Cage Match: Jonathan Drouin vs. Jake Guentzel

by Rick Roos on May 2, 2018

Among the two most hyped players coming into 2017-18 were Jonathan Drouin and Jake Guentzel. Both ultimately disappointed, failing to reach even 50 points and likely putting poolies who owned them at a major disadvantage in their leagues. Yet Guentzel has caught fire in the playoffs, and Drouin now has a season under his belt in Montreal. So could either or both be poised for a big 2018-19? Let’s see what the numbers tell us – Cage Match starts now!

Career Path and Contract Status

Drouin, 23, was selected 3rd overall in 2013 by Tampa after a 105-point-in-49-game QMJHL campaign, which he then proceeded to better in the form of 108 points in only 45 games upon returning for his age 18 season. As expected, that earned him a ticket to the NHL for 2014-15, where he finished with a decent but far from spectacular 32 points in 70 games.

The 2015-16 season saw Drouin relegated to the AHL in January after an injury-plagued 19 NHL games, leading to all hell breaking loose, from Drouin requesting a trade, to not reporting to the AHL, and then ultimately to being suspended. Cooler heads prevailed by March, with Drouin indeed reporting to Syracuse, where he posted 13 points in 17 games. That earned him a ticket back to the NHL just in time for the playoffs, where he excelled (14 points in 17 games). He then tallied 53 points in 73 games in 2016-17, but nevertheless was traded to Montreal in the offseason and proceeded to see his production drop to only 46 points in 77 games in 2017-18.

Guentzel, also 23, was grabbed 74 picks later in the same draft, then spent the next three campaigns playing college hockey and seeing his production inch upward each season. Ticketed for the AHL to start 2016-17, Guentzel flourished with 42 points in only 33 games then didn’t miss a beat when promoted to the big club, finishing with 33 points in 40 games and tacking on another 21 in 25 playoff contests. With that, big things were expected for 2017-18; yet Guentzel only managed double-digit points in one of the season’s first four months before finding his groove with 17 points over his last 19 regular season games and scoring in droves during the playoffs.

Drouin’s $5.5M cap hit (through 2022-23) dwarfs the $0.734M that Guentzel is set to make in 2018-19 on the last remaining season of his ELC; however, Guentzel likely will receive a healthy raise as an RFA, so the gap should shrink considerably by 2019-20.

Ice Time
 

Season

Total Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

PP Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

SH Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

2017-18

17:36 (J.D.) – 2nd

16:29 (J.G.) – 5th

3:16 (J.D.) – 1st

1:46 (J.G.) – 5th

0:07 (J.D.) – 12th (tied)

0:14 (J.G.) – 10th

2016-17

17:42 (J.D.) – 6th

15:53 (J.G.) – 7th

3:05 (J.D.) – 3rd

1:22 (J.G.) – 8th

0:00 (J.D.)

0:00 (J.G.)

2015-16

14:27 (J.D.) – 8th

2:01 (J.D.) – 9th

0:01 (J.D.) – 12th (tied)

2014-15

13:14 (J.D.) – 10th

1:55 (J.D.) – 9th

0:04 (J.D.) – 12th


The good news about Guentzel’s Ice Time is it leaves room for gains; however, to expect those gains to indeed occur – particularly on the PP – would be a tall order. A constant throughout the Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin era in Pittsburgh has been a big body on PP1. For a while it was Chris Kunitz and/or James Neal, and recently it’s been Patric Hornqvist — the same Hornqvist who just recently re-upped with the Pens for five more seasons. With a PP1 consisting of Hornqvist occupying the front of the net, and Malkin and Crosby plus Phil Kessel, the Pens finished third in PP% in 2016-17 then improved to first for 2017-18, which likely played a large part in the decision to re-sign Hornqvist.

