Prospect Follow-Up: Riley Sheahan


About a month ago, I did a profile of Riley Sheahan(click here to see the original profile). That article was written when Riley had very little NHL experience and I want to do a follow-up of sorts with him where I assess his current NHL game. Let’s call it up a follow up profile.

What We Already Know

  • Big and Strong 6’2″ 215 lbs
  • Drafted 21st overall in the 2010 draft
  • Played college hockey at Notre Dame, a team that plays a notoriously defensive game, developing his defensive game but stunting his offensive game

What We Are Starting To Know

  • Dynamic passer
  • In the right spot, has pinpoint accuracy and can put the puck in the back of the net
  • Is on pace for about 50 points if he was playing an 82 game season

What Happens Next Year

Okay enough with the bullets, it’s time I write complete sentences. He will be the 3rd line center next year. Notice the lack of an asterisk there where I say once Helm gets injured. Sheahan is a better option today than Darren Helm. Sheahan is much more reliable offensively and can contribute much more consistently and effectively on a scoring line and the way the Wings roster is shaping up, it looks as though they will have 3 scoring lines and 1 shutdown line. However, I expect this team to make some changes this offseason, they have a lot of forwards and not a lot of defenseman,(Helm/Abdelkader, Backman and mid round pick for Edler or Ehrhoff? Just speculation) Sheahan is too good to not play in the NHL and his lack of a waiver exemption saves him from being Nyquisted(I’m coining this term to mean burying a player in the minors because you can). Riley is going to stay a Detroit Red Wing next year. He is going to sign a contract for 2-4 years with an AAV of 1.5 million-3.5 million. Sheahan has proved himself to be able to play NHL hockey effectively and has earned the trust of Holland and Babcock.

Small Sample Size Bias?

We have only seen Riley Sheahan play a very small number of games. So this leaves the idea open that maybe he is a) underperforming or b) over performing. First I want to look at a few of his plays, and then I want to look at some possession metrics, and then after that we can maybe formulate an idea on what some good expectations are for Riley Sheahan going forward in his career.


Riley has had a few plays where he shows off his ability to identify passing lanes and execute great passes. Often times, players can do either one or the other, part of the makeup of a playmaker is identifying who on the ice has the best chance to score in a certain situation, and if the player can get them the puck, then this creates a dynamic offensive catalyst. To show an in-depth example of this, I am going to grab a 2 on 1 with Sheahan and Tatar from March 20th. The Wings were down one, and this play eventually ties up the game, in large part to Sheahan’s ability to pass the puck.  Onto some pictures,

This is the beginning of the play. Things to notice from the Wings perspective,

1) Although its hard to tell, Tatar has just passed to Sheahan and the puck is headed over to him now.

2) Sheahan has a great jump on this play which allows the play to move so quickly. Often times breakouts fail because the players can’t keep up with the puck, this doesn’t happen here as Tatar makes the pass and then skates hard to keep up with the momentum of the play.

Things to notice from the penguins perspective,

1) This is poor defensive spacing. Defenseman should never run into each other, especially on this kind of play. This is a miscommunication and one of these guys is out of position.

2) At this point in the play the Penguins have all three forwards behind the puck. This play is only dangerous for the Penguins because of the defensive miscues. This should have turned into a delayed 2 on 2 where Sheahan would end up delaying the puck and being forced to either split the D(which would require speed that he does not have) delay the play and wait for Tatar, or to attempt to pick a corner and hope for a perfect shot and goal.  Onto the next picture.

From the Wings perspective,

1) Sheahan has about half the ice to work with here. The amount of space he has is crazy, granted it’s a 4 on 4 but still, lots of space.

2) If Tatar makes a tape to tape pass this becomes a semi breakaway. Although you can’t tell since it’s a picture, the Penguins D are not at full speed, or even close. They just collided and are moving slowly as they try to accelerate into catching Sheahan.

3) Tatar is skating to catch up to the play.

4) Sheahan has a lot of time right now and uses this time to identify Tatar skating about 2 or 3 strides behind him.

From the Penguins perspective,

1) Awful defensive positioning. They are still recovering from the collision, but that collision is awful, and should never happen at the NHL level.

2) I can’t figure out where Sheahan comes from on this play or how he gets so open to be honest here. In the videos that I have seen, Sheahan just kind of appears at the bottom right corner of the screen and there is no Penguin tracking him. Hockey logic tells us that the Center he is playing with missed his assignment,  but since it’s  4 on 4 Bylsma might just give each forward half the rink.

3) We can now see all four Penguins skaters. Every single one is out of position.  Onto the next picture,

From the Wings perspective,

1) Sheahan’s got his head up here and he is looking at 3 things, where Fleury is(i.e. is he out of position), where the defender is(is he forcing Sheahan to shoot or trying to goad him into passing) and lastly, where Tatar is(is he in position to receive a pass to score)

2)Sheahan forces himself to pass on this play. Any time a player is outside the face-off dots on a 2 on 1 he is not in position to score a goal. He is making the goalie square him up so the other player on the 2 on 1 can get more net to shoot from. Fleury has to respect Sheahan’s position enough to square him up, but he knows that Tatar is the real scoring threat here because of the positioning of each player.

From the Penguins perspective,

1) The lone defenseman back is in good position. He plugged the passing lane effectively and Sheahan is not in a good shooting area on the ice. This play SHOULD be neutralized.

From the Wings perspective,

1) Riley Sheahan makes a great saucer pass here. He elevates the puck over a defenseman in a very small space and still has enough touch on the pass to get it back down to the ice onto Tatar’s stick.

2) Tatar is in great position here. he is touching the far side edge of the face-off dot. This is a spot that is close enough where Fleury doesn’t have the time to square up to him, but far enough away where he can still elevate the puck.

From the Penguins perspective,

1) The defenseman sold out and tried to prevent the pass, but was unable to do so. By diving he has taken himself out of the play and now has to hope that the trailing player can stop Tatar.

Tatar ends up roofing the puck here and ties the game at 3 on this play. Although it’s a nice finish from Tatar to get the shot on net and then past Fleury, this play happens due to the following factors

1) Great vision from Sheahan to be able to recognize the change in possession and to find the open ice.

2) A good first pass from Tatar to jumpstart Sheahan and allow a 2 person breakout.

3) Good skating from Tatar to stay with a play that he trailed in for the most part. He put himself in the position to score that goal.

4) All 4 Penguins were out of position at the beginning of this play and the only one who gets in position is still only able to dive in a passing lane as opposed to being more aggressive on Sheahan or Tatar. It was a good dive and it required a really good pass from Sheahan to beat it, but a defenseman’s job on a 2 on 1 is to prevent the pass, he was unable to do so.

5) That pass by Sheahan is absolutely sick. It’s this kind of pass that makes me think that Sheahan can be a number one center.

Why do I care about this one play?

Great question reader. This is true, I am putting a lot of emphasis on this one play and asking the repeatability of this play is a valid question. So I want to articulate that this play is not repeatable in the fact that every 2 on 1 stems from a defensive miscue, but that the skills that Sheahan showed to create this skill is what is most important.

On this play Sheahan shows a great sense of the ice and the speed at which the game moves. He was able to time his delay as he waited for Tatar, and then he was able to time his pass to hit Tatar’s stick at the spot on the ice where he was still able to have an effective scoring chance.

Sheahan, again, proves that he can pass the puck at a very high level. This pass was not easy and showed that Riley Sheahan can get the puck through passing lanes that other players cannot. This pass is challenging because he has to elevate the puck high enough to get over the defender, but it has to fall quickly enough where it still lands on Tatar’s stick. This pass by Riley Sheahan required a lot of skill and he executed this play with great patience and poise.

What do the stats say?

