Goldipucks and the Three Skaters: Sebatian Aho, Mike Hoffman, & Zach Werenksi
Welcome back to your monthly installment of Goldipucks and the Three Skaters, which, for new readers, is a play on words of the Goldilocks and the Three Bears story. Here though, instead of there being three bowls of porridge I cover three skaters and declare one too hot (i.e., doing unsustainably better than he should), another too cold (i.e., doing unsustainably worse), and a third “just right” (i.e., producing where he should be). I also assign each a rating of 1-10, indicating just how hot (rated 7-10, where 10 is the most unsustainably hot), or how cold (rated 1-4, where 1 is the most unsustainably cold), or how “just right” (rated 4-7, where 5.5 is the most “just right”) he is.
Our focus this week is on Sebastian Aho, Mike Hoffman, and Zach Werenski. Consider those names and try to figure out who was too hot, who was too cold, and which of the three was just right. Then read below to see if you nailed all three of your guesses.
After seeing his points per game pace go from 0.60 to 0.83 to 1.01, much was expected of Aho in 2019-20, which represented his "magical fourth year." And although this season was far from a disappointment, he actually saw his scoring rate drop a tad to 0.97 points per game. Are we to assume Aho is a point per game player and not more? Nope; as given his age, metrics, and being on a team that figures to improve, 2020-21 should see him easily produce his best numbers.
One detail about his 2019-20 is he started with just three points in his first nine games, so that right there means he tallied 63 in his final 59 contests, for a scoring rate of 1.06 per game. So in essence, but for a slow start, he did actually improve. And if we look even more toward the end of the season, he had 25 points in his last 19 contests, for a scoring rate that would put him at 108 points over a full season. In other words, Aho's season-long points per game rate is an illusion not really reflecting his scoring talent.
Aho's SOGs also provide reason for optimism. Although Aho is a center, he acts more like a winger when it comes to SOG. In fact, his 90 SOG in the range of 0-15 feet from the net in 2019-20 were the highest of any player who's primarily a center; and only one other center had more than 74, that being none other than Connor McDavid. Aho also shoots a lot, but makes his shots count, with 333 total shots, of which only 127 were blocked or missed the net. Among the 29 forwards who, like Aho, had 200+ SOG last season, only three others had fewer blocked or missed shots. What does that mean? For one, Aho is selective with his shooting, which makes his 18.4% shooting percentage not a concern. But it also shows he could easily add more SOG in the normal course. With more SOG likely would come more chances to score or to generate points.
As for his luck metrics, Aho's points per game and IPP (defined as the percentage of goals, scored when Aho was on the ice, where Aho received a point) were steady year over year. That signifies if he shoots more, he should indeed score more. Plus, in 2019-20 his ice time was down by 34 seconds per game, leaving room for that to rebound and perhaps even go higher. Moreover, of Aho's 66 points, only 12 came via secondary assist. And although that is somewhat consistent with a player who had as high of a shooting percentage as he did, it still is quite low and leaves room for organic scoring gains.
So despite not seeing his season-long scoring rate improve from 2018-19 to 2019-20, Aho was victimized by a slow start and was scorching as the season was ending. Beyond that, he is a center who puts himself in a position to score goals, which, as we've seen from the likes of Nathan MacKinnon and Leon Draisaitl, is what helps point totals soar. And he's on a team that has room to improve, helping him in the process. Having just turned 23, Aho is primed to make a nice leap in scoring rate for 2020-21; I'd put 90+ points as more likely than not, with a better chance of him hitting 95 than falling below 85. As such, Aho was TOO COLD for 2020-21 and gets a 2.25 rating,
Quietly Hoffman had the best season of his career in terms of per-game scoring and goal rates. Convenient, as he's an impending UFA. What should we expect from Hoffman in 2020-21? Disappointment, most likely.
Hoffman's goal-scoring total was likely unsustainably inflated. The key is he shot 13.6%, which, although not far above his career norm, was high considering his shot selection. It turns out he had nearly as many SOG 31-45+ feet from the net as from 0-30. And looking at forwards in the top ten in SOG from 30-45+ feet, half had a shooting percentage of 6.9% to 12.4%. And of those who had a higher shooting percentage, all but Alex Ovechkin, who's only the best goal scorer this generation, had a higher ratio of shots from 0-30 feet than Hoffman. Long story short, Hoffman likely lucked into a number of goals he likely wouldn't receive were he to produce the same SOG numbers again.
Hoffman's IPP, at 69.4%, was the second-highest of his career, and above the 65.8% that he averaged over the previous three seasons. So while that doesn't suggest his scoring was vastly inflated, it's yet another indication of points he unsustainably received. Hoffman also had a 62.9% offensive zone starting percentage, which was well higher than the 53.2-55.8% range he occupied in the past three seasons.