Where does that leave Guentzel? On the outside looking in. And the ramifications are huge. That’s because a spot on PP1 is tied to being able to produce as a Pens’ forward. Need proof? Not only have there been just four forwards other than Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel who’ve scored 60+ points (two of the four – Kunitz and Neal – did so twice) for the Pens since 2005-06, only one did so despite tallying fewer than 22 PPts, with the average number of PPPts among the six instances being 25. Moreover, the PP Ice Time per game among the six instances was 5:11, 3:53, 3:56, 3:31, 3:38, 3:50, which are all at least double what Guentzel has received in his first two seasons with Pittsburgh. It’s a sober reminder that talent can only go so far; it’s opportunity that holds the biggest key to fantasy success.

As for Drouin, although he was immediately thrust into a top role with the Canadiens, we can see he received roughly the same ice times as he did with the Lightning in 2016-17. For that poolies can thank the coaching philosophy of Claude Julien, who rarely gives any forward – even stars – 18:00 of non-shorthanded ice time per game. The good news is we know Drouin was able to produce 53 points in 73 games in 2016-17 with nearly those exact Ice Times; however, that was for a more potent Bolts team than what figures to be iced n Montreal in the near future. Of course there’s still the chance Drouin was unsustainably unlucky this past season, on top of the Canadiens struggling as a team, so we’ll check on that below.

Secondary Categories
 

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2017-18

0.39 (J.D.)

0.51 (J.G.)

0.71 (J.D.)

1.73 (J.G.)

0.35 (J.D.)

0.56 (J.G.)

2.13 (J.D.)

2.08 (J.G.)

0.28 (J.D.)

0.14 (J.G.)

2016-17

0.22 (J.D.)

0.25 (J.G.)

0.68 (J.D.)

1.52 (J.G.)

0.22 (J.D.)

0.45 (J.G.)

2.50 (J.D.)

2.02 (J.G.)

0.35 (J.D.)

0.07 (J.G.)

2015-16

0.19 (J.D.)

0.85 (J.D.)

0.09 (J.D.)

1.19 (J.D.)

0.09 (J.D.)

2014-15

0.48 (J.D.)

0.78 (J.D.)

0.23 (J.D.)

1.08 (J.D.)

0.08 (J.D.)


Guentzel is the more physical player of the two for sure; however, he failed to up his SOG rate as a sophomore, which is not a good sign. Guentzel did manage to produce decently on the PP given his minutes, and nine of his 12 PPPts came when he was inserted on PP1 during games in which Malkin or Hornqvist missed. Yet that means he only managed three PPPts as part of PP2, which, as noted above, is where he’s stuck until/unless there’s an injury to one of the PP1 stalwarts.

Even still, with Malkin’s injury history and Hornqvist missing 12 games each of the past two seasons, Guentzel could get enough time on PP1 to salvage his PP scoring. Unfortunately, it won’t be enough to put him in the same category of past 60+ point Pens scorers, so this is more bad news than good.

What jumps off the page for Drouin is his PP scoring rate, as over the past two seasons 48 of his 99 points came on the PP. Only three other players in the past two seasons also had less than 100 total points but more than 40 PPPts – Kyle Okposo, Kyle Palmieri, and Wayne Simmonds. And going back to 2006-07, those who met both criteria were either aging veterans when doing so (Milan Hejduk, Tomas Holmstrom, Brian Rolston, Mike Modano, Patrick Marleau) or never ultimately amounted to anything fantasy-wise (Todd White, Ales Kotalik, Chris Higgins, Jarret Stoll). There were a couple of exceptions who, like Drouin, did so in seasons before turning 25, namely Joe Pavelski, who went on to be a star, and Jiri Hudler, who had his fair share of fantasy success; however, when looking at all its members, this is not a club that one wants his or her fantasy team members to be in.

Beyond that, Drouin’s SOG and PP rate both dropped in 2017-18 despite comparable ice time and a more prominent role. In those cases, however, there’s room to forgive those numbers due to it not only being his first season in Montreal but the team as a whole doing very poorly on offense.

Luck-Based Metrics
 

Season

Personal Shooting %

Team Shooting % (5×5)

Individual Points % (IPP)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5×5)

Average Shot Distance

Secondary Assists %

2017-18

7.9% (J.D.)

