Turns Out Good Players Play Better With Other Good Players: The Sam Reinhart and Ryan O'Reilly Story

June 5, 2018

In 2017 Sam Reinhart took the dreaded cold streak to a new level with his first half performance of 13 points in 40 games, leading many to question whether or not Reinhart was worthy of his second overall selection on the 2014 Entry Draft. I always felt those questions were premature given his age and supporting cast, but given the Sabres constant struggles, it was hard not to expect the worst.


Sure enough, right around the mid point of the season, Reinhart's play improved and his production rose to the levels we have expected from him. 


In this post I attempt to figure out what, if anything, happened to help Reinhart turn his season around and reassert himself as a player the Sabres can legitimately try to build around.


With help from Hockey Reference and Natural Statrick, I split up Sam Reinhart's stats into six 10 game segments and two 11 game segments to help us focus in on when and hopefully how his performance changed. So before we dig into some of the numbers, here is the raw data for you to look over if you'd like. 


Stats are at all strengths except for 5v5 corsi for percentage and 5v5 zone start percentage.


Before we attempt to figure out why games 41-82 were so much better than games 1-40, let's dig into the numbers and pick out some interesting figures. 


His change in pure point production is quite extreme. In his first 40 games he had 13 points compared to his final 42 games where he had 37 points. That's a .556 change in points per game, or slightly more than half a point per game. That's a massive uptick in scoring and illustrates just how bad his first half was. He was on pace for roughly 26 points through the first 40 games, but finished with 50. 


Of his 13 points in the first 40 games, only 2 were secondary assists. What this suggests to me is that the only way he was getting on the scoresheet in the first 40 games was if he played a starring role in the goal itself. He either put the puck in the net, or he made the final pass that presumably put the goal scorer in a position to score. 


Despite playing on a bad team and *foreshadowing* playing with bottom 6 players for the first 40 games of the season, his possession stats were relatively good if not great during that span but was hurt considerably by a low shooting percentage and low overall shot totals. 


What changed at the mid point of the season?


I wish I had a 5 part in depth analysis of what Sam Reinhart changed in his game at the midpoint to show how smart I am, but unfortunately (or fortunately), I think the improvement in his game can be explained pretty well by this chart.

If you're unfamiliar, this is a chart from Hockey Viz outlining game by game 5v5 line mates. The space between dashes on the bottom line are 10 game segments. As you can see, in the first half of the graph Reinhart rarely played with the same players for more than a few games, and was often stuck with fringe fourth liners like Seth Griffith, Jordan Nolan, and Johan Larsson. There was one five game stretch where he was on a line with Eichel and Kane, but other than that his line mates changed almost nightly. This may come as a shock, but playing with, at best, replacement level players isn't great for your production. 


As I'm sure you've noticed, right around the mid point of the graph, the mishmash of colors changed to a more consistent blob of red on the bottom, indicating that Reinhart was placed on Ryan O'Reilly's wing.


In the most anticlimactic way possible, I'm pretty certain this is why Reinhart's production skyrocketed. He got moved to a line with a top 6 center and sure enough, his shot rate went up, his possession numbers went up, and his point production increased by over 50%.


The question that needs to be asked now is, who helped who more? Did one carry the other, or was it mutually beneficial?


O'Reilly and Reinhart started playing together regularly at game 46, so to help us figure out who helped who more, let's dig into O'Reilly's numbers like we did for Reinhart.


Like Reinhart, there are some interesting figures we can glean from O'Reilly's stats.


First thing worth pointing out is his point production was relatively consistent, with one bad stretch from games 21-30 where he only got 4 points. Otherwise O'Reilly was well over a half a point per game on average. 


His highest scoring ten game segment came during his smallest average time on ice at only 18:35 per game compared his regular 20+ minutes a night. One of O'Reilly biggest strengths is his ability to eat up huge minutes, especially in the defensive zone, but it's interesting that his best ten game point total came during his smallest average time on ice. 


O'Reilly's corsi for percentage shot up in the back half of half of the year when, I bet this will come as a massive shock, Sam Reinhart started regularly playing on his line. 


So who helped who more?


It turns out, rather than one player significantly propping the other up and dragging them along for the ride, putting Reinhart and O'Reilly together on the same line was mutually beneficial. During the first half of the year O'Reilly did play with decent enough wingers, primarily Okposo and Pouliot, but they were far from top end players. Because of this he was able to put up OK point totals but severally lacked in the possession department. 


When Housley put O'Reilly and Reinhart together he was able to give each player a line-mate to work with that propped each other up, a veritable rising tide floats all boats situation.


Before they were paired up, O'Reilly had a good scoring and assist touch, but didn't have possession of the puck enough to take advantage of his skill set. While Reinhart did a decent job of controlling possession, he didn't have the line-mates to help him take advantage of their possession and put the puck in the net. 

Both players may be slower than I like, but if you're able to maintain possession of the puck at an almost 54% clip I think the Sabres should seriously consider keeping O'Reilly and Reinhart together going into the 2018/2019 season. 


Give them a young speedy winger to work with and a, hopefully, improved defensive core that can actually break the puck out, and watch their production skyrocket in 18/19.

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