Who is the better fantasy own – Bo Horvat or Mika Zibanejad?

by Rick Roos on May 17, 2017 | (2 Comments)

 

Poolies were hoping by now to have a better idea of what the future holds for Mika Zibanejad and Bo Horvat. Yet after another season in the books for each, we remain unsure of their fantasy trajectory and which one of the two is the better short and long term fantasy own. Fortunately Cage Match is here for a deep dive to get you the answers you need!

 

Career Path and Contract Status

 

Zibanejad, 24, was drafted 6th overall in 2011 and had a nine game NHL cameo that season. During the lockout he played 23 games in the AHL (11 points) then posted 20 points in 42 contests for the Sens. After an AHL refresher (seven points in six games) he was in the NHL to stay for the rest of 2013-14 (33 points in 69 games). From there, his scoring rate improved to 46 points in 2014-15 then 51 in 2015-16. After being dished to the Rangers in the offseason, things started great (15 points in 19 games) before a leg injury cost him nearly two months. Upon returning to the line-up he was rusty (13 points in 28 games), then ended the regular season on a high note that extended through the playoffs (18 points in his final 21 games).

Horvat, 22, was picked 9th overall in 2013 and returned to the OHL that season, where his 74 points in 54 games showed he was NHL ready. As a rookie Horvat posted 25 points in 68 games, then improved to 40 points in 2015-16. Like Zibanejad, he had hot and cold stretches in 2016-17, in his case managing 46 points in 62 games in between a cold start (four points in 11 games) and finish (two points in eight games). The resulting 52 points bested the outputs of both Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin and perhaps signaled an unofficial passing of the torch for the Canucks offense.

Both players will be RFAs this summer. Zibanejad is arbitration-eligible and coming off a deal that had a $2.625M per year cap hit, while Horvat just finished his ELC, which counted $0.894M against the cap.

 

Ice Time

 

Season

Total Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

PP Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

SH Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

2016-17

17:04 (M.Z.) – 3rd

18:01 (B.H.) – 5th

2:23 (M.Z.) – 5th

1:55 (B.H.) – 6th

0:42 (M.Z.) – 7th

1:49 (B.H.) – 2nd

2015-16

17:15 (M.Z.) – 3rd

17:07 (B.H.) – 4th

2:30 (M.Z.) – 5th

1:47 (B.H.) – 7th

1:25 (M.Z.) – 3rd

2:15 (B.H.) – 1st

2014-15

16:26 (M.Z.) – 5th

12:15 (B.H.) – 13th

2:41 (M.Z.) – 4th

0:15 (B.H.) – 11th

0:18 (M.Z.) – 11th

0:42(B.H.) – 9th

2013-14

14:19 (M.Z.) – 9th

1:58 (M.Z.) – 8th

0:19 (M.Z.) – 10th

 

Since neither is – or has been – a bona fide #1 center as of this point in their careers, I’m not surprised by these numbers nor by their 2016-17 Ice Time rankings among forwards on their team(s). This data also serves as an important reminder of the need to dig deeper than just examining Total Ice Time, since although Horvat had nearly a minute more per game than Zibanejad, it was in the form of undesirable SH Time.

 

It’s unusual for a 22-year-old like Horvat to have such balanced Ice Time, leading me to fear he could suffer from what I call Jonathan Toews syndrome. Even at a young age forwards like Toews (and Horvat) are team-focused and talented in all zones, which is great for NHL squads but less so on a fantasy teams that don’t score FOW or SHG/SHP. Even worse –rightful praise they get for their real-world skill leads to more attention, which results in a fantasy cost that falls short of their actual impact in the box score.

 

Thus, even if Horvat sees his Total Ice Time continue to increase, it’s not clear whether he’d be able to shed enough SH Ice Time or add enough PP Time along the way to help him make a big fantasy leap. Case in point - since 2013-14 there’ve been only three instances of centers posting 60+ points in a season despite 1:30+ per game in SH Time and less than 2:30 per game in PP Time (Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci in 2013-14, and Eric Staal in 2016-17).

