The Evolution of Zack Stortini

EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 3:  Right wing Zack Stortini #46 of the Edmonton Oilers fights with right wing Brandon Prust #33 of the Calgary Flames in the second period during an NHL game on October 3, 2009 at Rexall Arena in Edmonton, Canada. (Photo by Jimmy Jeong/Getty Images)

“Evolution” and “evolved” may not be the first two words that come to mind when one looks at that picture, which highlights a big gap-toothed man with unkempt hair poised to beat on another man with his fist, but despite that seeming incongruity, evolution is what we saw when Zack Stortini fought in 2009-10.

Ever since Stortini entered the league, we’ve seen a lot of two things from him. We’ve seen him willing to drop the gloves with anyone – regardless of opponent, Stortini’s a willing dance partner. He led the league in major penalties in 2008-09, because of that willingness. The other thing we’ve seen a lot of is Stortini moving in close and grappling when facing off against superior opponents, the action that earned him the nickname “Huggy Bear.”

At the end of 2008-2009, however, I looked at Stortini’s record as a fighter and I saw substantial improvement: after winning four of his first 47 fights, he went 5-2-1 to close out the season (wins and losses determined by voting at hockeyfights.com) while fighting against guys like Ivanans, Parros and Scott. I thought this was a positive indicator for 2009-10; Stortini’s still a young player and it’s certainly conceivable that we would see improvement.

This chart shows us Stortini’s win/loss record by season over his NHL career:

Season Wins Losses Draws Win %
2006-07 1 4 2 0.29
2007-08 3 16 4 0.22
2008-09 5 10 10 0.40
2009-10 6 6 5 0.50

A 0.500 season! More wins than draws!

I tend to think this is a sustainable trend, and that we will see Stortini eventually hang in around the 0.500 mark while still fighting pretty much anyone. The reason I think that is a belief that fighting ability sees the same general development path as other NHL skills: a player struggles early, then improves until he hits the age of 25 or so, and then sticks around that mark over the next few years (his prime) before declining due to age. Because Stortini has some ability outside of fighting, he made his NHL debut younger than most, at age 21. He’s at the age now where we can expect his development in all areas to start levelling off (it may not, but for most players it does) but even if it does he has value: a fourth-line guy who can play, and a high-end middleweight who can fight with anyone.

Of course, it also remains to be seen if Stortini’s a player the Oilers are interested in long-term. I say that despite the fact that I’ve done a 180° on Stortini, a player I rather disliked in 2006-07 but have since come to respect for his tenacity and his willingness to do whatever it takes to stay in the league. My question though is this: if Stortini never becomes a true heavyweight, and the Oilers feel they need one, can Stortini’s presence on the roster be justified? Every time Stortini’s had success as a hockey player, he’s been on a line with other talent: either Brodziak and Glencross or Nilsson and Stone. In both cases, Stortini was able to play a defined role that fit his skillset. On the other hand, I’d say Stortini’s worst performances came while playing on a line with Steve MacIntyre; Stortini simply hasn’t displayed the skill to adapt to a role where more of the puck work falls to him. I have my doubts he will, and while MacIntyre’s a highly effective fighter he isn’t much help either carrying or obtaining the puck.

 

The solution would either seem to be to rotate Stortini in and out of the lineup with the designated heavyweight, with Stortini coming in for teams regarded as less physically challenging or without a true heavyweight enforcer, or to send him away and let the designated heavyweight take his spot on the fourth line.

Honestly, I’m not sure what the solution is; despite Stortini’s improvement as a fighter I’ve become more sceptical of his role on the team if a heavyweight is also on the roster.

  • @ Cervantes:

    No doubt Stortini’s value would increase quite a bit if he could be a serviceable PK guy, and could fill in at faceoffs. I don’t know if I’d rely on him as a centre, but even being able to fill-in would have value.

  • Playing with the SMAC won’t help Stortinis game as far as skills but now he can play a better and different role I hope this will work for a long time. Stortini is a dream for most GMs and coaching staff they know what to expect. Jonathan don’t get me wrong I respect the stats. It’s just not always pessimistic. May plays improve after 25. Not eveything is black and white. Keep up the good work you articles are always interesting. I enjoy to look at the game in different point of views. I seen you wrote Ryan Jones what style of game does he play ? It’s hard to keep track of all the younger players we have.

  • I would think guys tend to peak at 27-28, not 25. I think Zack’s game has come a long way. I could see him evolving into an A+ agitator, an A+ middleweight, and a potential 10 min, 10 goal scorer capable of 3rd line minutes at some point. I used to LMFAO at him, but dude’s worked his bag off & I wouldn’t be looking to get rid of him any time too soon. Especially after all the time they have invested in him… to let him go & watch him find some polish elsewhere would be a real kick in the nuts. He could be a Steve Ott in the making. Who here would love to have Steve Ott?

    • Pajamah

      like in my house? So that I can punch him?

      Agreed.

      Ive always bought in to the “hate to play against him, but if he were on my team” bit

      If Stortini becomes Steve Ott, he may price himself out of a job, especially if it falls in line with our young guys needing second contracts (The Oilers essentially are now all young guys, be it Entry Level, or RFA)

      But if thats his ceiling, I’d be happy

    • I agree he has improved his all round game. I think the “huggy bear” with laperriere scene last season helped him. After that the last ten games he was a beast. ( I almost wrote breast thinking of LT’s article the other day )

  • Stortini will have the potential to produce a bit more this year if given the opportunity to ride shotgun with “the kids” occasionally.

    The “3rd line” should be more talented this year which Stortini can benefit from also.

    The team knows what they have in him and his compete should keep him around until other players have defined their roles.

    If anything you keep Stortini around and move the heavyweight in a few years when the prospects can make teams pay on the PP.

  • Jerk Store

    At the risk of repeating what Ross Creek and Jake have already stated, we need a “Steve Ott type” not Derek Boogard. Those wanting to cast Stortini in an enforcer role are going to be sadly disappointed. He can be a hybrid of sorts. Be the agitator and SMac’s “wingman” in games where the other teams Nuclear deterants are in the lineup and be the pseudo muscle in games where SMac is not playing (which will be significant). He has shown he is willing to show up which means a lot, is a good guy in the dressing room, and a great community guy. what do you want out of your 4th liner? If he progresses and chips in offensively here and there, that is all a bonus. Glad to see mostly positive responses to the guy here. We have too few players who “know their role”.