At a time when statistical analyses are growing across hockey, a phenomenon that can be incredibly useful for evaluating players, we are gaining access to more and more information about NHL players and prospects. Within these statistics lie certain patterns that can help us better see the hypothetical futures of a given player, for example with ageing curves.
As the roughest 1980s hockey fades from memory, or just the same the staged fight era of the early 2000s, players are having an effect and peaking in their early to mid-20s. It might seem a surprise to conventional wisdom that would have suggested late 20s as a player’s usual peak throughout these bygone eras.
Of course, as with most things, these analyses might support certain overall trends or conclusions, but they will always be a retroactive quantification, a guideline rather than a hard and fast rule that every player will follow. After all, as these are people before athletes, there will be any number of circumstantial factors that influence their results and their path to such.
A perfect outlier in this regard is 30-year-old Zach Hyman. Entering his second season as an Oiler, a common career development might see Hyman with his best years already long behind him. Categorically this is not the case, as Hyman set career highs in goals and points last season, and looks capable of doing so once again this season.
Is Hyman’s seven year deal too long?
In July 2021, the Oilers signed Hyman to a seven year $38.5M deal. Although there is almost always concern for players with dollars and term who are above the age of 30, the particularities of Hyman’s development offer some faith that the contract will not become burdensome over time. A rising cap ceiling would certainly help, but for Hyman’s part he has the ability to live up to the high priced UFA contract he earned.
Seven years is quite a long time and it is impossible to know how things might be different with the Oilers’ cap situation by the end. There might be some anxious planners who have concerns for Hyman holding up until age 36. There might come a time between three to six years from now where the circumstances to Hyman’s value change significantly, but for now it would be entirely preemptive to get too worked up about it.
Hyman continues to improve and has a lot to offer
The foundation of Hyman’s game and reputation is his effort. Bringing an intensity and tenacity to each shift is easier said than done, but Hyman has done so with remarkable consistency throughout his career.
Similar to other wingers across the league such as Brendan Gallagher, Brady Tkachuk, and Brad Marchand, Hyman stands out from the group as the most straight edge. Although Hyman competes with the fiercest of them, he manages to do so from a calmer, more controlled place.
Like Marchand, in particular, Hyman has continued to expand upon his game by continuously adding more offensive capabilities. Hyman seems to add a few new crafty puck control tricks, loose puck dekes, and other intricacies to his game each season. This has been the foremost reason that Hyman has continued to set new career highs in offensive production. Over his career he has had the opportunity to play with some of the brightest stars in the league like on the Toronto Maple Leafs prior to his signing with the Oilers. Not only does his playing with talent help, Hyman uses his front row seat to integrate some of their techniques.
In all, Hyman’s style of play leads to him generating a lot of net front shots. Although his tenacity does help the Oilers all over the ice, it is at the net front, and on team offence, that represent Hyman’s most notable contributions. His growing skill is met with some growing poise as well.
Hyman uses area passes to navigate tight spaces, not only at the net front but in transition as well. Because Hyman wins so many loose puck battles, his ability to make simple and smart plays to teammates in more advantageous positions has become a strength. It should not be surprising to see Hyman near the team lead in metrics such as xGF.
Despite his intensity, the reason why Hyman’s defensive metrics might not be as strong is because he is more effective on the attack than he is on defending in transition. It is still a significant stretch to call Hyman a defensive liability, especially given his strong contributions elsewhere. As such it should not be alarming that he should be near the bottom half of the team in metrics such as xGA.
He is essential in many aspects of the lineup
In some way it might be more fair to characterise Hyman as a reliable defensive option. Hyman, in fact, is a significant piece of the Oilers penalty killing unit. He is a detail oriented and responsible checker, especially during more stationary in zone play. He is an option on the power play at the net front, although the Oilers have several options worth exploring in this spot. Having a place on both special teams certainly expands Hyman’s minutes to an extent, but the Oilers have enough flexibility that Hyman’s deployment can shift as needed.
As a net front offence driver, Hyman appreciates and can support some skill on his line. He’s had success with both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but Hyman’s best work seems to come alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. As a duo they cover a lot of ground, but are most in need of some speed from their remaining linemate.
Luckily, the Oilers do have a lot of options that would make strong fits. Ryan McLeod, Kailer Yamamoto, Jesse Puljujarvi, and even Evander Kane might form an interesting trio, but the most intriguing is the current setup with the pair on McDavid’s wings. Hyman and Nugent-Hopkins are both capable puck carriers in transition, but are much better suited as support options for McDavid to play off of as the primary puck carrier.
In all, Hyman brings a consistency and quality to the Oilers forward group. Able to play up and down the lineup through all phases of the game, Hyman’s versatility sees him generate stronger results anytime he is on the ice.
Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire