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Posted - 12/09/2020 :  11:15:17  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Josi, Vrana & Rust.

Welcome back to Goldipucks and the Three Skaters, a play on words of the Goldilocks and the Three Bears story. Here though, instead of there being 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 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.

On tap for this final installment for the calendar year are three players who set career highs in scoring rate this past season – Roman Josi, Jakub Vrana, and Bryan Rust. As usual, to test your fantasy instincts you should stop here and lock-in guesses as to which of the three was too hot, who was too cold, and whose output was just right, before determining if your predictions were indeed correct.

Roman Josi

In an era where all too often players ease off the gas pedal once they sign a big free-agent deal, Josi did the opposite, scoring at a 77 point full season pace the season after he inked an eight-year $72.4M deal. But considering his previous career-best full season scoring rate was 62 points back in 2015-16 and he'd scored at a full season rate between 56 and 58 points in all other campaigns from 2014-15 to 2018-19, is it safe to assume he'll come back to earth in 2020-21? Not from where I sit.

Despite his spike in scoring, Josi's luck metrics don't point to his total being unsustainable. Yes, his IPP marked a career-high at 58.0%; but it was 54.9% in 2018-19 and the 2019-20 campaign marked the third in a row of it climbing, suggesting it's an upward trending stat, not an outlier. And although his IPP on the PP was 85.2%, it had been above 70% in each of the last two seasons and he led the league among all defensemen in PPSOG with 69, or one per game, plus his PPTOI per game was 3:17, a career-high. What's more, his rate of one PPPt per every three games played might seem high at first glance; however, if we look at the 49 instances of defensemen, dating back to 1990-91, who played 60+ games in a season while averaging 0.9+ points per game or higher, a mere four had a lower PPPt per game rate than Josi's one in three. Also, Josi's secondary assists percentage of 42.9% was lower than two of his last three seasons. And lastly, his overall ice time also marked a career-high and his OZ% was 49.5%, or just below the 50.0–52.4 it had been in his previous four seasons.

Okay, so Josi didn't luck into his jump in scoring. Why then did it occur? The key was SOG, where Josi averaged an astounding 3.76 per game, leading to him scoring 16 goals but not having a shooting percentage that was high for him. And if we look at other rearguards who had 15+ goals and 3.75+ SOG per game since 1990-91, we see 18 other instances, of which 12, like Josi, scored at a rate of 0.9+ points per game in that same season and 12 also were age 29 or older when doing so, which is how old Josi was last season. The most recent examples were Brent Burns at age 30 in 2015-16 and age 31 in 2016-17, and he ended up with 0.93 and 0.91 points per game in those seasons, ala Josi's 0.94. Since there is no reason to assume Josi will take fewer shots going forward, this is a key factor lending legitimacy to his upped scoring output.

There's also the reality that Nashville forwards are not particularly high scoring, nor do they shoot a lot. And if we look at the examples of defensemen who, going back to 2010-11, met the 0.9+ points per game criteria and led their teams in SOG, all but one (Brent Burns in the 2015-16 season) also led their team in scoring that same campaign as well. What it boils down to is Josi was the driver of Nashville's offense, rather than its forwards. And inasmuch as Nashville has not signed any top-six talent this offseason yet lost Craig Smith and stands to lose Mikael Granlund too, this role should not change for Josi in 2020-21.

There was never any doubt that Josi was talented, what with him and Brent Burns being the lone rearguards to tally at least 49 points in all five seasons from 2014-15 through 2018-19. Did many poolies or pundits think he had a 77 point scoring pace season in him though? Probably not; however, his metrics suggest it was indeed for real, especially in view of his huge SOG total, including on the PP. Accordingly, Josi's 2019-20 was JUST RIGHT, and he gets a rating of 5.75 because on his team and given his deployment it is realistic to expect a circa 75 point scoring rate for 2020-21 and even several seasons to come.

Jakub Vrana

In his brief NHL career, Vrana has seen more ice time, taken more shots, and produced at a higher scoring rate with each passing season. But in 2019-20 he jumped to a 62 point pace despite not even receiving 15:00 of ice time per game or 2:00 of PP Time. With the Caps not having lost any of its key forwards, could Vrana have reached his realistic ceiling, at least for the time being? Nope – he looks to be a safe bet to see further, perhaps substantial, scoring gains in 2020-21.

