Hello and welcome to the first installment of the 2021 NHL Rookie Reports on McKeens from the Video Team. I (Will) have taken some time to get basic results from a couple of games where a new NHL player has played and exploring the data and video together to see how the player’s game has translated. My partners, Sam and Greg will be providing their insights on the same player and what they’ve seen to flesh out the work. The first subject is a player we’ve all been fascinated to watch develop over the last few seasons in Detroit Red Wings winger Lucas Raymond.
Since first laying eyes on Lucas Raymond way back in 2018, he has been a player I’ve had a tremendous amounts of respect for. His style of play taught me so many lessons about how much thinking can go into the game of hockey, and the importance of awareness of the possible variables that could occur during a game. The quickness in his first few steps, the skill level that allows him to evade a layer of pressure and create space for himself, and his off-puck awareness of space and support for teammates were endearing qualities that led me to believe that even if his offensive game doesn’t quite turn out, he was destined to be a great driver of strong results regardless of the level he played at. Once I dug in with the tracking work early in the 2019-20 season, where he lacked pure offensive potential at 17 years old, his trademark agility, defensive involvement, and overall intensity translated to an extremely strong 77% dangerous shot attempt percentage in my sample, largely driven by miniscule rates of dangerous attempts against.
As a scout, I think it takes time to truly understand what you’re looking for in a high-end player as we all value different things. For myself, I really honed in on my philosophy and understood what I truly valued most back in the 2019-2020 season during my first few viewings of Lucas Raymond. It was crystal clear that he was the epitome of what I’m looking for in a player - that it isn’t about the tools, but rather how those tools are applied.
It hasn’t taken Raymond very long to show NHL fans why we have been so enamored with the dynamic Swedish winger for years. Just like Will mentioned, Raymond possesses a quick acceleration from a lull with no directional limitations, puck skills that can only be described as near-magical, as well as a thorough understanding of when, where and how space will open around the ice. These attributes are not unique to Raymond as nearly every NHL Draft has a few players in the top ten who could be described this way; however, very few of these players are able to implement these tools to such great effect in the NHL in their D+2 year.
Coach Greg’s Take
For me, it’s always been about whether he’s ready to jump to North America. No AHL time was needed to me due to his elite smarts and versatility he possesses. For background, Raymond comes from the top program in Sweden and forced his way into the men’s team lineup years ago. There would have been little to no reason to bring him over than when he was ready for the NHL. While he could’ve stayed in Sweden one more year and become a dominant player, he’s ready for the NHL. He’s getting his feet wet and helping build the future of the Red Wings for years to come.
I think Greg really nails it when he says Raymond is “versatile”. In fact, I’m not really sure any other word describes how Lucas finds his success so accurately considering there are very few conditions on the ice where Raymond struggles to make an impact. He understands how play is developing, what his options are in order to impact the play, what his contingency options are, and what he needs to do in order to advance macro-play for his team. There are no conditions where Raymond is limited while trying to drive play for his team - he can do so whether he’s the on-puck carrier, an off-puck supporter or an off-puck defender. There is such a fundamental understanding of how the game is played at the highest level, and Raymond is such an advanced thinker that he can adapt on the fly. There were questions about how long it would take Raymond to become comfortable playing NHL hockey, but there shouldn’t have been any questions about whether or not he could contribute to playing winning hockey down the line.
Fast forwarding to the 2021-22 NHL season, my expectation was that Raymond would be spending some time with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL before breaking onto the Red Wings team, but a strong camp and a “let’s see what happens” approach to the youth in Detroit landed him a spot with some notable linemates to start the season. I tracked two games, one against Tampa Bay on October 14th, and another against Vancouver on October 16th. The initial results were, well, mixed. To get the bad part out of the way, Raymond’s shot attempt results were poor. A 26.3% SAT% and a 28.6% DSAT% (shot attempt percentage without low danger attempts) is less than ideal, especially for a player playing with the likes of Dylan Larkin and Robby Fabbri, but this is where the importance of non-shot related metrics become so pivotal. Raymond managed to involve himself in 29% of the offensive transitions Detroit made across both games and maintained control on 72% of them. That brings a polar opposite reaction from me, and with 12 controlled offensive transitions where Raymond was either the passer or carrier of the puck rather than the receiver, his ability as a puck transporter in the NHL at this stage is clear. While he had six uncontrolled offensive entries via passing, this is almost expected for most NHL systems where pucks that cross the centre line are dumped for forecheckers to pressure defenders with. The same can be said when the puck is coming the other direction. Even if Raymond was involved in just over 11% of defensive transitions, they resulted in turnovers 25% of the time. All of this tracks extremely well with the style of play I’ve seen with Raymond over the years.
