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Examining Calder Trophy case for Coyotes rookie forward Matias Maccelli 🤌

Craig Morgan Avatar
April 6, 2023
Coyotes coach André Tourigny has been trying to convince rookie wing Matias Maccelli to shoot the puck more often, instead of always passing it to teammates.  “I always joke to him, I say, ‘You can pass the puck to their goalie,’” Tourigny said. “I don’t say, ‘Shoot the puck.’ I say, ‘Pass the puck in the mesh.’” It worked to an extent in March when Maccelli had 22 shots in 16 games (1.38 per game). That may not seem like a high total, but consider the only other three full months that Maccelli played due to an 18-game stint on the injured list with a lower-body injury that did not require surgery. He had 12 shots in 10 November games (1.2), eight shots in 12 December games (0.67), and eight in 10 February games (0.8). With four games remaining in the season, Maccelli is 12th on the Coyotes in shots on goal with 57 in 60 games. It’s a strange turn of events for a guy who had 14 goals and 105 shots in 47 games the season before in Tucson (AHL). “Everybody keeps saying it so maybe I have to start doing it a little more,” Maccelli said. Tourigny told Maccelli that he needs to stop being so deferential to his veteran teammates and start shooting more so he becomes more difficult to defend. “You can’t sustain success in this league being a one-trick pony,” Tourigny said. More selfishly, shooting more might have helped vault Maccelli into the fore of the Calder Trophy race for NHL rookie of the year. Right now, he leads all rookies in points per game at 0.75, and he leads all rookies in assists with 35. That is the second-most assists ever recorded by a Coyotes rookie behind Clayton Keller’s 42 in 2017-18. As it stands now, two surface-level stats are hurting Maccelli’s case. His 10 goals rank 13th among NHL rookies and he missed those 18 games. Had he played those games, he would, in all likelihood, be first instead of second in rookie points to Seattle’s Matty Beniers (54).
Matias Maccelli vs. Matty Beniers.
A side-by-side statistical comparison of top Calder Trophy candidates Matias Maccelli of the Arizona Coyotes and Matty Beniers of the Seattle Kraken. (Source: Meghan Chayka/Stathletes)

The NHL awards finalists won’t be announced until the postseason, but I reached out to a variety of sources for further insight on Maccelli’s Calder case. To get an analytics perspective, I spoke to Mike Kelly with Sportlogiq and NHL Network, and I spoke to Josh Younggren with Evolving-Hockey. To get a better sense of how Maccelli is viewed among the actual voters, I polled two dozen voters across multiple markets to get a decent sampling.

Voters on Matias Maccelli

Of the voters polled, all but two had Maccelli in the top five. One had him as high as No. 2. Most had him at No. 3. Here is a sampling of their extended thoughts in one-paragraph quotes to help distinguish between them.  “I think Matty Beniers and [Buffalo defenseman] Owen Power are the top two, but there are probably six guys who could have a case for third,” one voter said. “I think [Vegas goalie] Logan Thompson would be third for me. Maccelli’s per-game numbers and not relying on power-play inflated stats make a strong case for him, but Thompson probably deserves a little extra credit if it’s a coin flip between the two for essentially saving Vegas’ season.” “He’s definitely on my ballot and I want to say he’s maybe third right now as I think about it,” another voter wrote. “I’ve been most impressed by his playmaking ability and how he seems to be in the right place all the time. He’s really given the Coyotes a complementary player to add to the guys they want to fill the net, be it [Clayton] Keller or [Lawson] Crouse.” “My gut is third,” another voter wrote. “The goalies and defensemen really complicate this. [Edmonton goalie Stuart] Skinner is in the discussion but I don’t love that one. I probably have Beniers, Power, Maccelli right now, but I’d have to think about it a lot more.” “Electric individual talent but playing in a low-pressure environment, doesn’t score many goals,” wrote another voter who had Maccelli third. “Fun, but benefitting from a weak rookie class.” “He will probably be third or fourth on my ballot,” another voter wrote. “It seems like Matty Beniers’ race to lose at this point and he has been a contributor to a legit playoff team. Logan Thompson would probably be first on my ballot had injuries not sidelined him. When he was healthy, he gave Vegas some badly needed stability at the most important position. Maccelli is having a fine season and he is a very creative offensive producer. I just don’t see him having the same impact as Beniers or Thompson, each of whom are on playoff-caliber teams.”Matias Maccelli would be in the top three or four. His numbers have been strong and that’s with missing the games. There is no denying his impact to the Coyotes as he has been one of their three best forwards this season,” another voter wrote. “What makes assessing his Calder chances difficult is how does he compare to the rest of the field? Matty Beniers has been the Kraken’s best player at times. Wyatt Johnston has scored some important goals for a playoff-bound team while Stuart Skinner has given the Oilers some much needed stability. Maccelli should make the all-rookie team because he’s been that good this season. As for whether or not he wins Calder? That’s tough. Some will penalize him for being on a non-playoff team. But it’s really about evaluating his impact on the Coyotes compared to the other rookies’ impact on their respective teams.”

