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Who's Hot? Who's Not?

When discussing the hottest shooters in the NHL, your initial reaction is to check the shooting percentage rankings, and rattle off your favorites near the top of that list. Some favor the hard shooters with 100-mph slappers, or those with wickedly quick wrist shots, but invariably, the shooting percentage stat provides the jumping off point for any such conversation.

What we miss, however, in this kind of review is the difference between a defenseman who typically takes long-distance slapshots, and power forwards who tend to get more tip-ins, and other close-range scoring opportunities. The tool we use to take this into consideration is Shot Quality, which assigns a value to each shot based on its distance and shot type (wrist, slap, tip-in, etc.). Last season, for example, 9.88% of shots scored, but if you looked only at wrist shots from 11-20 feet, those scored at a 18% clip, and slapshots from 41-50 feet scored 5.3% of the time. Therefore, if you had a player who took nothing but close-in shots, you'd naturally expect them to have a higher shooting percentage than a defenseman winding up from the point. By definition, a perfectly average NHL shooter would expect to have a Shooting Percentage equal to their average Shot Quality.

The tables below list the hottest and coldest shooters in the NHL so far this year, by breaking down their actual performance, and comparing that to the average Shot Quality. The result is a "Shooting Factor", which states the relationship between those two values. A Shooting Factor of 2.00, for example, reflects a player whose Shooting Percentage is twice that of their average Shot Quality. A factor of 0.50 shows a player only scoring half as often as Shot Quality would predict. So who's lighting up the lamp, and who's just plunking pucks off the goalie? Let's take a look...

Top 10 Hot-Shooting Forwards
Player Team Shots Goals Sht % Avg SQ Shooting Factor
Alexander Radulov NSH 40 11 .275 .102 2.71
Tuomo Ruutu CHI 45 10 .222 .100 2.23
Petr Sykora EDM 95 15 .158 .075 2.12
Jarret Stoll EDM 78 11 .141 .067 2.10
Jeff Hamilton CHI 58 10 .172 .087 1.99
Matt Pettinger WSH 54 10 .185 .098 1.89
Curtis Brown SJS 37 6 .162 .086 1.88
Kristian Huselius CGY 57 12 .211 .116 1.82
Maxim Afinogenov BUF 91 18 .198 .109 1.81
Jason Spezza OTT 86 19 .221 .125 1.77

Nashville's rookie on the rise, Alexander Radulov, is far ahead of the pack here, trailed by two players each from Edmonton and Chicago. Radulov began the season in the AHL and only recently earned a full-time job with the Predators, so expect his shot totals to accumulate quickly in the weeks ahead. Whether he can keep up the torrid scoring pace is another question, however.

Top 10 Hot-Shooting Defensemen
Player Team Shots Goals Sht % Avg SQ Shooting Factor
Philippe Boucher DAL 106 12 .113 .044 2.55
Sheldon Souray MTL 109 12 .110 .044 2.48
Brad Stuart BOS 44 6 .136 .056 2.45
Hal Gill TOR 39 3 .077 .032 2.37
Lubomir Visnovsky LAK 95 11 .116 .056 2.07
Brian Campbell BUF 43 5 .116 .058 2.01
Nicklas Lidstrom DET 87 9 .103 .053 1.95
Sergei Zubov DAL 82 7 .085 .045 1.88
Sami Salo VAN 68 6 .088 .048 1.85
Filip Kuba TAM 57 6 .105 .058 1.83

You may ask why, given our wonderful Shot Quality tool, I'd keep the forwards and defensemen in different tables. Basically, the goal scoring is so low among blueliners that a lucky bounce or two at this stage (not quite halfway through the season) can still wildly skew the numbers. For instance, I'd hesitate to call Hal Gill a super-hot shooter when he only has 3 goals. If just one of those was due to such a lucky bounce and not Gill's ability, his Shooting Factor would drop to around 1.6 and he wouldn't be on this list. But in the interim, we do see a number of recognizable snipers like Nick Lidstrom and Sergei Zubov represented, along with Philippe Boucher, who is enjoying a career season here in his 14th year.

Now that we've looked at who's lighting the lamp, how about those shooters who are hitting nothing but goaltenders? Let's dig our way down to the bottom of the barrell...

Bottom 5 Cold-Shooting Forwards
Player Team Shots Goals Sht % Avg SQ Shooting Factor
Alex Burrows VAN 40 0 .000 .105 0.00
Mike Richards PHI 69 1 .014 .118 0.12
Ian Laperriere COL 62 1 .016 .128 0.13
Josh Green VAN 52 1 .019 .122 0.16
Dallas Drake STL 43 1 .023 .113 0.21

No wonder Vancouver has had such struggles offensively, with 2 forwards on the leader board here.

Bottom 7 Cold-Shooting Defensemen
Player Team Shots Goals Sht % Avg SQ Shooting Factor
Martin Skoula MIN 40 0 .000 .034 0.00
Paul Martin NJD 36 0 .000 .039 0.00
Stephane Robidas DAL 52 0 .000 .042 0.00
Duncan Keith CHI 54 0 .000 .050 0.00
Scott Hannan SJS 41 0 .000 .053 0.00
Kevin Dallman LAK 40 0 .000 .068 0.00
Joni Pitkanen PHI 67 0 .000 .074 0.00

Seven defenseman are included above, as they are tied with perfect shutouts so far this year. That Dallas blue line seems like a real hit-or-miss bunch, with Zubov and Boucher among the leaders, and Robidas shooting blanks. If you had to pick a particularly cold shooter here, it has to be Joni Pitkanen, who not only has the most shots among our goal-less wonders, but has the highest average Shot Quality as well, meaning he's taking, on average, the most dangerous shots amongst them.

Note: The numbers here reflect non-empty net shots, taken from the top 400 NHL players ranked by shots taken.