Who Will Surprise During the 2019-2020 NHL Season? – Part 1: Western Conference
Each year, there are players throughout the NHL who seem to come out of nowhere. Jonathan Marchessault is a recent case of a player taking an unexpected step towards stardom. For the upcoming 2019-2020 season, I have taken an in-depth look throughout the league and have identified nine players in each conference who are most likely to be the next Marchessault. Each conference’s group of nine players has been broken into three groups based on their likeliness to exceed expectations next season: probable, coin flip, and possible. These groups represent what I believe to be the likelihood that each player breaks out like Marchessault. I did not want to have this centered on one team more than another, so I avoided picking multiple players from the same team.
This process is not as simple as looking at how many points someone has scored. While that may have some importance, there are many other underlying statistics that can provide a hint as to who may be able to take the next step forward. Other than total points (goals and assists) and TOI (time on ice), I will look specifically at 5v5 statistics (provided by naturalstattrick.com) for each player, as that helps take away any influence by “unfair” situations like the power play and penalty kill. Those situations tend to inflate the numbers of players. Looking at 5v5 ultimately tells us how well the player performed in the basic game of hockey. The analysis of each chosen player will involve the consideration of these statistics, as well as the overall situation and circumstance that they find themselves in. The age listed with the player is the age that they will play the majority of the 2019-2020 season as. I have tried to look at players who were not high draft picks as these players are expected to take a step forward. Instead, the goal was to identify some under the radar players.
Ondrej Kase, 24, RW, Anaheim Ducks
The Anaheim Ducks are in the middle of a rebuilding (or retooling) phase. They weren’t too good last season and
There is space on the team for Kase to have the opportunity to play top-six minutes. Ryan Getzlaf, Adam Henrique, Rickard Rakell, and Jakob Silfverberg are the only forwards on the Ducks’ roster who seem to be clear locks for a top-six role. That would leave two spots available for others and Kase seems to be at the top of the list to fill one of those roles. Kase might be one of the easiest picks here, as both his statistics and his situation point to him being a top-six forward in the near future.
Conor Garland, 23, LW/RW, Arizona Coyotes
As a fifth-round draft
The opportunity is there for Garland to find a spot within the top six of the Arizona Coyotes. Phil Kessel, Derek Stepan, Nick Schmaltz, Christian Dvorak, and Clayton Keller should all have a top six role for the team. That leaves one spot for the likes of Conor Garland, Vinnie Hinostroza, and Christian Fischer. Based on the recent statistics, the battle will most likely be between Garland and Hinostroza. While there will be competition, there is an opportunity for Garland to land a bigger role this upcoming season. His statistics show that he may be ready for it.
Dylan Sikura, 24, LW/C/RW, Chicago Blackhawks
Sikura, a 24-
When looking at Sikura’s statistics, it is reasonable to say that he could turn into a quality two-way forward capable of playing within the top six. There will be competition in Chicago amongst the forwards for significant ice time. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Brandon Saad, Dylan Strome, and Alex DeBrincat are all locks for a top-six role. That leaves one spot up for grabs for players like Sikura, Drake Caggiula, David Kampf, Brendan Perlini, Alex Nylander, and Andrew Shaw to battle for. While it will be quite the competition, Sikura could either win the spot or find a role on the third line. Either way, Sikura showed in a quiet first season that he may be able to take a step forward and add more production if he finds himself in a bigger role.
Nikolay Goldobin, 24, LW, Vancouver Canucks
This 2014 first round pick didn’t last long with the team that drafted him. The San Jose Sharks traded him to the Vancouver Canucks during the 2016-2017 season in a deal for Jannik Hansen. During that season, he had good AHL numbers. Goldobin played in a total of 49 games and produced 19 goals and 26 assists for a total of 45 points. In 2017-2018, he dominated the AHL with 31 points in 30 games. He also played 38 NHL games with Vancouver, scoring eight goals and six assists for 14 points. The 2018-2019 season was the first season that Goldobin spent the entire year in the NHL. In 63 games, he scored seven goals and 20 assists for 27 points. His CF% was 49.24%, which is slightly lower than you’d want it to be. However, his CF% relative was 1.76%, showing that he made the team better when he was on the ice. Goldobin averaged 14:59 TOI this past season. He played the most with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser. While Goldobin put up good underlying numbers with the top players, his production just was not there. It is very possible that Goldobin is what he is at this point. It is also very possible that one more season with these top players will allow for Goldobin to take the next step and produce like a top six forward should.