 

This isn’t to imply Zibanejad is poised to be in an Ice Time sweet spot either. That’s because unlike in Vancouver - where the Henrik Sedin era seems to be drawing to an end - the Rangers have an excess of age 26 or younger pivots between Zibanejad, Derek Stepan (signed until 2021), Kevin Hayes (RFA after 2017-18) and technically even J.T. Miller (also an RFA after 2017-18).

 

Beyond that, there’s the limitations of the Alain Vigneault system. In four seasons with Vigneault as coach, only three Rangers have posted 60+ points, and just one (Rick Nash – 69 points in 2014-15) had more than 61. With the team having won 45+ games in each of those seasons and having made it to at least the second round of the playoffs in three of the four, Vigneault might be at the helm for a while, much to the potential dismay of poolies who own Zibanejad.

 

Secondary Categories

 

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2016-17

0.28 (M.Z.)

0.33 (B.H.)

0.41 (M.Z.)

0.80 (B.H.)

0.48 (M.Z.)

0.50 (B.H.)

2.12 (M.Z.)

1.95 (B.H.)

0.19 (M.Z.)

0.13 (B.H.)

2015-16

0.22 (M.Z.)

0.22 (B.H.)

1.37 (M.Z.)

0.84 (B.H.)

0.53 (M.Z.)

0.64 (B.H.)

2.27 (M.Z.)

1.89 (B.H.)

0.13 (M.Z.)

0.14 (B.H.)

2014-15

0.25 (M.Z.)

0.23 (B.H.)

1.86 (M.Z.)

1.03 (B.H.)

0.32 (M.Z.)

0.69 (B.H.)

1.87 (M.Z.)

1.36 (B.H.)

0.17 (M.Z.)

0.01 (B.H.)

2013-14

0.26 (M.Z.)

1.71 (M.Z.)

0.40 (M.Z.)

2.21 (M.Z.)

0.11 (M.Z.)

 

For the most part there’s consistency in these numbers. That can be considered a good thing, since it all but eliminates downside risk for poolies; however, that type of consistency is not entirely a positive sign for two players yet to score 55 points in a season. Instead, it would be better if there had been a trend of season-to-season increase in areas like SOG and PPPts. In fairness to them, however, we saw above that both have been mostly relegated to PP2 duty thus far; so not only are their PPPt rates encouraging given that fact, but they leave room for some improvement should they graduate to PP1 duty.

 

SOG are more of a concern. For two pass first centers (they both average roughly one goal per four games), their SOG rates are already decent and might not improve much, if at all. And assuming they don’t make gains in SOG or goal scoring, it could essentially put a cap on their point totals. That’s because over the past five seasons there were 108 instances of centers who scored 60+ points (49 with 70+ points), yet only eight of the 108 did so while averaging between 2 and 2.5 SOG per game and no more than one goal per every four games, and only two of the eight had 70+ points.

 

Looking at their other data, Horvat’s Hits and Blocks have been slowly dropping with each season, yet I wouldn’t too worry much because they’re still decent and the extent to which they’ve dropped is small, meaning he’s likely nearing the stage where the bleeding stops. Zibanejad’s Hits, on the other hand, have been in freefall for two seasons. Normally I’d think his huge drop in 2016-17 might’ve been due to him having missed roughly a third of the season to injury and being tentative upon his return; however, in the 19 games he played before getting hurt he had only six Hits, so poolies might have to resign themselves to the idea that Zibanejad’s days of anything close to (let alone above) one Hit per game are truly a thing of the past.

 

Luck-Based Metrics

 

Season

Personal Shooting Percentage

Team Shooting % (5x5)

IPP (5x5)

IPP (5x4)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5x5)

2016-17

11.8% (M.Z.)

12.7% (B.H.)

9.49% (M.Z.)

8.76% (B.H.)

62.9% (M.Z.)

74.4% (B.H.)

64.7% (M.Z.)

73.3% (B.H.)

52.4% (M.Z.)

46.4% (B.H.)

2015-16

11.4% (M.Z.)

10.3% (B.H.)

9.39% (M.Z.)

7.54% (B.H.)

66.7% (M.Z.)