It's not just the aforementioned numbers that have risen each season, but so too has Vrana's IPP. That is consequential, since whereas in his first couple of years in the league he played with less talented players, more and more he's skating with Washington's best. And despite that, he's getting points on a higher percentage of goals scored by his line. In short, Vrana is making good players better and finding ways to factor into the scoring.

Also, his IPP of 76.5% was in the top 20 of all NHL forwards who played 60+ games, with fellow forwards above him who also scored at a higher rate reading like a who's who of top talent, including Leon Draisaitl, Artemi Panarin, Patrick Kane, Nikita Kucherov, Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Brad Marchand, Jack Eichel and Jonathan Huberdeau, not to mention fellow young up and comers like Kevin Fiala, Travis Konecny, Andrei Svechnikov and Brayden Point. In other words, fine company to be in. Oh, and speaking of Kucherov, he happened to be the last player – prior to Vrana in 2019-20 – to have played under 15:00 in a season while averaging 0.75+ points per game. And what happened to Kucherov when he played his magical fourth full season, just as Vrana will do in 2020-21? Kucherov's points total jumped to 85 in 74 games.

Vrana also has already proven himself to be a consistent scorer, what with tallying his 52 points in just 40 games, meaning he had 40 games with a point (ten of those being two-point games and one being a three-point effort, the rest being single point games) and 29 without. There were seven other forwards in 2019-20 who also tallied one or more points in 40 of their games; however, among them, the average point total was 59, or seven more than Vrana. What that means is Vrana still has room for more multipoint contests, which should come both in the normal course and upon receiving additional ice time.

Also, as Vrana's ice time has risen his OZ% has shrunk, from 61.4% in 2017-18 to 52.6% in 2018-19 to 50.5% in 2019-20. Thus, he's showing he can up his scoring output without needing to be coddled with a high percentage of offensive zone starts. That, in turn, should help him earn even more ice time. And in fact, his ice time was rising with each quarter of 2019-20, to a level of 15:40 in Q3, before dropping in Q4 as he hit a short-term slump.

Beyond all these factors, bad luck has affected him in the form of hitting ten posts in 2019-20, tied for the third-most among all forwards. Who were those who had the same or more posts hit? Just Leon Draisaitl, Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews and Elias Pettersson. And the average shots per game of those four combined was 3.23, versus 2.71 for Vrana, so he hit a higher percentage of posts, meaning it was more negatively impactful on his scoring than it was for those players.

Moreover, Vrana could – and likely will – get more PP time. Why? For starters, although Vrana took the ice for just 36% of his team's PP minutes, translating to the 140th most PP minutes among all forwards, he still managed 12 PPPts, tying him for 83rd among forwards. And Vrana made the most of his PP opportunities, with all but one of his PPPts coming in games where he took the ice for 43% or more of his team's PP time, and with more than half coming when he saw over 60%.

If you're a Vrana owner, you have to be giddy given what you've read. I'm not sure how many of these Goldipucks columns I've now done, but I can count on one hand the players for whom there've been as many encouraging signs as exist for Vrana. These factors, both alone and, especially, together, suggest not only should he continue seeing his production climb, but he hasn't begun to scratch the surface. Am I suggesting he will be the second coming of Kucherov? No; however, it's difficult to envision a universe in which Vrana doesn't become a point per game player, perhaps as early as this coming campaign, which will mark his magical fourth season. So not only was his 2019-20 TOO COLD, with a rating of 2.0, but poolies should expect him to score 75+ points for 2020-21 assuming his ice time jumps and he gets PP1 minutes. If you can somehow convince a GM in your league to trade you, Vrana now might be the last time you'll be able to get him for anything less than the rate for an elite player, which he's seemingly on the cusp of becoming.

