The case for Kelleher is an easy one to make – it also illustrates how important it is to play for a winner. Kelleher has constantly been shortchanged throughout his career due to UNH’s lack of success during his tenure and a lack of quality teammates. He is quite simply the most valuable and offensively gifted player in the country this season, but he will never get credit for his value because UNH is well-below .500 and his talent-wanting teammates hinder his productivity.
Kelleher has played with exactly one above average forward over the course of his UNH career (Poturalski). If he has Poturalski this season, add 10-15 points to his point total. The fact that he has taken another large step forward without #18 on his line is a testament to his dominant offensive skill set. Additionally, he has NEVER played with a defensive group at UNH who was anything other than dismal at breaking pucks out of its own end or contributing offensively outside of the PP. He is constantly responsible for lugging the puck up ice and creating offense on his own. Without Kelleher, UNH probably wins 5 games or less this season…
First, lets take a look at how critical Kelleher is to the offense at UNH…
UNH Top Scorers
McNicholas: 38 (-21)
Cleland: 34 (-25)
Salvaggio: 33 (-26)
Union Top Scorers
Foo: 56 (-2)
Vidmar: 38 (-20)
NU Top Scorers
Sikura: 53 (-6)
Gaudette: 51 (-8)
Cockerill: 30 (-29)
Also: J. Stevens 23 (1.09 PPG) / N. Stevens 17 (1.31 PPG)
Kelleher is clearly playing with less productive line-mates on a less productive team. He IS the UNH offense. The gap between Kelleher and the next most productive scorers on UNH is astounding and significantly more substantial than either Vecchione or Aston Reese. Vecchione played most of the season with both Foo and Vidmar. Recently they have been separated, but he has racked up the majority of his points while playing with two top-end talents on a high-scoring and well balanced team.
Aston-Reese has in fact skated on a line with Sikura many times, though not recently. He has also played with at least one Stevens brother, and when healthy both, over the course of the season. Sikura is clearly a highly-skilled forward and the Stevens brothers, though in and out of the line-up are both averaging over one point-per game in 2016-17. They also both topped 35 points last season and are two of the top offensive forwards in the league. Northeastern is a deep forward group.
Simply put, opponents cannot zero in on Vecchione or ZAR like they can on Kelleher, because they have other dangerous options. ZAR especially. Kelleher is ALWAYS public enemy #1 and only. New Hampshire DOES NOT win unless Kelleher goes off. UNH is 2-12-3 when Kelleher scores 1 or less points (a .206 WPCT vs. an overall .426). When Kelleher scores two or more points, the team is 10-5-2 (.647). Opponents know that containing Kelleher is the only thing they have to do and they still cannot stop him. Shadows, double teams, extra physical play, etc. He’s seen it all this season and never slowed down.
Northeastern has an overall WPCT of .544 and they are 3-2-2 (.500) when ZAR is scoreless and 5-8-3 (.406) when he scores one or less goals. Union is cruising at a .721 WPCT, this season, and barely misses a beat when Vecchione is held to one point or less (8-5-1, .571). These numbers illustrate the secondary scoring talent and depth on NU and UC in comparison to UNH. Opposing teams have to focus on multiple scoring lines and options, opening up more space for everyone.
Kelleher has also CARRIED his line-mates this season, turning them into offensively productive players. Take a look at the production of his line-mates, this season versus last season and over the course of the careers.
McNicholas – 38 points this season / 10 in 2015-16 / 13 total prior to 2016-17
Salvaggio – 33 points this season / 6 in 2015-16 / 8 total prior to 2016-17
Those are 280% and 450% scoring increases, respectively, for Kelleher’s linemates over last season’s production. The two have seen 192% and 312% respective increases to their career point totals.
Vecchione’s two most common line-mates have seen their point totals improve by 280% (Vidmar, 10 pts to 38) and 84% (Foo, 25 pts to 56) from last season.
Aston-Reese’s three most common linemates have improved by 89% (Sikura, 28 to 53), 26% (J. Stevens, 35 to an extrapolated 44) and -13% (N. Stevens, 42 to an extrapolated 37).
