s check in on Mrazek, once thought of as Detroit’s goalie of the future, inked to a two-year, $8 million deal, a high price for RFA years on a player with just 94 games to his name (albeit one with a .920 save percentage and a 2.29 goals against average at the time the contract was signed).
To put it simply, he has not been great. So far this season, he sports a 5-on-5 save percentage of .905, which ranks 44th of 52 goaltenders with at least 300 minutes played this season. Granted, when one accounts for shot quality, he comes out a little closer to average (29th). In case you’re curious (you are), Malcolm Subban ranks 11th and Maxime Lagace sits at No. 51.
All statistics from Corsica.Hockey and Hockey-Reference.com