Welcome to this season’s second installment of “Goldipucks and the Three Skaters.” For first time readers, or those needing a refresher, it’s a play on the Goldilocks and the Three Bears story, except instead of three bowls of porridge I’m covering three skaters and declaring 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). I also assign each a 1-10 rating, indicating, on a relative scale, just how hot (rated 7-10, where 10 is the most unsustainably hot), how cold (rated 1-3, where 1 is the most unsustainably cold), or how “just right” (rated 4-6, where 5 is the most “just right”) he is.
On tap for this week are Alex Tuch (suggested by a commenter in my last Goldipucks column), Jake Guentzel, and Jonathan Drouin. Stop here and see if you can guess which is too hot, too cold, and just right, then see if you’re correct after you read on.
After coming to Vegas in a deal to convince the Knights to select Erik Haula in the 2017 expansion draft, Tuch didn’t exactly turn heads in 2017-18. This season, however, it’s been an entirely different story, as it took the now 22-year-old Tuch only until game 40 of the season to equal his entire 37 point total from 2017-18 and he hasn’t slowed down since then. Is Tuch breaking out before our very eyes, or is he just on an unsustainable hot streak?
The answer is…….…kind of both.
Tuch’s SOG rate is up from last season, but only slightly; and that is simply in keeping with him logging 2:00 more TOI per contest versus last season. And while his ice time is up, which is a good thing for sure, he’s still only at 17:14 per game, which isn’t what we usually see from players on pace to score 75 points for the season. In fact, among 70 instances of 75+ point scorers since 2013-14 only five averaged less than 18:00 per game, with only two at less than 17:46. Even if we lower the scoring threshold to 70 points, we still see that of the 103 instances over those past five seasons only 11 averaged less than 18:00 per game and just five were below 17:46. So based solely on the ice time sniff test, Tuch is unsustainably overachieving.
Tuch’s PP scoring and shots rate are flat despite him now taking the ice for 54.5% of his team PP minutes, compared to just 47.3% in 2017-18. Moreover, Tuch’s PPTOI puts him 84th among all NHL forwards, yet his mere six PPPts ties him for 120th in PP scoring among forwards. While that might mean Tuch is getting unlucky in terms of his PP scoring rate, it just as easily could signify he’s not a great player with the man advantage and, in turn, could lead to him seeing his PP minutes erode.
Where added concern arises is in his 11.5% team shooting percentage at 5×5. Of course, that’s high, especially for someone who doesn’t mainly play on his team’s top line. But one thing to consider is Tuch has managed to score over 40% of his points while on the ice without Jonathan Marchessault, Paul Stastny, or William Karlsson. That suggests he’s a talented player in his own right, rather than a pure coattail rider. On the flip side, however, Tuch’s secondary assist rate has nearly doubled from 32% last season to 58% for 2018-19 thus far. In fact, only one forward (Ryan Getzlaf) has as many secondary assists as Tuch but an equal or lesser number of primary assists, so chances once that levels out and his scoring suffers.
We can see why Tuch has risen above the player he was last year, but also that what he’s producing thus far this season is unsustainable. Overall, Tuch is TOO HOT, but not by a lot, getting a rating of 8.5. I’d peg him as a player who’s more apt to score in the 60s until/unless he has a full breakout, perhaps once he has a few more seasons under his belt.
After making a big splash with 33 points in 40 games (then 21 in 25 playoff contests) in 2016-17, poolies were all aboard the Guentzel fantasy train. Unfortunately, it derailed when he followed up his debut season with 48 points in 82 games in 2017-18. As if that wasn’t painful enough for those who had bet big on Guentzel, he proceeded to post an eye-popping 21 points in only 12 playoff games, leading many to wonder if he was bound to be a perennial playoff warrior but regular season disappointment. This season, however, Guentzel has been firing on all cylinders and, armed with a hefty contract extension signed last month, has climbed into a point per game territory. With these ups and downs, can we believe this version of Guentzel is finally for real?
The answer is yes.