Oh another great question. If you frequently read my articles, then you will know that I generally don’t like to use stats as an evaluator. This is because I generally write about prospects who are playing in Juniors or in the AHL and those stats tend to be inflated and unreliable. However, stats that are accumulated in the NHL are much more reliable because of talent parity and more reliable stats. Let’s start by looking at the basic or traditional stats from Riley Sheahan. He has 8 goals and 15 assists, totaling 23 points in 41 games, exactly half a season. If he continues this scoring pace he would score 46 points, which is essentially where his pace was when I wrote his first profile. This tells us that throughout the half season of NHL hockey he has played, he has been consistent. One of the concerns with his game originally was that he was a very streaky player. I am not going to dismiss that based on 41 games, but this is a nice pace to see him play at. Sheahan has had very few games where he hasn’t made an impact. I generally hear his name involved in scoring chances quite often and feel pretty good about his production right now.

Now let’s look at some of the more advanced stats(to see a complete set of Riley’s stats click this link). I want to highlight a few of his stats and talk about whether they are sustainable.

First let’s talk about his Corsi For %. CF% is a stat that takes in all the corsi events(shots that hit the net, miss the net, and get blocked) for each team while a certain player is on the ice and tells us what percentage of corsi events that players team is responsible for. This stat gives us context as to how effective or ineffective a player is on the ice. For example, if I tell you that Riley Sheahan had 15 corsi events in a game you might say, “wow that’s pretty good. That’s a lot of shots, he must have been effective.” But, if the sentence finishes with Riley Sheahan has 15 corsi events in a game….but the other team had 30, you might be less impressed. CF% helps us put these relative stats in context.

The baseline/average for this stat is 50%, Riley Sheahan is currently sporting a 56.2 CF%, which is 4.7% higher than the average Red Wing. So this tells us that Sheahan is controlling the play more times than not when he is on the ice and is generating quality offensive zone possession.

There are two important qualifiers here, first, is Sheahan getting easy minutes,(i.e. against the other teams 4th line instead of their 1st line) and second, is he getting protected minutes. Protected minutes is to be defined as where that shift starts. It is a lot easier to generate a shot if you start your shift on an offensive face-off than it is if you start your shift on a defensive face-off. Well, thanks to they made a nifty chart to give us the answer to this question.


As you can see, Sheahan is kind of an outlier on this chart. If you are having problems reading or interpreting this chart, just look at the names who are near Riley Sheahan, Kindl, Lashoff, and Tatar. Sheahan is starting 64% of his shifts in the offensive zone, this is 4% more than any other Red Wing. Riley Sheahan is getting the most sheltered minutes on the team right now.

This surprised me. I notice Sheahan out on the ice in a lot of key moments. I didn’t think he was getting sheltered minutes. I remember Sheahan being played during overtimes, and in the waning moments of games and thought he was getting shifted against the teams 2nd line, however, this chart proves me wrong completely. What’s important to note here is that Sheahan and Tatar are the only outlying forwards on this chart. This means that it is not a weird coincidence or some fluke. This is a clear coaching tactic from Babcock. He is sheltering Tatar and Sheahan together as a line(quick note, Jurco is not on this chart because he hasn’t played enough games).


First off, thanks for sticking with me, my word counter tells me that we are at almost 2500 words right now and I want to thank you reading the whole post! But now more importantly, what do all the above words mean about Riley Sheahan going forward.

In the previous article that is written about him, I talk about him being a possible first line center if placed with talented wingers like Jurco or Mantha.  I am not going to back off that claim. I am going to attribute his sheltered minutes to his inexperience and the teams need to generate goals. Babcock is probably able to get the Sheahan line easier minutes because the opposition is busy trying to matchup against Datsyuk, Franzen, or Nyquist. Sheahan, Tatar, and Jurco, are able probably able to draw and easier matchup because of the Wings older and more established players which means that Sheahan draws an easier match up. When they can draw easy line match ups they can be quite dynamic. However, if these numbers continue into next year, and he is still getting the most sheltered minutes on the team, then it is something that might be a cause for concern. Sheahan’s greatest strength is his defensive game and, if for some reason, his defense isn’t transferring over the NHL then his value as an NHLer plummets. But, I don’t think those things are going to happen and I think that Riley Sheahan has grown tremendously this year and is showing the signs of becoming the Wings #1 center man of the future.

As always, look me up on twitter @ProspectGuy and don’t be afraid to send me an email to with any Red Wings questions that you have. I may feature your question in an upcoming mailbag article.

All stats are courtesy of Extra Skater.