As always, data only tells part of the story. How the data is generated, and if it’s based on luck or actual talent is vital to sift through. To put it simply, there seems to be this “x-factor” in players like Raymond where he just seems to “get it”. The first series of clips I’ll highlight explains what I’m getting at. There’s a true 200-foot game here. His ability to catch opponents sleeping at the wheel, stick check to free up the puck, use skill to escape danger and quickly find space to work with jumps through the screen.
As preseason began, there were brief, yet legitimate concerns that the smaller ice would limit Raymond’s close quarters creativity, and that he may face adversity adjusting to playing against opposing forces that are faster, smarter and more physically overwhelming than what he is accustomed to. After all, the NHL is by far and away the best league in the world and most people drastically underestimate just how difficult it is to play in. It takes a special type of hockey mind and/or legitimately special raw talent to find a way to continuously drive results in a league where every “above replacement” player possesses at least one world class skill and knows how to use it. With all that being said, it’s scary just how fast Raymond was able to mold his game to fit in the NHL. It’s even scarier to think about just how impactful he can be after a few years adapting to the NHL, especially considering he’s still a teenager.
It’s clear right away that Raymond has what it takes to be the main transitional force on his line. The fundamentals are all there: building up momentum with crossovers in order to capitalize on his lateral mobility, attacking along the dotted line in order to force defences to protect the middle or the outside, changing and manipulating the pace of the attack causing defences to have to constantly adjust their speed, recognizing passing lanes as they develop in order to shift defenders as his line gains the zone, and an ability to chip and chase the puck in order to instill a heavy forecheck.
With young players, especially ones advertised as more offensive leaning, being able to chip in and hold your position defensively. With Raymond, he isn’t a player focused solely on positional defense, physical defense, or stick-based defense, but rather all of the above, and all shown when necessary. He showcased athletic ability to knock down an attempted offensive zone exit well above his head to maintain offensive pressure, as well as smart positional instincts to cover the dangerous area in front of the net tying up Tanner Pearson’s stick to block a dangerous pass attempt. In my Scouching Report profiling Raymond from 2020, I highlighted how quick his first few steps were, and how that allows him to jump into defensive play without needing to be the player to hit the highest top speed, and again this was on display with strong puck pursuit in conjunction with the positional awareness and stick checking ability he showcases (Anticipation/Cutoff/Defensive Breakup/Pursuit). The quickness Raymond possesses makes him a puck retrieval threat, adding to his value in NHL systems and showing potential for growth in the future. He can make quick cuts to cross up defenders and earn valuable space and time, landing a controlled offensive entry and creating cycles to create offense for his line.
When I’m asked about what I believe is the most difficult area of the game to adjust to in the NHL, my answer often defaults to just how quickly the game is. You get much less time to think about and process what’s going on, find your target and execute your option. It’s why so many scouts look for players with smart, effective and rapid one-touch passing or quick passing decisions in young players. His awareness of linemates to make simple, easy passes into open space was on display repeatedly. If his turns and puck control on those turns can get a bit quicker to survey the ice and execute his options, he could be an even more reliable offensive transition weapon. In the clips highlighted below, Raymond is consistently an option facilitating defensive zone exits and board play in the offensive zone making quick adaptations to opponent positioning to create easier passing opportunities.
There was only one example I caught where Raymond overhandled the puck, got closed out and turned the puck over on a defensive zone exit, but it’s still another great example of Raymond’s defensive involvement and stick skill to turn pucks around in the right direction.
To build off of what Will said above, something that I believe fans understate is the decision making that goes into choosing your path around the ice. Regardless if the puck is on your stick, a teammate’s stick, the opposition’s stick or it is unpossessed by either team, it is expected that an NHL player is able to interpret how play is going to develop and position themselves accordingly to impact play. Any misreads or late reads means you might just be a fraction of a second too late to where you need to be at the right time, and that means missed opportunities to impose your will into the game. This is why it doesn’t matter what world class tools you possess if you are not able to apply them practically at an NHL pace. Oftentimes, rookies struggle to adapt to the speed of NHL hockey and can be found overskating open pockets of ice, misidentifying support routes to provide options for teammates, failing to recognize when to commit to a play and when to circle out and regroup, as well as underestimating the speed at which dangerous plays (for both teams) can develop. Players who fail to overcome these adversities will not be able to apply their skills at the NHL level and will likely be found floating around the ice except for the rare times the puck is on their stick and the conditions around the ice just happen to go their way. Players who do overcome these limitations will be able to start creating these conditions for themselves on a regular basis.
