a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Wednesday, 1 August 2012

08/01/12 Rising: Ales Hemsky

Ales Hemsky's 2011-12 was so bad that it's hard to imagine that next season could be any worse. But there's also some actual evidence to suggest that we'll see a better Hemsky in 2012-13. Let's have a look-see.

The biggest knock on Hemsky has always been that he doesn't shoot the puck enough. Since the lockout, 148 NHL players (200+ games played) have averaged more than Hemsky's 2.24 shots per game. It's the 13th-highest shots per game total of any Oilers player since the lockout. Given some context, these are not monumental shot totals by any stretch, but certainly respectable.

That said, shooting was lacking from Hemsky in 2011-12. Perhaps due to the lingering effects of his many injuries, he managed 137 shots on goal in 69 games (1.99 per game). Worse still, some of the accuracy (and a little of the luck) was shaved off of his shot as well. Hemsky's 7.3% shooting percentage was just over half what it was in 2010-11, and a full four percent lower than his career average. Ironically, Hemsky managed his first career hat trick under these conditions, but he's due for a bounce back if he stays healthy.

Under average circumstances, we could have expected Hemsky to shoot the puck 155 times in his 69 games of 2011-12, and convert those into about 17 or 18 goals. Instead, he had just ten. There's no guarantee that Hemsky will return to form, but based on every other season since the lockout, 2011-12 was an anomaly.

Hemsky's ice time could dip now that the Oilers are sporting some shiny new offensive weapons, but that decline in ice shouldn't be too detrimental. Here's his total ice time per game since the lockout:

2011-12: 17:36 (0.62 p/g)
2010-11: 18:16 (0.89 p/g)
2009-10: 17:56 (1 p/g)
2008-09: 18:38 (0.92 p/g)
2007-08: 18:34 (0.96 p/g)
2006-07: 16:59 (0.83 p/g)
2005-06: 16:58 (0.95 p/g)

The amount of time Hemsky has spent on the ice has fluctuated somewhat, but aside from last year he's been a very consistent point producer. He's still likely to get a lot of looks on the powerplay and he'll also benefit from better teammates in offensive situations. 17:00 to 18:00 is right in the range that we should expect for Hemsky going forward, which is only a shift or two less than his career-high average. It's how he is used that will make the difference. Hemsky will never be a shutdown player, but he has shown the ability to thrive against the best other teams have to offer.

According to Behindthenet.ca, Hemsky was right up there with Horcoff and Smyth in terms of the quality of competition that he faced, and yet he performed well in terms of possession. As reported by Elliotte Friedman in his 30 thoughts, Ralph Krueger wants to put Sam Gagner with Ales Hemsky next season. Gagner should be able to handle some more difficult situations at this point in his career, but he's by no means a tough minutes player. Playing Hemsky with Gagner and moving him away from Horcoff should make the road less bumpy for Hemsky, and free him up to work his magic.

It also means that Hall and Yakupov can rotate opposite Hemsky; both of whom are pure snipers who fit well with Hemsky's passing style.

Assuming that the Oilers are getting a healthy Ales Hemsky in 2012-13, things appear to be looking up for him. He shouldn't have much trouble earning that new $5 million contract.

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