There is space in the top six for Goldobin. Vancouver can currently expect Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, and J.T. Miller to have a
Michael Amadio, 23, C/RW, Los Angeles Kings
Amadio, a 23 year old forward, is not a flashy player who will surprise with one elite skill. However, he has been productive in the roles he has been given so far in his career. The former third=round pick had a strong 2016-2017 AHL season in his first year as a pro, producing 16 goals and 25 assists for a total of 41 points in 68 games. In 2017-2018, he was more productive with 11 goals and 24 assists for a total of 35 points in 32 AHL games. He also saw 37 games in the NHL, but only had four goals and four assists for a total of eight points in 37 games. 2018-2019 was somewhat similar for Amadio. In 28 AHL games, he had eight goals and 18 assists for 26 points. Amadio also played 43 NHL games, with six goals and seven assists for 13 points. While the production was slightly better, it still wasn’t necessarily impressive. However, Amadio was playing in a
While Amadio hasn’t shown a great goal scoring or playmaking ability, it is reasonable to think that he could become a quality two-way player. If given a bigger role, his offensive skills are strong enough that he could produce more points while still providing his quality two-way game. The Kings have Anze Kopitar, Alex Iafallo, Adrian Kempe, Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown
Lukas Radil, 29, LW, San Jose Sharks
Lukas Radil first played in the NHL during this past 2018-2019 season at the age of 28. He signed as an undrafted free agent after the 2017-2018 KHL season that saw him score 16 goals and 22 assists for 38 points in 51 games. During the 2018-2019 season, Radil produced well in the AHL in a small sample size. In 15 games, he had four goals and seven assists for 11 points. He saw a little more time in the NHL, producing seven goals and four assists for 11 points in 36 games. His role was minimal, as he had an average TOI of 10:41 per game. However, in that small sample size, he produced a CF% of 57.68%, with a relative CF% of 1.82%. The two forwards that he saw the most time with were Barlcay Goodrow and Melker Karlsson. Based off his average time on ice and his most common line mates, it is obvious that Radil did not play in much more than a bottom six role.
Based on his history, Radil seems as if he could be pretty productive if given more minutes. Going into his age 29 season, it is likely that Radil is what he is at this point. Seeing if he can handle bigger minutes may be a fairly quick experiment for the team, showing them he either can or cannot handle more ice time. At the least, he can be a quality bottom-six forward. Currently, the Sharks have Logan Couture, Evander Kane, Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, and Kevin Labanc as locks for their top six. While it is very likely that Joe Thornton returns with Patrick Marleau in tow, that would still leave two spots open in the top nine. With very little competition from any other skilled players for those open spots,
Austin Czarnik, 26, LW/RW, Calgary Flames
As an undrafted free agent out of Miami University (Ohio), it has never been expected that Czarnik would become much more than a bottom-six forward. He certainly seemed capable of that when in the Boston Bruins organization. In his first full AHL season, Czarnik had 20 goals and 41 assists for 61 points in 68 games. Then, in 2016-2017, he played 22 AHL games that saw him score six goals and 17 assists for 23 points. That same season, he played in 49 NHL games, scoring five goals and eight assists for 13 points. In 2017-2018, he played 64 AHL games, producing 25 goals and 44 assists for 69 points in 64 games. He only played 10 NHL games, posting four assists. Before the 2018-2019 season, he became a group six unrestricted free agent and signed with the Calgary Flames.
In 54 games this past season, he had six goals and 12 assists for 18 points in 54 games. He averaged an 11:20 TOI per game, which is a fourth line role. Czarnik had a CF% of 54.92% and a relative CF% of -0.55%. While the relative statistic is not great, Czarnik was on a very good Flames team, so it is reasonable to see that the fourth line player was replaceable compared to others on his team. Czarnik played the most with Mark Jankowski and Sam Bennett. Both players were better with Czarnik than without. Jankowski had a CF% of 57.89% with Czarnik and a CF% of 50.83% without him. Sam Bennett had a CF% of 62.44% with Czarnik and a CF% of 54.11% without him. Czarnik made his fourth line teammates better players. Based on his past as a highly productive AHL forward and a good fourth line NHL forward, it would be reasonable to test out Czarnik in a bigger role.
While statistics may point to Czarnik being a possible candidate for a bigger role, his actual situation with his current team may temper those thoughts. There are eight other forwards (Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, Elias Lindholm, Michael Frolik, Mark Jankowski, and Andrew Mangiapane) who most likely have a spot locked in above Czarnik. That would leave one spot left in the top-nine on the third-line. For that spot, Czarnik would have to battle with newly acquired Milan Lucic, Derek Ryan, Alan Quine, Sam Bennett, and Dillon Dube. Czarnik could very well earn that role. However, both the crowded forward group and his age could play a role in how the team decides to move forward with him. At the least, Czarnik should continue contributing as a good fourth-line option.
