Sean Monahan is likely, at some point, to be a very good NHL player.
He wasn’t one last season. And if Leon Draisaitl has a rookie campaign comparable to Monahan’s, the Oilers will be in serious trouble.
Monahan’s Rookie Year
My assessment of Monahan’s rookie year is doubtless controversial; he scored 22 goals and went 5-for-8 in the shootout. Most people would call that awfully good production for a 19-year-old rookie – and they’d be right. Hockey, however, is about more than offensive production.
Fourteen forwards finished the year with the Flames and played in at least 20 games along the way. Let’s look at how Monahan compared to that group in some key areas:
In other words, Monahan played against lousy opponents, got a zone start push from his coach, and his team still got beat like a rented mule in the shots department when he was on the ice. That’s not definitive, but it’s interesting.
Maybe his linemates played a role. Let’s look at their Corsi totals with and without him (min. one hour together at five-on-five):
Well, that’s a pretty decent list of linemates, and for the most part they were much better off playing with not-Monahan than they were playing with Monahan. Plus/minus is always a debatable statistic, but in this case it appears that Monahan’s minus-20 (worst among forwards who finished the year with the team) is a pretty accurate measure of what his line was doing at five-on-five in 2013-14.
But, wait, there’s more! Monahan’s 22 goals in 2013-14 came on just 140 shots; he had a 15.7 shooting percentage. That’s high, and it’s especially worth noting because it wasn’t like Monahan was scoring because he was planted in front of the net on the power play – only three of his goals came with the man advantage. According to BehindtheNet (which includes missed shots in its calculation) only eight NHL forwards were more likely to score on an unblocked shot at five-on-five than Monahan was last year.
Maybe he’s a truly elite finisher, but maybe not. We’ll have to wait and see, though it’s telling that he was known more as a playmaker in junior.
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Draisaitl is entering training camp with pretty massive expectations that he produce immediately, and a decent chance that he finds himself in a somewhat difficult role (we talked about the Oilers’ matchup options the other day). If he ends up playing the way Monahan did as a rookie, it would be disastrous for Edmonton’s season.
The Oilers cannot afford to play a line that gets destroyed the way the Flames did every time Monahan was on the ice last year. The point totals here are a secondary concern; the important thing is that Draisaitl can tread water or at least get close to it in a top-nine role.
It’s a tall order for a rookie, but Draisaitl has some advantages on Monahan, including size and a better scoring run in his draft year. With that said: Monahan’s struggles are an excellent reminder of the dangers of the gamble that the Oilers are taking at centre.
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