There seems to be a conflict within the fanbase about Chad LaRose and how he has been used as a top-six winger this season. I've heard a ton of praise and criticism thrown his way. Some people have said that this will be his break-out year and that he's finally showing that he can be a consistent 20-goal scorer. Others have said that he belongs on the fourth line, shouldn't be playing in the top-six and hurts the team more than he helps.
LaRose is on-pace to score 20 goals this year and it's likely that he'll set a personal high in points, but to say that he can consistently be a top-six winger is a stretch. He is almost 30 years old and hasn't scored more than 31 points in his career so that usually means what we're seeing right now is the best that we're going to get. However, to say that he is part of the problem with the Canes is also false because while LaRose is not a top-six forward, he does do a lot of good things for the Canes and has been one of their better players this season. What else do I have to say about #59? Find out after the jump, because there's a lot.
Much of the arguments centered around whether or not he should be used in the top-six like he has been for much of this year. Per Hockey Prospectus, the benchmark for top-six scoring is defined as a player who has a even strength scoring rate of 1.8 points per 60 minutes. That may not sound like much, but think about every team's top-six units. Not all of them are going to consist of 20 goal scorers that put up 50+ points every year and the average scoring rate for them is 1.8 even strength points per 60 minutes. That said, no matter which way you go by, Chad LaRose does not appear to be a top-six scorer and he never has been, really.
|Year||G||Pts||EV||PP||ESP/60||Ev Sh%||On-ice Sh%|
ESP/60 = Even strength points per 60 mins., EV Sh% = even strength shooting percentage, On-ice Sh% = Canes EV shooting percentage when LaRose was on the ice.
The only year LaRose scored at a top-six rate was 2009-10 and he missed 26 games that season. The team was also shooting at a higher rate with him on the ice that year too, so he was definitely getting some outside help. In every other season, he has been producing at a level that falls below what is considered "top-six production," so the criticisms directed at him for not being a top-six forward are valid. He might be on track to set personal records for goals and points this year but a lot of that is due to increased powerplay time. He is playing about 1:45 per game on the powerplay and is a regular on the second unit, which is a lot more than what he did in the past so the increase in points there makes sense. He's been contributing the same amount at even strength as he has for his entire career. His even strength point total will likely end up in the ballpark of 27-35 points, but the increased powerplay time could push him over 40 total.
There you have it, LaRose has not produced enough to be considered a top-six forward and never has, but the problem with him being used in a top-six role is more team-related than anything. The only Carolina forwards scoring at a top-six rate are Tuomo Ruutu, Anthony Stewart and Jeff Skinner. One of which is having his goal & point totals buoyed by a high shooting percentage and another has been out for almost a month. There's a lot of other things to take into account with scoring rates because Eric Staal is obviously a top-sixer but his point total is down due to a horrible on-ice shooting percentage and nearly half of Jussi Jokinen's have come on the powerplay. LaRose's on-ice shooting percentage is one of the lowest on the team but even if we consider that, it's still tough to say that bad luck is the reason for his low point totals. If you take a look at the table above, you'll see that LaRose has never shot at that high of a rate and his shooting percentage at even strength is around the league average. LaRose would likely be a third liner on most teams but he's played in the top-six this season due to Carolina's lack of overall talent on the wings. Who else is going to score more than LaRose in a top-six role? Stewart? Alexei Ponikarovsky? Jiri Tlusty? Andreas Nodl? Patrick Dwyer? It's unlikely that any of those will top 30 points this year so LaRose remains the top option, unfortunately. Ponikarovsky is the only one of the named players who can score at a top-six rate but he's run into basically the same problems as LaRose and has produced much fewer points. Sure, you could say that one of our high-potential prospects could play there instead (Dalpe, Boychuk, etc.) but they are in Charlotte right now.
LaRose might be out of place on the top-six but discrediting everything else he does is wrong. Carolina owns over 50% of the scoring chances at even strength when he is on the ice and only five other regular forwards can say that. Jokinen and Skinner are the only other forwards to have a scoring chance rate higher than LaRose. When it comes to driving the play, LaRose doesn't appear as good, but he still ranks fourth among regular forwards in corsi relative, so he is getting the puck moving in the right direction. This is with only 42.2% of his draws coming in the offensive zone, too. For $1.9 mil. a year, he's doing a fine job.
To sum things up, LaRose is a valuable third line player who a lot of teams would like to have, especially for his low price tag. The key word there is "third liner" because that's what he is. He is playing in a top-six role because the Canes don't have anyone better right now. If I had it my way, I would have him playing with Sutter & Dwyer on the third line but Canes have too many bottom-six wingers currently on the roster, so they have to go with who is currently scoring and that guy is LaRose right now. He is versatile, a hard worker and help the team in a lot of ways even if he isn't putting up points.