Brandon Pirri, 28, LW/RW, Vegas Golden Knights
Pirri is a former second-round pick who has shown the ability to score goals. Many teams are constantly looking for goal scorers, making it somewhat odd that Pirri has not really been given a consistent shot at sticking in the NHL. Since the 2011-2012 season, Pirri has been at worst a near point per game player in the AHL. Most seasons in the AHL, he has dominated. This past year, he had 18 goals and 24 assists for 42 points in just 29 AHL games. At worst, Pirri has proven to be an elite AHL player throughout his career. The NHL season that stands out for Pirri is the 2014-2015 season. He was playing for the Florida Panthers that season. In 49 games, he scored 22 goals and two assists for 24 points. The following two seasons, Pirri played 52 games and then 60 games, but was not given a shot as a top-six forward.
As a player with a great goal scoring ability, it is odd that he has not been given a consistent look as a top-six forward. His most recent statistics show that his goal-scoring ability is still there. While we know he dominated in the AHL, his 2018-2019 NHL season saw him play in 31 games and produce 12 goals and six assists for 18 points. He averaged 14:27 TOI, which is a third-line role. Over a full season, his production would have been over 40 points. Pirri is a player that needs to be in the top-six with forwards who can consistently get the puck on his stick. His CF% was 56.69%, while his relative CF% was 3.66%. The Vegas Golden Knights were a better team when Pirri was on the ice in relation to his teammates. On top of that, Pirri has provided quality
The problem here for Pirri is the lack of space in the top six on the Vegas Golden Knights. Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault are all destined for the top-six in the upcoming season. To truly breakout, Pirri likely needs to be given enough quality and quantity minutes. With Eakin and Tuch, he will likely get the quality but due to Vegas’s depth at forward, likely won’t get the quantity. In a full season, he may be able to produce 40 points. However, worst-case scenario, he could end up being sent to the AHL if other players win the battle for the roles in the bottom-six. William Carrier, Ryan Reaves, Tomas Nosek, and more will be looking to find their spot in the lineup. The depth that Vegas has, paired with the fact that Pirri is 28 and has yet to see a significant look in the NHL, shows that he may not be given a shot to become the elite goal scorer that his statistics show he could possibly be.
Nathan Beaulieu, 27, LD, Winnipeg Jets
Beaulieu is a former first-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens. After he didn’t quite develop the way they wanted him to, he was shipped off to Buffalo. History repeated itself with Buffalo, as he was traded midway through the 2018-2019 season to the Winnipeg Jets. In 30 games for the Sabres, Beaulieu had three goals and four assists for seven points. For Winnipeg, he played in 18 games and had five assists. For both teams, Beaulieu found himself as a scratched player throughout the season. He never really saw a role much greater than the bottom pair for Buffalo (14:42 average TOI), while he did see some time in a second pair role for Winnipeg (16:51 average TOI). Beaulieu had a CF% of 50.14% and a relative CF% of 4.68% with Buffalo. He then had a CF% of 48.38% and a relative CF% of 1.49% with Winnipeg.
With both teams, Beaulieu proved to be a player that made the team better when he was on the ice in comparison to his teammates. In Buffalo, his most common defensive partner was Casey Nelson, while in Winnipeg it was Jacob Trouba. Nelson is a good bottom pair defenseman, while Trouba has developed into a boarderline top-pair defenseman. Either way, Beaulieu played well with both players. Nelson was better with Beaulieu (57.32 CF%) than without (45.12 CF%). Trouba followed the same pattern, as he was better with Beaulieu (48.35 CF%) than without (44.83%). Beaulieu proved to be capable in multiple roles throughout the season and he made both a bottom pair defenseman and a
Age is a negative for Beaulieu, as someone with his perception (a replaceable bottom pair to
Ultimately, it is very possible that none of these players make it to the level that Jonathan Marchessault did. However, when looking at each team in the west, these nine players were determined as most likely to do so. While some may be more likely than others, these nine are the players to watch closely throughout the 2019-2020 season. There may have been some players excluded simply because of them playing on a team where another player was deemed to be more likely to take a step.
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Image courtesy of John Locher / Associated Press
James Finch is an analyst at AFP Analytics. James graduated from St. John Fisher College in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in Sport Management with a minor in Economics. His background with sports and economics have brought about an interest in gaining experience and finding his niche within the