Let’s Find Some Hope: Vinnie Smalls

I don’t mean to do this every day, and seeing as how we’re now just a month away from likely player reviews, we’ll go back over this. But I was perusing around the stats pages the other day because my life is an empty desert of the real and I stumbled across something highly interesting.

We here at the lab like Vinnie Hinostroza. He’s quick, seems to be in the right place at all times, and if nothing else is an entertaining watch. We’ve opined that if he were to max out he could be a third-line winger, and grab your checking assignments and not let you down. He could be a Michael Frolik if you need to compare him to someone, as the Hawks are seemingly wont to do. Maybe even slightly more finish, as strange as that sounds given Frolik’s pedigree and billing.

Maybe that was a touch unfair to Vinnie.

As I pointed out on Twitter last night, Vinnie Hinostroza is 19th in the league in attempts per 60 minutes at even strength. The names right behind him? Taylor Hall, Patrick Kane, Kevin Fiala, Josh Anderson, Alex DeBrincat. The names directly ahead of him are: Timo Meier, Jonathan Marchessault, Arturi Lehkonen, Craig Smith, James van Riemsdyk. If you want to finish out the rest of the top 20 from there, it’s Atkinson, Ehlers, Bergeron, MacKinnon, Nash, Arvidsson, Ovechkin, Toffoli, Skinner, Gallagher, Tarasenko, Burns.

Other than a name here or there, those are all top six forwards, except for the unicorn that is Brent Burns. It doesn’t immediately equate that simply firing off a lot of shots makes for a scoring winger, but in reality it kind of does. It means you’re on the right side of the ice more than you’re not, it means you’re finding the space to at least get off a shot, and it means you’re not afraid to fire away. This is perhaps one of the reasons the Hawks thought Ryan Hartman was expendable, because we know going forward three of the top six wingers going forward are Saad, DeBrincat, and Kane. Sikura is certainly going to put his name in the discussion, and maybe they thought Vinnie had a better case than Hartman and thus decided to cash in where they could.

Also, it doesn’t just stop with attempts. Vinnie is ranks just as high when it comes to individual scoring chances per 60 as well. He ranks 20th. The names right behind him are Craig Smith again, Josh Anderson, and Brayden Point. The names ahead of him are Top Cat, Taylor Hall, Arturi Lehkonen, and Patric Hornqvist. Again, all the names in the top 20 are at worst top six forwards (Brandon Saad is 8th, leading more credence to the theory that Saad has been more unlucky this year than unproductive).

We should probably go over the caveats. One, it’s still not much of a sample size. At the moment, Vinnie has only racked up just over a season’s worth of NHL games. So we can’t say this is the norm yet, because all of these numbers are up from last season significantly. You’d like to think that it’s just a continuation of growth as well as getting to play up the lineup a little more this season. And his possession stats are spiking up from his 36 games last season as well. And the “better players” argument can go both ways, as you can say he’s benefitting from that but also that not every player watches his game and numbers balloon simply because he’s installed on the top six.

Still, looking at the names he’s around in these categories, you don’t see a lot of one-year wonders there. Almost every name you see there has been a consistent top six scorer for a few years, or are promising kids projected to be that anyway like Lehkonen or DeBrincat or Point.

While I don’t want to compare them fully, when I think of speedy forwards who shoot a lot it’s hard not to think of Patrick Sharp in his younger days. And you forget what a defensive dynamo Sharp was both at wing and center back when he first arrived in Chicago. Vinnie’s 13.6 attempts per 60 this year is right in line with Sharp’s 14.0 in 07-08, which was his breakout season. And Vinnie is dusting him when it comes to scoring chances per 60 from that season. What Vinnie doesn’t have is the shooting percentage (8.1 to 12.5 for Sharp then) or the power play goals.

Maybe Vinnie won’t ever have that shooting percentage, because we know what a rocket Sharp’s shot was then. Maybe Vinnie won’t get the goal totals because of that. But given the chances and attempts he’s generating now, thinking he can be a 20-goal guy on your second line or third line doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it did.

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