There's also the fact that he had under 17:00 of ice time, of which 3:39 was on the PP. As he ages, he looks to be getting pigeonholed somewhat. And that's not a good sign in terms of him being able to score at this rate. After all, of the 200 instances of forwards who scored at a 0.85 point per game rate or higher in any season from 2015-16 to 2019-20, as Hoffman did this season, just five other instances were by a player who averaged 17:00 of ice time per game or less, and only ten who averaged 17:30 or less. Of those ten, if we subtract players who were 25 or younger when doing so, none has more than one season of 0.85 points per game to his credit.
Hoffman had a nice fit in Florida, with all the PP time he could handle, plus plum deployment. He figures to get that too wherever he signs; however, even if we don't account for what is almost always post-UFA decline, especially with Hoffman, who, at 30, is a no longer a spring chicken, I'd envision his numbers to drop on the basis of his SOG selection, IPP, and him likely being pigeonholed into more of a PP specialist. I'd expect Hoffman to score at closer to 0.75 points per game, or 60-65 points, in 2020-21. And that's if things go well for him. Or he could be like James van Riemsdyk, who, after signing as a UFA at 29, has since produced seasons of 0.73 and 0.61 points per game. As such, Hoffman's 2019-20 was TOO HOT and he gets a rating of 8.75. If you own him in a keeper, I'd look to move him after he signs as a UFA to seize upon accompanying hype and as his value will likely never again be higher.
Not only did Werenski lead all blueliners in goals in 2019-20; he had 20% more than the player with the next highest total. It was a magical fourth year of sorts for Werenski, as he nearly achieved two points per every three-game scoring rate, and did so for the Blue Jackets, a team decimated by injuries and which lost its key offensive weapons last summer. So should we count on even bigger and better things from Werenski in 2020-21? Probably not; instead, his 2019-20 scoring was likely at or near what we should expect from him in the immediate future.
Let's start with that goal total. While 20 is indeed a lot, especially in only 63 games, his shooting percentage was 10.7%, as a good bit higher than his 6.7% career rate entering this season. And as we saw with Morgan Rielly from 2018-19 to 2019-20, sky-high defensemen shooting percentages do tend to fall. So it's likely we should expect Werenski to shed a few goals in the normal course.
But even if maybe he had too many goals in 2019-20, let's not lose sight of the fact this is a rearguard who had 11+ goals in each of his first four seasons. Sounds great, right? One would think, except that the only other defenseman to match that since 2000-01 was Dion Phaneuf, and the only one to do so even three times was Aaron Ekblad. So we cannot say that his goal-scoring prowess, in and of itself, will make him a surefire fantasy stud.
But here's an interesting fact. Many might be of the opinion that the presence of Seth Jones would serve to hurt Werenski's production. But guess what – Werenski only had seven points in the 14 games he played without Jones in the line-up in February when Jones was out with an injury. As such, Werenski's production seems to be bolstered, rather than hurt, by the presence of Jones.
Getting back to Columbus as a team, Werenski was able to put up these stats despite a team, hobbled by injuries, which ranked 27th in both goals scored and PP conversion percentage. What we saw from Columbus this season likely is the nadir for them in terms of scoring as a team. As such, a rising tide should lift all boats, including that of Werenski. That being said, teams coached by John Tortorella are not known for being high scoring, so the scoring boost Werenski figures to receive in the normal course would be modest.
Another positive for Werenski is his IPP has been trending up, 41.4 in 2017-18, 45.8% in 2018-29, and 48.8% this season. But that's about as high as one can figure it would go for a defenseman, and likely was boosted by his high goal total. So that too is something we can figure will ebb slightly, probably back to his 2018-19 level. Otherwise, his OZ% is pretty steady and his secondary assists rate isn't high for a d-man.
So in a nutshell, Werenski had a 2019-20 that likely had some unsustainable aspects. Yet there also were factors suggesting he has points to gain in the normal course. And let's also not forget he just turned 24 years old, meaning his best NHL and fantasy days are ahead of him. With this many factors on both sides of the coin, and given the team he plays for plus the presence of Seth Jones, chances are Werenski's 2019-20 was JUST RIGHT and he gets a rating of 4.75 to account for the improvement of the Blue Jackets as a team.
Questions for Mailbag column
The mailbag for next month is quickly starting to fill, so you should send me your questions ASAP if you want to hope to see them answered in next month's column. To get them to me, you can either private message “rizzeedizzee” via the DobberHockey Forums or, instead, send an email to [email protected] with “Roos Mailbag” as the subject line. Remember, with the season on pause this is the perfect time to ask a question about keepers, draft strategy, certain players, or just fantasy hockey in general.
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