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Matt Nieto, Tyler Kennedy and the value of non-scoring forwards

Players can generate immense value even when they don’t score.

NHL: Boston Bruins at San Jose Sharks Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

Remember Tyler Kennedy? Sure you do. He played for the Sharks for 92 games from 2013-15 and scored just 26 points, making him a much maligned member of the Team Teal Alumni Group. A similar malaise surrounds Matt Nieto, a player whose possession numbers are excellent but doesn’t score much.

These guys don’t sell many jerseys in the NHL and are often replaced in the lineup by players who offer equally “intangible” contributions. In other words, Nieto has been scratched while Micheal Haley has played in part because they make a similar dent on the scoresheet.

That’s woefully misguided and undersells what players like Nieto and Kennedy are capable of. Scoring is the goal of an NHL game (obviously) but credit should be given to the players who help create those plays as well as to those who assist and score on them.

Let’s start with the obvious: Nieto is a much, much better player than Haley and is a very competent NHL player. These charts include their entire NHL careers because it’s the only way to get enough data for Haley for him to even have something resembling a chart show up.

Nieto is a bottom-six forward. I’m not trying to sell him as something beyond that, but the fact he’s being scratched is pretty silly given how darn good the Sharks can be with him in the lineup. Now about that Kennedy fellow? Yeah, he was pretty darn good, too.

Would you look at that. Yes, Kennedy didn’t score much at all but his possession game was absolutely stellar. Listen, I’ll take a guy who generates possession and scores every day of the week — but at times the NHL insists a guy who does neither is more valuable than a guy who does just one of these.

This blog post won’t change the hearts and minds of NHL coaches and general managers, of course, but I hope some can take a more realistic and fair look at players like Nieto in the future. Points per game has long been the standard by which every NHL player is measured — it’s time to change that. Maybe this is where it starts.

Or maybe it doesn’t. The Sharks are cruising right now with Haley in the lineup and I think we’re all perfectly aware of how that can influence roster decisions. When Timo Meier starts knocking on the door there’s going to be a roster decision made and given Haley’s appearance in three-straight games, it’s fair to say he’s at least got a chance of sticking around.

As someone who hopes the Sharks win more games than they lose, I believe Nieto gives them their best shot. Now we’ll wait and see if he gets it.