Yan Dhanda will wear the maroon and white next season after signing a pre-contract agreement with Heart of Midlothian. The Ross County playmaker has been a name on the lips of fans for a few weeks now after reports emerged last month of the club's interest.

The interest from Hearts came as little surprise. But what will Dhanda bring to Steven Naismith's side when he does arrive, whether it is this month or next month?

READ MORE: Hearts secure Yan Dhanda on pre-contract agreement - and January move hope

The Staggies haven’t had all that much to shout about over the past year and a half, having spent almost all of that time fighting off the threat of relegation, but Dhanda has consistently been a standout. The English playmaker found himself mystifyingly shifted around the park under former manager Malky Mackay but when deployed in his favoured No.10 position, the 25-year-old rarely disappoints. He particularly caught the eye in the recent 2-2 draw at Tynecastle, playing a vital role in County’s opener and rifling in a magnificent free-kick to put Derek Adams’ side two goals up. If this was Dhanda’s audition, then he was passing it with flying colours.

A player on the rise

Since joining County from Swansea City in the summer of 2022, Dhanda has registered eight goals and 14 assists in 60 appearances – a fine record, particularly for someone plying their trade towards the bottom of the Premiership, but not the sort of return to provoke a frantic bidding war. But when we dig a little deeper, we can see just how impressive Dhanda has really been. The radar below shows how he compares to other central midfielders in the league.

As we can see, Dhanda holds up fairly well to his Premiership contemporaries in midfield. He finds himself in the 97th percentile for key passes (passes that lead to a shot) per 90, and the 93rd for expected assists (a metric that measures the quality of chances a player makes per game, regardless of whether or not the final shot goes in) from open play. He is the man to play that all-important final pass - and, more often than not, he finds his intended target. Dhanda might only have three assists in the league this term, but the data suggests that this figure should be higher. He has created high-quality chances, only to be let down by his team-mates' profligacy in front of goal. Just imagine how effective he could be alongside someone like Shankland.

READ MORE: The Hearts season so far: Naismith, Shankland, Celtic, banners and progress

Dhanda also scores pretty highly for deep progressions (successful passes and/or dribbles into the opponent’s final third) - something that Hearts fans are keen to see more of in midfield - and although there isn't much to write home about after that, that's okay. The Englishman doesn't offer much off of the ball, but that's not his role. He is the playmaker: his job is to link the midfield and attack, and to fashion opportunities. There is usually such a position available in Naismith's three-man midfield - and the data suggests that Dhanda could fill it.

Dhanda's underlying numbers are no flash in the pan, either. His debut season in the Highlands saw the midfielder aid County's cause with six goals and 10 assists, providing one or the other every second game on average - an excellent return for a relegation-threatened side. What's interesting, though, is that while Dhanda had far more goal involvements last year, his performance in key metrics is better this season.

Take a look at the radar above. The red section shows Dhanda's stats from the 2022/23 campaign, and the blue is from the current one. Notice how they are similar shapes, implying that his tactical role is very similar, but with one crucial distinction: in the most important metrics for his position, Dhanda is performing significantly better this time around. A quick look at the goals or assists chart would tell you that the 25-year-old has regressed this season, but the truth is that he has taken sizable strides forward. He is a player on the rise.

Even when we expand our search beyond central midfielders to include every Premiership player to have played at least 600 minutes this season, the Liverpool academy graduate remains one of the most creative players in the league this season. Only three players – Luis Palma (0.45), Danny Armstrong (0.29) and David Turnbull (0.28) – generate a higher expected assists per 90 than Dhanda (0.27) in the entire league. He averages 2.52 key passes per 90 minutes played – the sixth-best rate in the division – and scores highly for deep progressions. Only five non-Old Firm players rank higher.

Dhanda’s appeal to Hearts is obvious. For all the progress that has been made with the defence or at set-pieces at both ends, it is hard to deny that Naismith’s side have been missing a little creativity in midfield. Largely there has been one playmaker position up for grabs and with Barrie McKay unavailable for most of the campaign the head coach has rotated between Alex Lowry and Jorge Grant. Now the former has returned to Rangers.

Like Dhanda, both have posted pretty impressive underlying numbers this season.

Lowry and Grant have both performed fairly well over the piece this season, albeit inconsistently, and so we can see why Naismith is interested in signing Dhanda on a pre-contract, rather than attempting to push through a mid-season transfer. In Hearts’ triage list, finding a new playmaker probably ranks somewhere in the middle, and other areas of the squad require more immediate attention. Grant has grown in the role over the season, while Dhanda would bring some consistency and competition to the midfield. 

READ MORE: Lawrence Shankland's Hearts value far outweighs what clubs will be willing to pay

Right deal, right time

Naismith plugs a gap in his squad next season before it even emerges while addressing a deficiency in his team. Dhanda gets the move he deserves, to a bigger club with better players who enjoy more of the ball, serving as the perfect platform for his undeniable talent. The Hearts board don’t have to shell out a transfer fee and can instead focus their efforts elsewhere, and County get to keep a key player in their fight to beat the drop. If Hearts do manage to get a deal done to bring him to the club this window then not only would he add to the club's attacking arsenal but he would be someone who would certainly excite the fans.

In a nutshell, it's a sensible move that ticks a lot of boxes for just about everyone involved.