Lucas Raymond is one of very few players to have already mastered the concept behind thoughtful movement around the ice before playing in the NHL. If Raymond’s brain is the sturdy foundation to which his game is built around, then his skating is the supporting structure that allows him to help reach new heights few players will ever grow to. The way these two traits are applied in unison results in practical pathing around the ice that can only be described as cerebral. Raymond is always scanning the ice for the location of the puck, the position of the players close enough to be involved in the developing play, and where the players away from the play are located, all while considering where everyone plans on going next. This allows him to recognize where and when gaps between coverage will open up, providing him ample opportunity to sneak in between defensive structures where he can impact the play. Due to the nature of the sport, conditions around the ice can change drastically in mere moments, but that doesn’t limit Raymond by any means. He quickly recognizes how play will change and adapts as necessary, and this is where his skating truly shines. Sharp cuts, quick directional changes, gorgeous edgework and highly deceptive pivots provide Raymond with the 360-degree mobility required to constantly track play and route himself in meaningful ways. When compared to your average rookie, Raymond’s movement blows them away.
That being said, Raymond can still be found lagging behind the play a bit at times when compared to elite NHL players. This is understandable, as he hasn’t even played a quarter of a season in the NHL yet. What’s important is that Raymond is figuring out the nuances of what works and what doesn’t and making adjustments as they are needed.
Coach Greg’s Take:
Lucas Raymond is a player that makes everyone around him better. His small area skills are fantastic and lead to be extremely easy to play with. While most cerebral players tend to have weaker shots and fall back on great vision and playmaking, his shot is nothing to laugh at either. In a season or two, he will be able to score from anywhere on the ice. He thinks the game differently from most players and the real question is, “will Lucas Raymond be an NHL star or just a solid top six playdriver.”
All this wonderfulness being said, this is the NHL though, and the point of the game is scoring. When you draft a player 4th overall, the hope is that that player will provide some level of offensive threat at 5v5, and while Raymond generated zero shot attempts on his own and just three dangerous pass attempts, two of those attempts were completed, and both in ways that even deceived me while watching them. A trademark retrieval and quick strip in the offensive zone with excellent patience and deception with his body leads to the first example, and a lovely drop to one knee to fake a shot into a cross-ice pass through the slot are real sights to behold for an NHL rookie .
The data also indicated that while Raymond didn’t take shots himself, something he’s quite capable of, Detroit took just 10 shot attempts with him on the ice, and his shot assists counted for 20% of those attempts. There may not have been a ton of offense, but he was quite involved when the chance presented itself.
The Red Wings are a team playing with a ton of personality and heart this year, but they are still a ways away from constantly competing with the best of the best. A player can only do so much with the opportunities they are given and even though Raymond is a fixture on the winged wheel’s top line, there will be games this year where Detroit is simply outclassed by a superior team. Raymond may not always have the opportunities he would like to drive play and achieve results, but it is clear that he has the means to do so. His deceptive abilities are world class, as he simultaneously combines threatening fakes with his stickwork, skate positioning, body language and eyes to overwhelm defenders with false information before making a play into whatever open space the defence hasn’t accounted for. He has the tools to constantly manipulate NHL players, and he has the understanding as to when/why/how to do so. Raymond’s peak offensive ceiling is entirely dependent on just how well he can fuse those two traits. I’m confident that he can do so.
Coach Greg’s Take:
As Will mentioned, with the puck Raymond is elite; no if, ands, or buts. What he has started to show is the ability to alter the opposition’s defensive shape and set up situations that are advantageous to him. Looking back at his first three NHL points tells a good story: His first NHL assist was on a 5v3 vs the defending cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. He draws two defenders to him before starting a slick quick tic-tac-toe passing sequence where the defenders couldn’t get back into position to close down the passing lanes. His first NHL goal came off the rush and beat the goalie clean from the faceoff dot in full stride, which is a highly projectable scoring trait. He was able to build speed, time out the rush chance, catch the puck across his body, and land the shot short side high. Finally, his second NHL assist was another curious secondary assist that oozes the talent Raymond possesses. Getting the puck off the wall on a breakout, created heels on the defensemen (the concept of using skill and motion to play with defensive foot positioning), cutting back into the space he created for himself, and then sending a beautiful saucer pass for his teammate to skate into and put home.
All of this is positive, but there’s still work to be done to improve Raymond’s NHL ability at 5v5. While his first few steps stuck out as a 17-year-old in the SHL on bigger ice, leading to great defensive results, but there is such a concept as NHL-quickness, and physical strength is also a separating factor defensively at the NHL level. While the Red Wings struggled to generate offense, they did also allow shot attempts against at a rate of nearly 70 per 60 minutes, which is far from ideal, and that can partly be traced back to Raymond at times being a non-factor if a stick check is missed or a player carries too much momentum for him to get a handle on. A single miss, or a skipping out on applying physical pressure can lead to extended defensive zone pressure in the NHL or worse. Improving the raw speed Raymond can generate beyond his first few steps and getting stronger over time could pair extremely well with the mind, skill, and creativity he already possesses.