68.6% (B.H.)

62.5% (M.Z.)

90.0% (B.H.)

59.9% (M.Z.)

42.2% (B.H.)

2014-15

13.3% (M.Z.)

14.0% (B.H.)

8.13% (M.Z.)

8.21% (B.H.)

67.5% (M.Z.)

75.0% (B.H.)

62.5% (M.Z.)

50.0% (B.H.)

55.2% (M.Z.)

47.3% (B.H.)

2013-14

10.5% (M.Z.)

7.29% (M.Z.)

73.3% (M.Z.)

70.0% (M.Z.)

54.6% (M.Z.)

 

Here I’m drawn to Zibanejad’s numbers, but not in a good way. His 5x5 IPP has dropped each season, suggesting he’s becoming less integral to scoring. What’s worse is he kept this downward trend in his first year in New York, when the hope would’ve been for him to be sparked to a rebound.

 

Also, although high team shooting percentages at 5x5 are not unusual for Rangers players, Zibanejad’s for 2016-17 was third highest among the team’s regular forwards, suggesting it’s not likely to go up further and could realistically drop. Overall, Zibanejad’s data paints the picture of a player who doesn’t drive offense and may have benefitted from luck more than not.

 

The concern with Horvat is his OZ%, which – sure enough – reinforces that the team thinks of him as a three-zone player. Of course Henrik Sedin’s OZ% has been in the 60% neighborhood for three of the past four seasons, and when he retires or heads elsewhere someone will stand to benefit. But I think that someone won’t be Horvat, who’ll instead keep his current deployment in favor of Sedin’s more guarded minutes going to a younger or more one-dimensional player.

 

Otherwise though, Horvat has solid metrics. In particular his IPP at 5x5 has been at 74-75% for two of his three seasons, and only a hair under 70% in his other campaign. This means he inserts himself into the scoring picture, which in turn bolsters his points output. Plus, although his 5x4 IPP was a staggering 90% in 2015-16, it dropped only to 73.3% this past season; and two seasons with such a high 5x4 IPP goes a long way toward proving sustainability. Plus, if he gets more PP Time, this suggests it will indeed translate to points. Meanwhile, this has all been happening without his team shooting % at 5x5 hitting the 9.00% figure that’s considered average for NHL forwards. Accordingly, as the Canucks improve and Horvat heads into his prime, he should receive more points organically.

 

Who Wins?

 

This week’s match allows me to again underscore a key point about fantasy value, namely that as talented as a player might be he still can see his output hurt by real world situations. In the case of Zibanejad, he’s hurt by playing in the Alain Vigneault system which makes it difficult for any forward to score more than 60 points (if even that), while for Horvat it’s that he’s so talented at such a young age that it will likely force the team to deploy him as a three-zone player, making it difficult for him to truly showcase the scoring prowess he might very well possess.

 

So although I think both players might have a tough time fulfilling their true potential if these present circumstances remain in place, I have to pick a winner and I’m narrowly going with Horvat. The reason is Horvat has already shown a lot at a younger age than Zibanejad, who’s been more inconsistent and, troublingly, has seen his 5x5 IPP drop each year. Plus, although Horvat may be earmarked for a more all-around role, he’ll have less competition for minutes from within his team, whereas Zibanejad has to contend with the likes of Stepan, Hayes, and Miller who can all play center. When the dust settles, if Horvat is truly as talented as he seems, he might be able to rise to the level of a Krejci or Bergeron, who as we saw above succeeded with similar deployments as Horvat stands to get.

 

 

 

 

  • MarkRM16

    Wow, this is a toughie. Zibanejad is suffering from the fact that the Rangers have so many talented forwards to choose from, so he won’t get as many opportunities due to the competition. Were Stepan traded or claimed by the Knights that’d changes things a lot.
    Poor Horvat is stuck on a sinking ship with lots of responsibilities and linemates with little or no offensive skills. Unless the Canucks can find a decent winger for him, I’d be shocked if his production increased at all or by more than 5 points next season, especially given his lack of powerplay icetime.

  • Cam Robinson

    Good one, Rizz!