Another way to look at UNH’s dependency on Kelleher is how involved in the team’s overall production he has been. Whether 5-on-5 or on the PP, if UNH scored, Tyler Kelleher most likely was the reason…
Kelleher: 59 points on UNH’s 109 goals – 54% involvement
Aston-Reese: 59 points on NU’s 127 goals – 46% involvement
Vecchione: 58 points on UC’s 131 goals – 44% involvement
POWER PLAY GOALS…
Kelleher: 12 of UNH’s 38 PP goals (32%) – 12/167 (personal PP goal rate 7%)
Aston-Reese: 13 of NU’s 50 PP goals (26%) – 13/181 (personal PP goal rate 7%)
Vecchione: 8 of Union’s 38 PP goals (21%) – 8/182 (personal PP goal rate 4%)
POWER PLAY ASSISTS…
Kelleher: 18 A – Figured in 30 of 38 PPG (79%) – 30/167 (Per. PP rate 18%)
Aston-Reese: 13 A – Figured in 26 of 50 PPG (52%) – 26/181 (Per. PP rate 14%)
Vecchione: 15 A – Figured in 23 of 38 PPG (60%) – 23/182 (Per. PP rate 13%)
No one in the country figured in a higher percentage of his team’s goals than Kelleher. UNH finished the regular season as the #7 power-play in the country. Without Kelleher they likely wouldn’t have been in the top-50. When I argue that he did it as a ‘solo-act’ and with very little help from his teammates, it is NOT hyperbole…
I also like to separate primary assists from secondary helpers. I’ve seen lots of Hobey Candidates in the past who have really racked up secondary assists as a result of who they’ve played with.
Kelleher: 37 assists, 26 primary (71%)
Aston-Reese: 30 assists, 20 primary (67%)
Vecchione: 32 assists, 13 primary (41%)
Like the other two, Kelleher plays in ALL situations. His ability to contribute on defense and the penalty kill is always overlooked as a result of his size and UNH’s dismal defensive performance as a team. However, Kelleher, while small is not a defensive slouch and has proven to be solid in his own end and a contributor off the puck. His puck possession is also an overlooked aspect of his defense. When he has the puck, the opponent cannot score and if you watch him regularly you will understand just how difficult it is to take the puck from him. He can and does dominate puck possession in spite of his 5-6, 150 lb size…
Relative to his teammates, Kelleher’s plus/minus is extremely good. He is a plus six on a team that is a net -22. Tied for second on a team full of minus. His linemates do not even match him at a combined plus-5. He is not Jonathan Toews on defense, but voters who look at his stature and UNH’s defensive issues are doing him a HUGE disservice.
Kelleher: +6, Team, -22 (Net 28)
Aston-Reese: +12, Team -3 (Net 15)
Vecchione: +22, Team +24 (Net -2)
That’s all I have time to research for now – but I do think Kelleher is the best offensive and most valuable player in the country. He is truly carrying UNH to whatever modest success it has achieved. He garners ALL of the opponents attention and is still playing some of his best and most productive hockey of the season down the stretch. Id give him the edge over Aston-Reese, because he has been slightly more productive (but he is more of a goal scorer, while Kelleher is a playmaker with no finishers) in HE play and a larger part of UNH’s offensive output. Sikura, Gaudette, N. Stevens, and J. Stevens (perhaps Fillipe) would all be the second best forward on UNH this season. Playing with those players and having them shoulder some of the oppositions attention is a big help to Aston-Reese, who is undoubtedly having a Hobey worthy season.
Again, I’d image NU fans would side with ZAR and UNH fans would believe in Kelleher. If anything, the numbers NU Husky posted and my own research would indicate that Vecchione should be the third option for the award, but I still think he’ll win.
I agree with NU Husky that team success should not be a big factor – but it always has been and I expect it will be again this year. There is also the aspect of career achievement and Vecchione not only leads the group in career points, but has also been at the forefront of voter’s minds since leading Union to a National Championship as a freshman. That will matter.
It’s a weird year for the Hobey Baker, as except for Vecchione the scoring leaders who have created separation are playing on average (NU) to poor (UNH) teams. There really aren’t any great defensive or goaltending candidates. Williams plays in Atlantic Hockey. Will Butcher and Tanner Jaillet (Denver) are probably the two best candidates playing these positions, but neither has put up the other worldly numbers you usually need to win as a D or G. They also play on a team that features great defensive players 1-20 every night…
Those are the top five candidates in my mind. Foo will never surpass Vecchione and Sikura/Gaudette are in ZAR’s Hobey Shadow. The others I’ve seen being considered (Sheehy, Gambardella, Bjork, Williams, Pilonk, Keller, Shilkey, Blitzer, etc) just simply do not have cases in comparison to the top-5 (or the unlucky 3 with better teammates).
I’ll be surprised if it’s the top-three scorers in the Hat Trick, but whoever is left out has quite a grievance…