The most telling stat for Guentzel is his IPP (i.e., how often he gets a point when there’s a goal scored while he’s on the ice), which was 70.2% in his abbreviated first season, 73.8% last season and 70.1% for this season thus far. You might be wondering how this makes sense given that Guentzel played nearly all his shifts in each of his seasons with Sidney Crosby. The answer is last season Crosby struggled at 5×5, such that Guentzel’s 6.53% team shooting percentage at 5×5 when he was on the ice was actually better than Crosby’s 6.11, but Crosby tallied 38 PPPts, to Guentzel’s only 12. This season, however, the two are firing on all cylinders at 5×5, with team shooting percentages over 10% as occurred in 2016-17, making last season the outlier.
This does bring up a shortcoming with Guentzel, namely his lack of PP1 Time and PP output. The good news there is although Patric Hornqvist recently re-signed and seems locked into the “mule” role on PP1 (to go along with Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel), Hornqvist gets injured enough for Guentzel to be able to get regular PP1 time. There’s also the reality that Malkin is oft-injured and Kessel could be dealt at some point, which presumably would cement Guentzel’s spot on PP1. Or would it? While Guentzel has spent roughly 65% of his PP Time on Pittsburgh’s PP1 this season, he’s only accumulated a mere three of his seven PP points there, which is not very good production.
Even still, Guentzel’s ability to mesh with Crosby is the big key. In fact, a case can be made Guentzel is helping prop up Crosby at even strength, what with Crosby’s five-on-five team shooting percentage and IPP having both gone down for two-plus seasons prior to 2018-19. Nevertheless, there is some concern in that prior to this season Guentzel had more than twice as many primary assists versus secondary (29 to 14) and this season his secondary assists rate is 48%. But that too can be excused because Guentzel is shooting the puck more – up from barely two per game over his first two seasons to 2.7 for this season so far, and with more shooting come more rebounds and action around the net that leads to secondary assists, as compared to his prior seasons when his shooting was more selective and occurred closer to the net (20.1 and 24.3 feet away in his first two seasons versus 25.2 feet this season) and thus led to fewer opportunities for secondary assists.
Granted, Crosby is no longer in his true prime; however, his style of play should allow him to continue to flourish, particularly now that he finally has a winger in Guentzel who complements him well and results in both seeing better production. Overall Guentzel’s scoring rate for 2018-19 is JUST RIGHT, although his production could slip to the 75-80 point level when factoring in PP uncertainty and secondary assists concern but also the mostly offsetting solid IPP. Accordingly, his rating is a 5.5.
By all accounts Drouin’s initial campaign in Montreal was a letdown, scoring at less than a 50 point pace despite being a – if not the – focal point of the team’s offence. This season he’s rebounded, but thus far is still only at roughly a 60 point pace, ala what he posted in a more reduced role during his last season with Tampa. Where does he go from here for the rest of 2018-19? Let’s just say things are looking up.
For one, Drouin’s bread and butter has always been his PP scoring, with 48 of 99 points he posted in the previous two seasons coming with the man advantage. This season, however, only 32% of his scoring has come on the PP. And with his man-advantage time per game identical to what it was in 2017-18, his PPPts output should improve over the remainder of the season.
Drouin also had nearly as many secondary assists as primary over the past two seasons (34 primary, 31 secondary), so his 17 primaries to only six secondaries for this season suggests there will be some scoring improvement on the horizon. This is especially the case since he’s shooting the puck more than ever, with a rate over 2.5 per game after a collective 2.3 over the previous two campaigns.
While it is true that Drouin’s IPP of 71.2% is higher than any previous campaign, this is someone who had been in the 65% to 68% range in three of his past four seasons. Also, his OZ% marks a career low; but at 49.7% is still high enough to produce. And his 8.8% team shooting percentage at 5×5 is right near the range expected for scorers, after lagging below that threshold. Rather than that being an aberration, I’d argue it signifies a player – who let’s not forget is still only 23 years old – starting to come into his own. Plus, Drouin’s personal shooting percentage stands barely above his overall career average despite his uptick in shots on goal.
Overall, Drouin is TOO COLD. Don’t count on him to score at a point per game level over the rest of the season. But something close to a 70 point pace is quite plausible, making his rating 1.75.
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