12.9% (J.G.)

5.59% (J.D.)

6.53% (J.G.)

56.5% (J.D.)

73.8% (J.G.)

64.8% (J.D.)

62.1% (J.G.)

32.3 (J.D.)

24.4 (J.G.)

48% (J.D.)

42% (J.G.)

2016-17

11.5% (J.D.)

19.8% (J.G.)

7.20% (J.D.)

10.98% (J.G.)

57.1% (J.D.)

70.2% (J.G.)

67.1% (J.D.)

60.5% (J.G.)

30.9 (J.D.)

20.1 (J.G.)

47% (J.D.)

17% (J.G.)

2015-16

16.0% (J.D.)

14.4% (J.D.)

58.6% (J.D.)

62.5% (J.D.)

29.9 (J.D.)

33% (J.D.)

2014-15

5.3% (J.D.)

7.77% (J.D.)

58.5% (J.D.)

68.1% (J.D.)

25.5 (J.D.)

43% (J.D.)


Drouin owners can’t like what they see here. Not once has his IPP been above the 70% threshold normally associated with skilled and highly productive players, even with a very protected average OZ% of 65% over these four seasons. Moreover, in each of the three full seasons his 5×5 team shooting % lagged below 8.0%. If that wasn’t bad enough, although his SOG rate declined from 2016-17 to 2017-18, his ASD increased. And in his three full seasons he’s barely had more primary assists than secondary.

These things on their own are discouraging, but when weighed together are downright alarming. Plus, it’d be one thing if we were talking about a teen who had one season under his belt; but Drouin is 23 and a veteran of 241 NHL games. And while Montreal was indeed a tire fire this season and Drouin was somewhat lost in the shuffle in Tampa, those excuses aren’t enough to justify what we’re seeing here. Top players find ways to show they’re top players, and these metrics suggest Drouin is not a top player, and, more concerningly, might not ultimately become one.

It’s a brighter picture for Guentzel. Yes – his 5×5 team shooting percentage in 2016-17 was off the charts; however, it was essentially as low for 2017-18 as it was high for 2016-17, and if we average the two seasons we get 8.75%, which is right near the 9% number usually associated with scoring forwards. But perhaps the key is that Guentzel, despite skating for more than 60% of his even strength shifts both this season and last with point magnets like Crosby or Malkin, he nevertheless managed to have an IPP over the 70% threshold in both his seasons. That means he has a nose for scoring and should be able to make the most of his situation (i.e., at least come close to scoring 60 points per season) despite being relegated to PP2.

Guentzel also has a very low ASD, which is a marker for success, as included among the 14 players who suited up for more games than him in the past two seasons and had a lower average shot distance and higher shot total are the likes of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Anders Lee, and Bo Horvat. Of course none of this changes his PP dilemma; however, it shows that Guentzel is better than he was in 2017-18 even if his regular season PP Time and opportunity likely continue to be limited.

Who Wins?

All I can say is if you’re a Drouin owner, I’m sorry to be the bearer of what looks to be pretty bad news. But it’s not me telling you this – it’s the numbers, and nearly all of them suggest Drouin is not on a path to fantasy success in the near term, and perhaps not ultimately ever. Thus, although Guentzel might indeed have a 60 point ceiling due to being relegated to the wasteland of the Pittsburgh PP2, that still should be better than what Drouin produces.

Normally I’d advise Drouin owners to sell, but his value probably could inch higher as the offseason goes on, particularly if the Habs bring in one of more high profile talented forwards via trade or free agents. Once you can get a decent price for him – and by that I mean a proven 60+ point scorer or even a young player with good upside, I’d pull the trigger. As for Guentzel, based on his playoff scoring explosion he’s a definite offseason sell, since if you keep him you risk being disappointed again — not as much as you were in 2017-18, but definitely disappointed. Moreover, you should have no shortage of takers who are clouded by his tremendous postseason success.