One thing I have been looking forward to doing all off-season is individual player projections. I know that it's difficult to do this in hockey but us bloggers make use of player comparables, shooting percentages, a player's past history and how his scoring patterns have changed over time to give an idea of what to expect from him in a season. Also, a projection is not the same thing as a prediction. What we are doing here is using a player's career numbers, comparing him to similar players and use that information to come up with a projection for what this player's season may look like. A prediction would be more of a statement and is not always based on knowledge or past experiences.
We're going to start off this project by looking at Eric Staal since he is the best skater on the team and should be leading the Canes in goals and points annually given his talent. Some say that 2010-11 was a "down" year for him when in actuality, he had more goals and points than he did the previous season but he missed 12 games in 2009-10 so that has to be taken into account. You could say that every year has been a "down" year for Staal in comparison to his 2005-06 campaign where he scored 45 goals and recorded 100-points. Realistically, there is very little chance he is going to get back to that mark but he has been around a point-per-game player since that year and you can expect a minimum of about 70 points from Staal every year. Is there a chance he can go above an beyond that?
Judging from the boxcar stats, we can gather a few things about Staal; 1.) He has been around a point-per-game player for most of his career. 2.) He can usually stay healthy for an entire season without much issue. 3.) He appears to be more of a playmaker than a goal-scorer as his assist total is normally higher than his goal total aside from his 2008-09 season where he shot the puck a lot more than normal. Also take note of how his shots on goal have decreased since 2008-09.
I could see how one would call last season a "down" year for Staal when you consider that he healthy for the entire year, saw his shooting percentage go up and still didn't get to being a point-per-game player. His career shooting percentage is about 11.38%, which is a little higher than it was last year so you can't really say he was that unlucky. Behind The Net's data shows that his on-ice shooting percentage was down from the previous year but still around the league average and slightly higher than what it was in his 40-goal season. I really think this comes down to him shooting the puck more because it should not take a genius to figure out that a player with Staal's offensive acumen and an 11.38% shooting rate will likely score more goals if he shoots more often. He's shot the puck over 300 times in two seasons and scored more than 35 goals in both of those years.
Some basic shot metrics from Behind the Net tell a similar story:
Staal was dominant in 2008-09 when it came to driving possession and creating offense and that's why he netted 40 goals that year. His relatively low on-ice shooting percentage could explain his low assist total. Meanwhile, this most recent season was similar to his 2007-08 campaign where Carolina was able to produce at least 30 shots on net per 60 minutes while he was on the ice. His point total was slightly lower due to his on-ice shooting percentage regressing towards the league average. If Staal wants to touch 40 goals again, he's going to need to shoot the puck more, which may not be much of a problem when you think of his possible linemates.
Let's go back to Staal's 40-goal season. His most frequent linemates were Tuomo Ruutu and Sergei Samsonov. He also played with Ray Whitney a little bit on the powerplay. Why is that important? Because all three of those players are more regarded as "pass-first" guys than goal-scorers except for Ruutu, possibly. That left Staal as the guy to finish plays off and he had a 40-goal season as a result. Last year he had sniper in Erik Cole as his most frequent linemate and he was the perfect player to take advantage of the set-ups that Staal provides so he did not have to always be the guy to finish players off. This year, his possible linemates consist of Zach Boychuk, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Anthony Stewart. Something tells me Staal is going to be more relied on to finish off the plays on that line. The drop-off in talent compared to previous years is concerning though and will likely have an impact on his point total, too. Either way, I think Staal getting the puck on net more will do more help than harm here.
Even if his linemates are weak, even strength hasn't been where Staal's been the most dangerous anyway. Over 36% of Staal's total career points and 38% of his total goals have come on the powerplay. He tends to play with better linemates with the man advantage (Skinner, LaRose) so that has a lot to do with it. Scott Reynolds from Copper and Blue recently did a study on Individual Point Percentages and Staal's career IPP is very average and was really poor last season. I still haven't quite figured out why Staal has such a low career average despite leading Carolina in EV points in many seasons, but one possible cause might be because of how many points he accumulates on a powerplay. 35-40% of Staal's points per season usually come with the man advantage. He also scored 37.5% of the Canes powerplay goals last season. Carolina's powerplay was bad last year but if it improves at all with the addition of Kaberle and (hopefully) Boychuk, then Staal may see his numbers go up here, too. I'm not expecting that much improvement, though.
Next we are going to look at some comparable players to Staal and use that to base a reasonable projection for him. This is somewhat difficult because there aren't too many players like Staal in NHL history. We're looking for someone who entered the league at 19 years old, less than 20 games AHL experience and tallied 100 points in his second year. Most forwards tend to peak and hit their prime in their late 20's. Staal is 27 and I do not think he peaked at 21 years of age but I did manage to find 83 comparables to him. These were players who put up ridiculous numbers at a young age but managed to be near point-per-game players throughout their 20's.
Going by this graph, Staal's comparables were point-per-game players at 27 years of age but we'll need to take a look at some specific players to know what exactly to expect from the captain.
|Best (Sundin 98-99)||82||31||52||83|
All of Staal's comparables averaged out to an expected 30 goals and 75 points over 74 games, which projects to 33 goals and 83 points if he plays in all 82 games, which he has done for most of his career. The average of all forwards puts him around the best case scenario which is Mats Sundin's 1998-99 season, where he was a point per game player. Then there's the worse case scenario of Jason Spezza, who is a fantastic playmaker but has been brought down by injuries and poor surrounding talent the past couple of seasons. It's possible that this could happen to Staal but let's hope it doesn't. None of his comparables got to 40 goals and Cammalleri (who moved to the wing that year) came the closest.
40 goals and 100 points seems very unlikely for Staal right now, but him getting back to being a point-per-game player is not. It seems that's where his ceiling is right now at 27 but as I said earlier, it all comes down to him shooting the puck more which is going to have to do with his prospective linemates being much weaker than they are in the past. Sundin had a 30-goal scorer in Sergei Berezin on his line which definitely helped his assist total and if Staal is stuck with Boychuk and Stewart on his line for most of the year, then I don't think he will get to 80 points. How good he is on the powerplay should help him out a lot when it comes to inflating his point total, though.