Lucas Raymond, William Eklund, Moritz Seider.
ELLENTHAL: How much ice time in the SHL goes to juniors?

Vår statistikbloggare Zach Ellenthal går den här veckan på djupet när det gäller juniorernas speltid i SHL.

At the start of this SHL season, one stat I thought was worth monitoring was how much ice time juniors were getting league-wide. Given the pandemic’s tightening effect on team budgets and the ability or willingness of players to travel across borders, I figured we’d see an increase in playing opportunities for young players once veterans inevitably got hurt or played poorly.

As it turned out, that hypothesis was wrong. Junior-aged skaters have played 6.2 percent of all available ice time, which is not only down versus last year, but also the lowest of any season in the last four years:

  • 17-18: 6.9%

  • 18-19: 7.4%

  • 19-20: 6.6%

  • 20-21: 6.2%

Before addressing this decline, here’s how that breaks out by team:

Looking back on how the season unfolded, it is actually pretty easy to explain why this pandemic season drove down opportunities for juniors, and not the other way around.

One factor is the unpredictable cancellation of the junior season in November, which pulled an entire cohort of 17, 18, and 19-year-olds out of game shape, some of whom could have been prepared for SHL opportunities in the second half had they played a regular junior schedule. The long-term implications of a diminished development year are more important than the short-term ones, but nevertheless, I imagine it played a role here.

Additionally, the uncertainty surrounding when North American professional leagues would begin drove more players to the SHL in the middle of the season. AHL veteran types like Matt Puempel, Roland McKeownAdam Johnson and Max Veronneau fit that profile – players who in a normal year most likely would have had both job and playing time security somewhere in North America.

If we look at how much juniors play on a game-by-game basis, this season (blue line) was trending similarly with past years during the first 30 to 35 games. However, the 20/21 season takes a noticeable dip over the last third of the season. I’d guess the first two factors above -- no junior season and an influx of AHL veterans -- contributes to a decline at that stage of the year.

Furthermore, even while budgets have been constrained, teams were not gun-shy about bringing in big name mid-season additions. We saw this up and down the standings – both good teams loading up and bad teams willing to spend money in an attempt to avoid a larger financial blow of relegation.

Players were also of course squeezed by a diminished market across the entire hockey ecosystem. Job opportunities in the KHL or Switzerland were either less appealing financially or disappeared altogether, leaving players like Andrew Calof and Rhett Rakhshani willing to play for less than they were accustomed to at the SHL level.

Lastly, there is always going to be randomness from year-to-year to influence a stat like this. A Moritz Seider isn’t usually available to log major minutes. William Eklund and Karl Henriksson normally would have played in the World Juniors and played fewer SHL minutes. Maybe things look a little different if Lucas Raymond stays healthy all season. Regardless of those specific situations, the circumstances of this strange pandemic season did not increase the prominence of junior-aged players in the way I thought it might. 

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