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Michael McNiven continuing his rapid upward development curve

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Passed over 211 times in the NHL draft, Michael McNiven is now arguably the OHL’s top goaltender.

Team Cherry v Team Orr

Last season, McNiven was named one of six finalists for OHL Goaltender of the Year, despite owning a .902 SV% that placed him just on the inside of the top-20 in the league.

This season, the Canadiens prospect has made another encouraging set of improvements to his game, starting with more aggressive positioning and improved rebound control.

The Statistics

Breaking down McNiven’s SV% by low-danger (LD), medium-danger (MD), and high-danger (HD) creates a general idea of where he has improved.

LD SV% MD SV% HD SV% LD SA/GP MD SA/GP HD SA/GP
McNiven '15-'16 94.60% 88.26% 78.34% 12.58 12.38 2.80
McNiven '16-'17 94.80% 81.40% 88.00% 22.23 4.54 1.92
OHL Average '16-'17 93.50% 82.42% 76.97% 23.91 5.51 3.06

2016-17 statistics courtesy of Prospect-Stats.com. 2015-16 statistics courtesy of Stephen Burtch’s OHL/QMJHL goaltender visualizations.

McNiven’s LD SV% has crept up 0.20%, while his MD SV% has plummeted from 88.26% to 81.40%; however, he has seen his HD SV% rise 9.66% to 88%—the third highest in the entire OHL.

Fueling these numbers is an interesting disparity in shots-against. Owen Sound does a great job preventing shots from MD and HD, as McNiven faced just 4.54 MDSA (0.42 fewer than OHL average) and 1.92 HDSA (0.50 fewer than OHL average).

Of McNiven’s 29 GA in total, 18 have been either on two-on-ones (7), breakaways or partial breaks (4), non-odd-man royal-road crossing passes (6), or deflections (1).

These stats left me with two questions:

  1. Why is his MD SV% a full three-percent behind the league average?
  2. Has he made any tangible improvements that are reflected in his significantly improved HD SV%?

(1) Medium-danger struggles?

After watching all 29 of the goals McNiven conceded, I found at least seven of the goals as MD were essentially on the cusp of being HD (i.e., barely to the outside of the slot).

The SV% statistics mentioned above track the shot location, not the play leading up to the shot. This is an important distinction to make. Of the 11 MD GA, five were shots coming immediately after a primary royal-road crossing pass assist, three were on two-on-ones, and one was deflected.

The vast majority of MD GA (and LD GA, to a lesser extent) have been scored blocker side, specifically with shots placed just above McNiven’s blocker. Although his MD SV% has yet to be concerning, it’s clear that shooters have found a weakness in McNiven’s armor.

(2) High-danger and additional improvements

Last season, McNiven faced 2.8 HD SA/GP; this season, just 1.92.

This decrease can be attributed to the excellence of Owen Sound’s defence structure, but also to how their netminder is playing.

After a season of inconsistent (at best) rebound control, McNiven is doing a much better jobs making saves and freezing the puck or playing into soft areas on the ice.

This means that McNiven isn’t giving the opposition second and third chances in dangerous spots, decreasing his overall high-danger workload.

To further illustrate how McNiven’s improved rebound control has affected HD SA: Owen Sound’s backups face 2.67 HD SA/GP, which is slightly more than 34 of an extra SA/GP than McNiven.

Improved rebound control is often a product of improvements before the shot. McNiven is playing more aggressive than ever (as demonstrated in many of the saves above), often taking a top of the paint stance to take away angles.

McNiven has combined this with improved puck tracking to become increasingly effective at staying square with the shooter as the puck gets moved across the ice. This most evident is how he is immediately pushing to the top of the crease as a puck from down low gets moved into the slot. Perhaps this is another explanation for his increased HD SV%.

Conclusion

Perhaps there's an argument to be made that McNiven's technique and reads should be further along at this stage in development, but I'm inclined to argue that this rawness is a sign of potential based on his development curve.

Some games, he is in control and demonstrating the improvements discussed; others, he’s flying wildly across the crease. While there has been improve in this young season, consistency is still a big problem for the 19-year-old.

But if there has been one constant in McNiven’s development, it’s that he is improving every step of the way.