Bryan Rust

After a 2017-18 in which Rust acted as the defensive-minded presence on a line with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel, the Pens installed him by Evgeni Malkin's side. And by the time the dust had settled on 2019-20, Rust had shown scoring flair, earning him a place on PP1 and leading to better than point per game production. Should we pencil in Rust, who's still only 28, for the same or even better production going forward? Most likely not.

Rust's "spot" seems safe, as the Pens have gone on record as saying newly acquired Kasperi Kapanen is earmarked to play with Guentzel and Crosby, leaving Rust free to continue to be centered by Malkin. But will he be able to maintain his PP1 gig? Even if the Pens go with 1D on PP1, that leaves two slots for Rust, Kapanen and Jason Zucker. Kapanen is most likely a lock, due to his size, making it a crapshoot as to whether Rust will stay on PP1; and if he is relegated to PP2, his scoring will take a big hit. Moreover, even if Rust does start the season on PP1, he could get injured and lose his gig, as he's missed 10+ games in each of the past four seasons.

Also, although Rust's PP time increased with each quarter in 2019-20, his SOG rate waned, with him firing a mere 50 SOG in his final 24 games, versus 101 in his first 31 contests. Also, he entered 2019-20 with a career shooting percentage of 10.7%, and shot at 17.9% for the season. And although it would be expected for him to shoot better once paired with more talented players, as he did in shooting 12.8% in 2018-19, a jump to 17.9% is not sustainable and likely resulted in him getting at least a handful of extra goals. Moreover, although he took 151 shots, Rust hit a mere two posts, after hitting five plus a crossbar in 2018-19 when he fired ten fewer shots. In all, Rust clearly finished with more goals than he deserved.

Dissecting Rust's 2019-20 further, he had 56 points despite tallying a point in only 35 of his 55 contests. Looking at the other nine NHLers who had points in exactly 35 contests for 2019-20, their average point total was 48 points, suggesting Rust had an unsustainably high rate of multipoint games. If we omit his 24 points in 19 second-quarter contests, that results in only a 73 point scoring rate for the other three quarters as well as subtracts half the games where he had 3+ points and nearly half his season-long PPPts. And looking at solely his numbers in the third and fourth quarters, they sink to a 67 point pace, likely due to his much lower SOG rate.

Rust also might see his PP numbers suffer even if he stays on PP1, as although Malkin was on the ice when 12 of Rust's 18 PPPts were scored, Patric Hornqvist was there for 11. And not only is Hornqvist gone, but his size and the type of game he plays isn't something the Pens will easily be able to replicate. So despite the fact that Hornqvist being gone might make it easier to envision Rust staying on PP1, provided he remains healthy and the team neither goes with 2D nor gives Rust's spot to Zucker, it might hurt his production with the man advantage, as well as that of his teammates.

Moreover, although Rust has seen his SOG total increase with each season, on the negative side his secondary assists rate climbed in his last three campaigns, landing at 48.3% for 2019-20. That is not an off the charts number; however, less than a quarter of NHLers who scored 50 to 60 points in 2019-20 had a higher rate, and those who did included the likes of Nicklas Backstrom, Sean Couturier, Tomas Tatar, and Patrice Bergeron, namely players who have likely peaked. Long story short, it's not a good metric on its face and made even worse when seeing some of the company in which it puts him.

Those who've been in fantasy long enough remember Chris Kunitz being put on a line with Sidney Crosby and on PP1. What some might forget is that resulted in a mere one point per game output for Kunitz, who dropped to 68 points the following season before settling in the 40s. Thus, there's a real possibility what we saw from Rust was flash in the pan output, which won't be duplicated again, especially if Malkin misses a chunk of games as per usual.

In sum, not only were Rust's shooting and secondary assists percentages elevated, but his overall numbers were bolstered by one great quarter. By the second half of the season, he was showing signs of waning production. As such, Rust's 2019-20 was TOO HOT and he gets a rating of 8.25. For 2020-21, even if he keeps his plum gigs, his scoring rate should be capped at 70 points, with a chance of being quite a bit lower if somehow he loses his PP1 spot or he and/or Malkin get hurt, which happen every year and which, in terms of injuries to him, could begin to negatively affect his game even when he's "healthy."


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Written by Rick Roos of www.dobberhockey.com

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