Analytics on Matias Maccelli

The view on Maccelli changes a bit when you talk to analytics folks. “I think that Beniers is clearly the favorite right now, but I think that our analysis would probably have Maccelli probably somewhere around eighth or ninth, maybe in the six to 10 range if I look into it a little bit more,” said Younggren with Evolving-Hockey. “He’s had a really good year. Some of it is his lack of playing time, but there’s a couple other players that have missed some time as well who are putting up very good numbers. He’s done a lot of things well, but it’s that he hasn’t done them quite as well, or as much as the other top rookies in the league.”
A look at Matias Maccelli in comparison to other top rookies.
A look at Matias Maccelli in comparison to other top rookies. (Graphic courtesy of Evolving-Hockey)

Younggren provided more insight. “The quality from our models is more of what is driving the view that his defensive numbers have been good. I think his shot rates — what he allows — have been more like break-even or maybe a little less than that, but he’s not allowing a lot of quality shots when he is on the ice . “Offensively, the shots that he is overall generating when he’s on and off the ice are maybe not showing up that well, but the quality of them shows that it seems like he’s getting the puck to more high-danger areas for shots that have a higher probability of going in.” That tracks with what Kelly is seeing at Sportlogiq, which has a much deeper stable of stats it is able to track. “The case I would make for him is he has proven to be a real skilled playmaker and puck mover already, he’s playing in a top-six role on a team that isn’t very good and yet he’s got a positive goal differential (plus-5) at five-on-five on a team that’s minus-[29],” Kelly said when I spoke to him five days ago. “The quality of the competition he’s facing is in the 90th percentile among forwards across the league, not just rookies. That’s all pretty impressive for a rookie to begin with.” “Going back to playmaking and looking at things like getting pucks to teammates in the slot, he’s in the 91st percentile in the league. That’s everybody, not just forwards. He’s a great possession driver as well. One of the things we measure is including but not limited to zone exit and zone entries, but any possession play where you’re moving the to puck towards the opponent’s net, and he’s 96th percentile among all forwards at even strength. These are really significant metrics in terms of evaluating a player’s ability in those areas and he’s showing really, really well, league-wide, amongst wingers and forwards, let alone rookies.”
Matias Maccelli
Matias Maccelli skates with the puck ahead of Colorado’s Lars Eller in a game at Mullett Arena on March 26. (Getty Images)

The case against Maccelli in Kelly’s eyes is this. “The fact that he plays in Arizona on a team that’s not great is already working against him in terms of notoriety and eyeballs. Beyond that, he’s not as defensively strong,” Kelly said. “His individual impact isn’t great in terms of what he is doing defensively to kill possessions or create changes in possessions, blocking passes, winning battles, stripping opponents of pucks, keeping turnover rates low.” Kelly thinks that hurts him in comparison to other rookies. “I look at Matty Beniers leading all rookies in points and sure that’s great and he’s the favorite to win it as he should be, but he’s also centering the top line on a playoff team and he’s already a well above-average all-around player,” Kelly said. “Wyatt Johnston is tied [for second] among rookies in goals and he’s centering a line in Dallas that’s been one of the best in the league in the second half; a playoff team.” “Owen Power is playing 24 minutes tonight and scoring on a pretty competitive Sabres team. [Ottawa’s] Jake Sanderson is a notch below that but similar in terms of his impact on a better team and playing a position that usually takes longer and one in which you play more minutes. And then Stuart Skinner is the one goalie in there but he’s got top-20 numbers in a lot of key areas on one of the top teams in the league.” That said, Kelly admitted that in some cases, the differences between players is splitting hairs and advanced statistics do not tell the entire tale of any player. “If somebody put Maccelli third, fourth, or fifth, I wouldn’t think that’s egregious at all,” he said. “If they put him first I probably would, but he’s right in the conversation and I think that’s as it should be.”

Top photo of Matias Maccelli via Getty Images

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