Lewis: Around the Pacific – Yotes’ direction, young Flames and Virtanen

Jason Lewis writes about the Pacific for Hockey Prospectus and about the Kings for Hockey Buzz

November is in the books, the quarter mark of the season has passed, and the Pacific division still remains unstable as you could imagine. A fight in the basement is ensuing, as the Kings and Sharks look to pull further away from the pack. Only the two aforementioned teams are over .500 in their last 10 games, and they are also the only two with a positive goal differential. It is an ugly division right now, but there are still plenty of things to talk about. Let’s get to it.

Where are the Yotes going?

You have to hand it to Arizona. They have stayed relevant for a quarter of the season, and still are poking along in a noteworthy position given the extreme youth of their roster. They are also not the most outstanding 5v5 corsi team either, at 26th overall in the league.

Be that as it may, they are battling it out with San Jose for 2nd in a weak Pacific division, and sit 8th in the conference with a 13-11-1 record. However, they are just 5-5-0 in their last 10 and seem to be teetering on coming back to earth. Their only saving grace right now is that every team below them in the division, has also struggled in their last 10 games. The Canucks are 2-5-3, Anaheim and Calgary are both 4-5-1, and Edmonton look completely flattened in the wake of injuries.

There are further positives. Their December includes just one solitary game within the division, which could end up helping if they go on an extended slump. Less four point games and less division match-ups, the better. Also, after Tuesday, the Yotes will play eight of their next nine games at home. Their current road trip has been difficult for them so far, as they are coming off back to back losses in Detroit and Nashville where they gave up five goals each night.

It’s hard to know where the Coyotes are going right now. It has been an up and down season for a roster in transition. Their 5-game rolling PDO reflects the trials and tribulations fairly well.

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While scoring chances are not exactly an indicator of predicted success, Arizona has been treading a line almost all season, and this latest dip is of an unseen level.

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While Mike Smith has been better as of late, the up and down nature of the Coyotes cannot be trusted. Keep an eye on them as they settle in for a long home stand. We might have a better idea who they really are around the new year.

Prospect Prominence

Given that this is a feature that focuses generally on NHL teams, you will not see talk of an AHL prospect too often. However, the crazy 12 month journey of Ducks Prospect Brandon Montour is surely worth noticing.

At the start of 2014-15, the former second-round pick was just coming off his 55th overall NHL entry draft selection. He started the year with Waterloo in the USHL, and put up 21 points in 17 games. The defensemen then decided to commit to UMass Amherst at the beginning of September. In his six month stint with Amherst he scored 20 points in 21 games. From there, he joined the Norfolk Admirals for the final stretch of their season in mid March and AGAIN posted near a point per game with 10 in 14 games.

Now it is 2015-16, and surprise surprise, the 21-year old puck mover is not only leading the Gulls in points with 21 in 19 games, he is 6th in the entire AHL and first amongst defensemen. Mind you, this is his AHL rookie season. In the last 12 months of his hockey career, he has played for three different teams, in three different leagues, and posted 71 points in a combined 61 games. Not only that, he is creating 11.2% of San Diego’s goals this season according to chlstats. That is ninth overall in the league and first amongst all defensemen.

How long will it be before we see the young stud take on a fourth league? The Ducks have already called up the highly anticipated forward Nick Ritchie and defenseman Shea Theodore this season (the latter has yet to play). When does Montour get his chance to shine? If all things continue the way the have, I’d expect it to be soon. Good thing Anaheim picked up Kevin Bieksa with all these defensemen ready to go right Ducks fans?

Shore-ly the offense will come right?

Now that the bad pun is out of the way, let’s talk about LA Kings center Nick Shore.

Many questions were raised about the Kings replacing the center depth of their previously successful teams. Could a young Nick Shore and Andy Andreoff fill in the gaps for roles vacated by Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll. While Andreoff is leaving a lot to be desired, Nick Shore is excelling. Currently, he is one of, if not the best bottom six centers in the league right now defensively. Offensively? Well, it has been a mixed bag. He is regularly paired up with Dustin Brown and Trevor Lewis, and the trio have found it extremely difficult to find the net. Shore currently holds a 0.62 goals per 60 rating on the Kings, which is really bad in case you did not know. Even more confounding is that he is doing it with a corsi generation that is at 65.11, one of the better CF60 numbers on the team. It doesn’t help that he, Brown, and Lewis all hold shooting percentages of 1.79, 2.56, and 2.33 respectively at even strength. Their even strength PDO, to put it bluntly, is in the toilet. It is not for lack of trying. With Shore in the center, Brown and Lewis are first and third in high danger chances on the Kings.

It will have to come eventually. Maybe.

More importantly, as stated before, Shore might be the best shot suppressing bottom six centers going right now.

Amongst forwards playing at least 200 minutes of even strength time, Shore currently sits atop the league in Fenwick for percentage. He also leads the entire league in Fenwick against per 60.

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Finally, via project of zone exits for the Kings currently being tracked by yours truly, Shore is the most efficient Kings player at moving the puck out of his own zone. In 40 even strength attempts at clearing his zone, the 23-year old has succeeded all but four times. Oh, and he is winning almost 55% of his faceoffs.

The offense will come around, but as far as replacing the perceived defensive and face-off prowess of Jarret Stoll, forget about it. It is done.

Young Flames

Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau have not been bad this season from a progression standpoint. Have they been good enough so far? That’s another question that is certainly debatable. However, from last season, they have both taken steps forward in certain aspects.

Goals, assists, points, shots for and corsi for are all up from last year. Scoring chances against are down, shots against are down and/or breaking even. The overall time on ice is up for both.

Problem is, as mentioned, it has yet to be “Good” in many regards for the two. While all the steps are in the right direction, they are still on the negative end of most of these metrics as they were last year. While they were hardly punished for this play a year ago, this season is different. The goals for that hovered around 50% despite numerous negative metrics, is now in the low 40s. The PDO that was over 100, is now sub 100. The overall little steps in the right direction for these guys are being overshadowed by the fact that the Flames are doing poorly, and they are still not quite on the positive side of many important things.

Player to Watch

Jake Virtanen flopped out in our last player to watch mention. As for the next two weeks, keep an eye on Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers. In the wake of injuries to Pouliot and Yakupov, look for the young German to be in a position step up. He only has one point in his last six games, and the Oilers are about to head in to a tough stretch of games against Dallas, San Jose, NYR twice, the Bruins, and the Blackhawks. If they want to crawl out of the basement of the Pacific, they will need all hands to the pump. Draisaitl could play a big part in the coming weeks.

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