Photo Credit: © Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Sami Niku And The Reverse “Big Mistake”

Perhaps my first indoctrination into the importance of analytics in hockey was the work by Tyler Dellow and later Garret Hohl regarding “the big mistake”. The point is that when people watch hockey, they tend to recall only a few key moments that influence their perception of the game and either credit or discredit individuals based on this small amount of information while ignoring a vast amount of data. This is especially true when players make defensive mistakes that lead directly to goals. A player could make that exact mistake but if it results in a shot that misses the net instead of going in, it can easily be forgotten.

Looking at the underlying numbers, however, enable us to view so much more information without this unconscious bias. Although this is often applied to defensive mistakes, I would argue that individual offensive plays that lead to goals could distract from the overall impact a player has throughout an entire game. This leads us to Sami Niku.

“Of course it’s always nice to score goals. I scored I scored two but it wasn’t that good (of a) game for me. I can play much better.”

This is how Niku described his game last night and I couldn’t agree more. Let’s look at the underlying numbers at 5v5 from last night’s pre-season game against the Calgary Flames…

15:10 37.5% 38.46% 33.33% 25% 25%

Doesn’t look too pretty, does it? He gave up way more in the defensive zone than he made up for in offence.  Don’t let the fact that Sami floated a wrister off the leg of a Flames defenseman and in fool you.  I’d say that last night was Niku’s worst game of the preseason. I can only imagine what would’ve been the result if his miscues in the defensive zone were being exploited by Johnny Gaudreau instead of Dillon Dube.

Sami Niku is a great talent and his offensive ability has never been questioned. I think he’s going to be a top 4 defenseman for the Jets, maybe even this season. However, he has a lot to clean up in his own zone and his overall impact hasn’t been one that contributes to winning hockey and this game certainly didn’t prove anything regarding his NHL readiness.

The Jets’ defense, as a whole, has been a tire fire this preseason, from the failed Myers-Byfuglien experiment to Jacob Trouba making uncharacteristic mistakes. Hopefully, this is just a preseason issue.

Don’t get me wrong. I love watching Niku with the puck. He makes plays most defenseman simply cannot. Could playing alongside an experienced partner who can push the play be enough to cover up for Niku’s defensive deficiencies? Hopefully we get a chance to see a Niku-Byfuglien pairing before the preseason is over so we can find out.