Jason Lewis covers the Pacific Division for Hockey Prospectus and writes about the Kings for Hockey Buzz
There are questions entering every season. Some are about star players, some are about depth players, some is about organizational direction. Sometimes it is all of these things.
With the Los Angeles Kings, the team suffered turnover this offseason of several players who played roles in the team’s two cup runs. Justin Williams, Mike Richards, Robyn Regehr, Slava Voynov, and Jarret Stoll all departed the team in various fashions. This opened the door for internal promotions and new acquisitions to shine.
One of these internal promotions was that of youngster Nick Shore. The 23-year old saw a 34-game stint with the Kings last season, after being a standout player for the then AHL Manchester Monarchs dating back to 2013-14. His strong play with the Kings minor league affiliate came on the heels of a solid three year run at the University of Denver under coach George Gwozdecky.
Shore, for two seasons, was Gwozdecky’s stand out centerman despite the team itself failing to meet overall expectations.
In a 2011 interview with Hockey’s Future reporter DJ Powers, Gwozdecky had this to say about Shore:
”It’s easy coaching Nick,” Gwozdecky said of coaching Shore. “He’s extremely intelligent. He is a guy that will listen and work at his game. You couldn’t ask for a better attitude or a guy who works any harder than Nick. It’s certainly a nice combination when you add in just his overall skill set.
With the Kings needing an almost immediate successor to the shutdown, bottom six, center job vacated by Jarret Stoll, Shore’s easily adaptable skill set and heady game has been a near perfect fit and is still growing.
Mind you, if you look at the Denver native’s traditional stats, nothing is going to blow you away particularly.
That being said, he is currently destroying the league in an immense amount of defensive analytical categories. And as far as being a spiritual successor to Stoll goes? Well, he is doing a pretty darn good job of that as well. There was no questioning Stoll was in an extreme declining state with the Kings and in his career. His defensive prowess became lessened, his offensive production plummeted, and even his much coveted face-off ability started to go absent (Although his current numbers with New York this season are pretty good at the dot). At age 33, Stoll has moved on to the Rangers where his downward trend has continued. Currently he holds a 38.8% corsi for percentage at even strength, and has just three even strength points over 27 games. That is a scoring rate that is even lower than that of his 2014-15 career low points per 60 rate that he posted with the Kings in his final season. It was altogether time for the Kings to move on. Shore stepped in with a similar scouting report. Pass first player, very smart at reading the game, great at faceoffs, full 200-foot game. While differences arise in their physicality and skating, the 23-year old seemed to have an inside track on the 3C job as early as last season… When Stoll was still on the team. Now, between Lewis and Brown he is making the job his own without question. The big knock so far? The offense. It is not really there, and there is no denying that. Some of it is really terrible luck though. Shore’s personal shooting percentage is not high, a mere 4.5% at even strength to be exact. The shooting percentage when he is on the ice is 2.21, the lowest on the entire team. He also doesn’t have the highest career PDO and 96.5. That number has really bottomed out this year, with it currently standing at a 92.8 after 26 games. The offensive woes become even more befuddling when looking at his overall scoring chance and high-danger chance numbers on the Kings. He has created as many individual scoring chances as Anze Kopitar, and has a SCF60 rate similar to Tanner Pearson. His most regular line mates of Brown and Lewis are second and third on the team in high danger scoring chances per 60, and both Shore and Brown lead the Kings in even strength shots for per 60 at 34.09 and 37.71 respectively. He will never be a 40 or 50 point scorer, but the 4 points and -7 rating are certainly not doing justice to a player who has been right at the center of a lot of offensive creation this season. That rating of -7 will also be a sore spot for traditionalists, but underlying numbers prove overwhelmingly opposite. Of NHL forwards who have played at least 200 minutes at even strength, Shore is leading all forwards in the NHL in scoring chances against per 60.
He is also slotting in at 7th in the league amongst forwards at 5v5 high danger chances against.
While this graph is ugly and may make your eyes bleed a little, we have made it easy by pointing out Nick Shore. He has quite clearly separated himself from the pack in the right direction.
To make things all the better, he is currently sitting at 36th in the NHL in face-off win percentages. Oh, and the obvious, he leads the league in corsi for at 64%, and leads the league in corsi against per 60 at 36.25.
More good? Shore’s dCorsi Impact is 16th in the NHL at 64.66. He is also starting to get more shorthanded time on a stacked penalty kill unit that includes Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter down the middle. Not an easy group to earn minutes with. Other slightly encouraging things include an increase in average ice time from 10.1 to 12.3 from last year to this year, and a ZSO% that is trending towards 0 and beyond (6.2 down to 1.7). As Sutter begins to trust the young center more we will likely see more and more numbers trend towards a defensive heavy utilization. He has made very good strides in a short amount of time, and sometimes the wayward fan can forget that he has not even played a full season’s worth of NHL games yet.
With so much good coming from the defensive side of things, it would be nice to see Shore take a few more risks offensively in an effort to chip in to the pretty top heavy Kings offense. Aside from that, he is proving to be one heck of a defensive piece for Sutter and the Kings. Maybe his tough luck numbers work out over the next 20 games and we see a little offense. There is currently a lot more good than bad coming from the Kings 2011 third round pick. He has effectively filled in the third line center role, and is developing into an impactful player in his own right. With more time and more experience, Shore may very well become a better player than Jarret Stoll was in the exact same role with Los Angeles a few years ago.