Who is the most clutch player in the NHL? Every year in the playoffs, broadcasters and fans alike are obsessed with this question. Everyone wants to know which players step up when it matters most. So today, let’s quantify the NHL’s top five most clutch players.
How To Quantify Clutch
The idea here is simple, and it starts with Dom Luszczyszyn’s Game Score. The full write-up is linked there, but here’s a quick synopsis. Game Score takes all of box score stats, like goals, assists, shots, penalty differential etc. and combines them into one number. Then that number can be divided by games played to measure players average output.
Once every player’s talent is boiled down into one number, it’s time to quantify clutch. This is done by comparing every player’s Game Score per game in the regular season to the playoffs. The more a players Game Score per game improves in the playoffs the more clutch that player is. For this exercise, I used the past three seasons of both regular season and playoff data. Finally, to eliminate crazy small samples players need at least 500 playoff minutes to qualify. With the parameters set, let’s rank the top five most clutch players in the NHL. (Data From Corsica)
5) T.J. Oshie
Regular Season Game Score Per Game: 0.795 (Average First Liner) Playoffs Game Score Per Game: 1 (Top 15 Forward) Clutch Score: +0.21
Most people wouldn’t expect any Washington Capitals near this list, but T.J. Oshie kicks it off. Once the post-season begins the Capitals are infamous for losing a step, but Oshie only get’s better. In the regular season, he’s been a solid first line contributor who does everything well. And in the playoffs, his ice time increases along with his play. After each underwhelming Capitals playoff run it’s always a witchhunt to assign blame. There is plenty to go around, but Oshie should be left out of the discussion.
Each of the past two postseasons Oshie has been given the Sidney Crosby matchup and been lights out. The Capitals have controlled 70% of the scoring chances and 77% of the goals when those two are head-to-head. Oshie consistently winning while up against Crosby ensures that the Capitals and Penguins always play a close series. And if the Capitals are going to finally slay that dragon this year, the NHL’s fifth most clutch player is going to have to be exactly that.
4) Phil Kessel
Regular Season Game Score Per Game: 0.738 (Average First Liner) Playoffs Game Score Per Game: 0.966 (Top 20 Forward) Clutch Score: +0.23
Number four on this list is Pittsburgh Penguins not so-secret weapon, Phil Kessel. Sure Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin take most of the spotlight, but in the playoffs, Kessel has thrived and been the leagues, best-supporting player. Nothing has been as representative of Kessel’s time in Pittsburgh as the 2015-16 series against the Capitals.
The Capitals completely shut down Crosby and Malkin, they only had two points combined. Luckily for the Penguins, Kessel, along with the rest of the HBK line, were nearly perfect. Kessel lead that line and they crushed the bottom of the Capitals lineup. Individually, Kessel scored a point per game along with a 100% on-ice goals for percentage. This propelled the Penguins past their rival, and towards their first of two straight Stanley Cups.
Kessel simply plays his best hockey when the Penguins need him most. As a result, he actually has a higher game score per game in the playoffs than either of Crosby or Malkin. Meaning he has arguably been the MVP of the back to back Stanley Cup champions, and one of the most clutch players in the NHL.
3) Jakob Silfverberg
Regular Season Game Score Per Game: 0.65 (Solid Second Liner) Playoffs Game Score Per Game: 0.913 (Top 25 Forward) Clutch Score: +0.26
Coming in at third place is probably the biggest surprise, Jakob Silfverberg. The Anaheim Ducks right winger is quietly a consistent top-six producer throughout the regular season. Then in the playoffs, he turns it on. Over the past three Anaheim Ducks playoff runs, Silfverberg has scored an impressive 37 points in 40 games. While he may not be recognized among the NHL’s most clutch players, his playoff numbers are elite. The only thing holding Silfverberg back is he likely owes a lot of his playoff prowess to someone even higher up this list…
2) Duncan Keith
Regular Season Game Score Per Game: 0.726 (Top 15 Defenceman) Playoffs Game Score Per Game: 1.01 (Norris Finalist) Clutch Score: +0.29
Second place in the clutch rankings is hockey’s ultimate warrior, Duncan Keith. There is just nothing Keith can’t do. Offensively, he’s been amazing scoring 27 points in 33 games, but his real value is in his underlying metrics. With Keith on the ice, the Chicago Blackhawks have controlled 51% of goals, and 50% of the expected goals. Without Keith on the ice, the Blackhawks crater. They only controlled 40% of the goals and 45% of the expected goals. To put it simply, the Blackhawks have been just above breakeven with Keith on the ice, and without him, they have been abysmal.
What makes Keiths ability to keep the Blackhawks afloat even more impressive is the context of his ice time. Absolutely nobody has been relied on as much as Keith in the playoffs, where he averaged 30 minutes a night. To make his life even tougher, he played against the oppositions top offensive players shift in shift out, and yet Keith still came out on top. Also, consider Keith is a punishing physical player who rarely takes penalties and will play through the loss of seven teeth! And Duncan Keith might be the perfect playoff defencemen and the most valuable part of the Chicago Blackhawks former glory.
1) Ryan Getzlaf
Regular Season Game Score Per Game: 0.875 (Top 30 Forward) Playoffs Game Score Per Game: 1.26 (No Comparables) Clutch Score: +0.39
The most clutch player of the past three seasons is the Anaheim Ducks often overlooked superstar Ryan Getzlaf, and it’s not even close. Due to the infamous east cost bias, a lot of people (including myself) will find this shocking. However digging into Getzlaf’s numbers, he’s been on another level.
Starting with his usage, he’s justifiably the most used forward of the past three seasons, averaging 23 minutes a night. Moving on to point production, Getzlaf quietly leads the Ducks with over a point per game. Since he’s one of the leagues premier playmakers, he greatly improves his linemates point production too. Going deeper than points, we see a similar story.
He generates tones of shots, scoring chances and goals for. And defensively, he’s just as good as suppressing shots and chances as he is at generating them. Combine these two things, and Getzlaf has an astounding 60% on-ice expected goals for percentage and a 66% actual goals for percentage. To add a nice cherry on top, he’s controlled the faceoff circle winning about 52% of his draws.
As a result of his dominance in all three zones, Getzlaf doesn’t have a single game score comparable from the playoffs or the regular season. He’s is in a league of his own. He’s one of those players that does everything well and makes everyone around him better. He may not get much national media coverage for it, but Getzlaf has stepped up his game way more than anyone else in the playoffs, so he’s the most clutch player in the NHL.