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Toronto Maple Leafs: The Impact of Alex Kerfoot

Image by Dinur Blum (@rabbi_d) via Flickr

Forward Alexander Kerfoot was acquired by the Toronto Maple Leafs in a trade that included Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen and a third round selection in the 2020 NHL draft in exchange for Tyson Barrie and a 6th rounder in 2020 from the Colorado Avalanche.

Following the trade, Kerfoot was signed to a four-year contract extension at a 3.5M annual cap hit.

Kerfoot is a 24-year-old forward, who has played all around the lineup in Colorado, from the first line to the fourth line and has seen time in all three forward positions (Left Wing, Right Wing, and Centre). On the Leafs, the signs seem to suggest he will be played on the third line as a centre given the former third line centre was shipped away in the trade that landed Kerfoot.

Looking more in-depth into Kerfoot’s game, he has had a really solid NHL career so far. Over his two year tenure in the NHL, he has produced at a rate of 1.67P/60 at ES (Even-Strength), which is in-between a second and third line rate. There was a concern Kerfoot may be riding a really hot s% (shooting percentage), but at ES in the 2018-2019 season, he had an almost identical amount of ixG (individual expected goals) and G (goals) making his S% of 9% at ES sustainable. The reasoning behind his S% being so high relative to league average is not because he has a lethal shot, but because he is among the most selective shooters in the NHL. He has accumulated only 13% of his teams’ shots when he is on the ice, while many Leaf fans have bashed Mitch Marner for not shooting enough. Kerfoot will take this to another level. Now, despite Kerfoot’s lack of urgency to shoot, he is a very talented playmaker, as seen here:

https://twitter.com/Eurolanche/status/955772278956011520?s=20

Kerfoot’s transition game

A major development that has come to light within hockey analytics is the importance of zone entries and exits. Eric Tulsky, now the Vice President of Hockey Management and Strategy for the Carolina Hurricanes, has done research that proved a carry-in (carrying the puck into the offensive zone) will lead to approximately twice as much offense as a dump-in. This is why when I am giving advice when coaching hockey, I call dumping the puck in as a way of giving the puck away to the other team. Logically, a carry in gives you a higher chance to score given the puck is in your teams’ possession already. This is why I put a lot of value in zone entry numbers when evaluating players, so let’s take a look at Kerfoot’s transition game;

Imagine from CJ Turtoro’s Tableau (using Corey Sznajder’s manually tracked data)

As you can see, Kerfoot’s Entries/60 from the last two seasons is very good, being at the top nineteenth percentile of all NHL players. Having a player who can transition the puck up the ice as Kerfoot can, will result in the team spending more time in the offensive zone. This means when Kerfoot is on the ice, there is a higher chance of being able to outscore the opposition. This is something every Leaf fan should be excited about.

A look at his offensive and defensive metrics

Now that we have touched on what we can see while watching Kerfoot play, including his excellent playmaking ability, his ultra selective shooting, and his transition game, let’s take a look at the impact Kerfoot can have for the Leafs at 5v5 using his NHL track record of 157 games played.

There are many different ways to evaluate a player’s impact at 5v5, but I like to use a mix of both, Micah Blake McCurdy’s isolated threat (Magnus model) and EvolvingWild’s RAPM (Regularized Adjusted Plus Minus). Both of these complex models are regression models that isolate the individual player’s contributions while on the ice, taking into account teammates, competition, luck….etc.

These formulas have proved to be very useful while evaluating a player’s impact on the game. Something I like to point out is when we look at Phil Kessel, he has been perceived as being a great offensive player, but terrible defensively. Kessel’s perception is identical to what the models suggest. Another player who is always a treat to look at, per the models, is Erik Karlsson, who is a generational talent by the graphs and by the eye. Now let’s take a look at what the models show for Kerfoot using the past two seasons to eliminate randomness and give a larger sample for more accurate data. First, here is his RAPM;

GF: Impact on Goals

xGF: Impact on Expected Goals (weighted shot locations)

CF: Impact on Shots

https://evolving-hockey.com/

When we look at Kerfoot’s impact offensively, they look just slightly above average, but around what you would expect out of a third liner, not spectacular or poor. Furthermore, his defensive impacts appear to be very good, and that’s what would be ideal for a third line player. To move onto a more optimistic take, Kerfoot seems to have improved vastly from his first season (2017-18) to this past season (2018-19). Here is a quick glance at what RAPM suggests his impact is seasonally;

2017-2018 https://evolving-hockey.com/
2018-2019 https://evolving-hockey.com/

Kerfoot’s rookie season (2017-18), isn’t eye candy for anyone looking at his contributions per RAPM and his play is around league average. But this past season, he had almost Mikko Koivu, Selke worthy play while putting up offensive results that are respectable. For Leaf fans, here’s hoping he can continue his play from this past season. If Kerfoot doesn’t pan out, Kyle Dubas made Kerfoot’s contract include a heavy signing bonus from the start. Overall, his contributions offensively and defensively seem really solid for a third line centre, especially at 3.5M for four more years in the prime of his career.

To gain more context, let’s take a look at what Micah Blake McCurdy’s Magnus model tells us:

Red: More shots than league-average from that location

Blue: Fewer shots than league average from that location

https://hockeyviz.com/fixedImg/isolate/kerfoal94/wrap

Kerfoot’s isolated threat gives us a good indication that he has provided his team great value at both the defensive side of the game and the offensive side of the game. Further proving Kerfoot seems like an excellent bet for the future of the Leafs centre core for the next four years, joining Auston Matthews, and John Tavares.

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