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.

  • Stortini on a fourth line may be acceptable , but MacIntyre getting minutes like that seems counter productive ! I agree with Willis here .

    One other area that needs to be cast out for debate is whom will we be using to make our specialty teams stronger , especially the PK . Specialty team play has to get much better than last season if we are to be competitive . I think we have the offensive tools to improve a lot . With present roster i see little improvement in PK , however .

  • Crackenbury

    I agree with most of your article. I am curious to see how Stortini plays this year. His improvement on a year over year basis has been impressive and if he makes another step forward this year I see him as an everyday 3/4 liner.

    The Smac signing is something else. I don’t see where he fits in the lineup, especially with the summers signings. We now have 2-3 everyday players in the lineup that are willing to drop the gloves. Smac will see very limited ice time before he is eventually placed on waivers.

  • I don’t agree on the possibility of Stortini growing as a player either. While most players might peak at 25, that isn’t always true. It’s all about work ethic as well too. Horcoff for example, didn’t peak until around 30, and Souray’s offensive and defensive game came together at around 32.

    I think Stortini has shown the off-season commitment to be a better player. He doesn’t have much natural talent at all (in fact “natural talent” are two words that shouldn’t ever be used when describing Stortini), but I think there are things he can still learn to help improve his game, such as working hard on his skating, and well, even fighting other guys and taking tips from teammates such as Mac could probably help his fighting skills.

    I know you were just saying this stuff to emphasize that his 0.500 fighting record is sustainable, but I think he’s just starting to figure things out and could still get better.

    Also, I still haven’t figured out this whole hammer-fist method he uses. I’ve often wondered if he fought sometimes with bad had injuries… cause seriously… hammerfist? lol

    Anyways, one of the comments coaches present and past have made about him is that he’s very coachable.. so I wouldn’t be surprised to see his game improve even for a few more years, perhaps to the point where he can be an OK 3rd liner.

  • Stortini is a throwback to the Oilers players of the late 90s. It would be nice to see more Oilers emulate his grit, tenacity & character. I’d even consider giving him a letter if say Hemsky was made captain.

  • Oil_Loc8or wrote:

    So Stortini will not grow as a player ? He is a team leader on and of the ice. He brings it every night , try watching the games

    Try not to say such stupid things.

    Stortini will likely not develop as a player because most players hit their peak around the age of 25. I know what I wrote, and it’s not what you think I wrote.

    Secondly, as the guy tasked almost every night with writing about the crappy performance from the pathetic display that was the 2009-10 Oilers, don’t tell me to watch the games. I watched and wrote about almost all of them, right here on OilersNation where everybody could see them. That line is a copout on your part.

    • Mike Modano's Dog

      LMAO at that one!

      Your question about Stortini is one of the best, maybe the best I have read in the offseason. I am struggling with how to answer that one, big-time. Of course, the easy answer with that one is to simply state that we will see in time, over the course of this season how him and MacIntyre work out this year and to take it from there.

      I will try to answer it, though. If Stortini never becomes a true heavyweight can he be justified on the roster if the Oilers need that heavyweight? I do believe he can be an effective Kevin McClelland to our Marty McSorley. I believe that is the perfect scenario in this case. Have a Steve MacIntyre along with him and you don’t have to worry about which one you use. So, if you are asking about in the long-term I think that is perfect because I feel we would need both of those weapons on our roster. Now if you’re talking about on a game-by-game basis I don’t think it’s a big loss if you pull him out of a game that you don’t feel his skill set is needed. And, that makes him useful, too, in a sense, because you can spot-duty him if need be, but I believe you definitely need another heavyweight on the roster, too!

      Now does that make ANY sense?

  • @ rindog:

    It’s not a harsh statement about MacIntyre, who had two assists in 34 AHL games last season. He seems like a heck of a guy and I’m happy for him that he got the contract, but he has one NHL-level skill only, and that’s fighting. In other areas he’s a liability, even against fourth-liners.

  • rindog

    Kind of a harsh statemenet about MacIntyre.

    When used for 2 or 3 shifts a game it is hard to gage whether or not he can get in a forecheck, etc.

    While I agree that Stortini has evolved, I am interested to see if the two of them (if they get into the line-up on the same nights), can become an effective forth line (given the right middle man to play with).