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Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett, and the danger of the nine-game sample

Rookies on entry level contracts get nine games to prove themselves. A look at Sean Monahan's first season, split into segments of nine, shows just how wildly they can vary, and how a good first set can rush someone.

On the surface, Monahan had a great rookie year, but his underlying numbers suggest he struggled.
On the surface, Monahan had a great rookie year, but his underlying numbers suggest he struggled.
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

There are expectations placed on kids drafted high. Top picks are almost always expected to go straight to the NHL, and when you're a rebuilding team, there's even more pressure placed on you. Calgary in particular was placed in a unique scenario for the franchise this time last year: the team had just lost its two biggest stars, so who were they going to market? Having a big bodied sixth overall pick helped, and so, Sean Monahan never went back to junior.

Now, there's similar talk with Sam Bennett. It's been suggested he get the Monahan treatment (see how well he does in his first nine games, and then make a decision) as opposed to the Sven Baertschi treatment (giving him the chance to be prepared for a full season of junior right away).

It makes sense: Bennett is, after all, the highest pick in Calgary Flames history. But even if Bennett gets to play nine games, those games shouldn't dictate his entire year. Nine games is a small sample size, and it's not necessarily indicative of how his entire year is going to go.

To illustrate this, here is how Monahan's rookie season broke down, in nine game segments:

Games 1-9

  • Goals scored: 6
  • Points scored: 9
  • Shooting percentage: 30%
  • Average time on ice: 15:46
  • Total Corsi (shot attempts): -13
Okay. That's an amazing start, there's no denying that. Monahan scored at least a point in his first five NHL games, and seemed to show no signs of slowing down. In his eighth game, he recorded 21:11 of ice time, the first time he broke the 20-minute mark. He looked like a phenom, and based on just these nine games, he had absolutely earned his spot full time.

However, there are a few red flags in that stat line. First off is the fact that he was shooting at 30%. That's not sustainable. Nobody has ever shot at that high a percentage throughout their career. Craig Simpson currently holds the record at 23.66%, while Alex Tanguay leads all active players at 18.74%. Monahan's great start was due to his talent, yes, but it also involved a great deal of luck, and you can't rely on luck.

Then there's the fact that he was out-shot while on the ice. As a rookie on a bad team, this isn't surprising, and in fact his total wasn't all that terrible. But he was a minus-13 in total shot attempts while putting up such great numbers. And when that luck dried up...

Games 10-18

  • Goals scored: 1
  • Points scored: 3
  • Shooting percentage: 11%
  • Average time on ice: 15:46
  • Total Corsi: -21
If these had been Monahan's stats in his first nine games, rather than his second, do you think the Flames would have kept him up the whole year? Or would they have saved a year of his contract and sent him back to junior? Monahan's numbers predictably dried up, but the damage was done as soon as he was in the lineup for his 10th game.

Games 19-27

  • Goals scored: 2
  • Points scored: 3
  • Shooting percentage: 20%
  • Average time on ice: 17:15
  • Total Corsi: -36

Six games into this nine game set, Monahan was injured. Before suffering a hairline fracture to his foot he appeared to be rebounding slightly, but mind, he was also receiving more ice time, and his shooting percentage had climbed back up. Meanwhile, the Flames were continuing to get outshot worse and worse while he was on the ice.


Games 28-36

  • Goals scored: 1
  • Points scored: 1
  • Shooting percentage: 20%
  • Average time on ice: 12:40
  • Total Corsi: -57
Monahan missed the first four games of this nine-game set before returning, and the effects of his injury were clear as he had one of the worst stretches in his young career. Significantly reduced ice time (including dropping below 10 minutes for two games) hampered him, and yet, his shooting percentage remained the same, suggesting he just wasn't getting many shots on net to begin with. Furthermore, that minus-57 is atrocious - and that was over just five games.

Games 37-45

  • Goals scored: 2
  • Points scored: 2
  • Shooting percentage: 9%
  • Average time on ice: 14:01
  • Total Corsi: -9

Monahan actually didn't fare too badly in his first full nine-game stretch since returning from injury. He only scored two goals, and his shooting percentage plummeted, but the minus-9 Corsi rating is respectable, especially since this stretch of games actually includes that horrific shutout streak the Flames played through last year. Still: if this had been what Monahan's first nine games looked like, would he have stayed with the Flames full time? Probably not, although he wasn't really doing much differently. That's the difference between shooting at 9%, and shooting at 30%.

Games 46-54

  • Goals scored: 3
  • Points scored: 4
  • Shooting percentage: 10%
  • Average time on ice: 15:08
  • Total Corsi: +12

This nine-game stretch may have been the best of Monahan's career to date, even if it wasn't as high-scoring. He registered a positive Corsi rating for the first time over nine games, while maintaining a decent amount of ice time, and a much more realistic shooting percentage - even one that could be improved upon. If he'd been shooting at 30% during this time period, he'd have scored an additional six goals.

If this had been Monahan's first nine games, would the Flames have decided to keep him up the entire year? Maybe, maybe not: he's clearly much more on the bubble here, but there are more things to like. He didn't have as wild or lucky an offensive output, but by this point, he was a much more rounded player.

Games 55-63

  • Goals scored: 4
  • Points scored: 7
  • Shooting percentage: 18%
  • Average time on ice: 15:28
  • Total Corsi: -21
Monahan's luck, and offence, picked back up for this nine-game stretch. If these had been his first nine games, he likely would've made the NHL full time, even without as much drastic luck as his actual first nine games.

Games 64-72

  • Goals scored: 0
  • Points scored: 2
  • Shooting percentage: 0%
  • Average time on ice: 18:38
  • Total Corsi: +4
Despite not scoring, Monahan had a pretty good stretch these nine games. His ice time increased, and he was once again in the Corsi black. Still: would these nine games have been good enough to keep him in the NHL? Probably not, because there was hardly any offensive output.

Games 73-81

  • Goals scored: 3
  • Points scored: 3
  • Shooting percentage: 14%
  • Average time on ice: 17:42
  • Total Corsi: -69
Monahan's offensive output was okay in this nine-game stretch, and it wasn't overly reliant on luck. He got more ice time, but clearly, his team was getting killed when he was on the ice. If these had been the first nine games of the season as opposed to pretty much right at the end, though, he probably would have been sent back to junior.

(For the sake of completion, in the final game of the season, Monahan's stat line went thus: 0, 0, 0%, 18:37, -5.)

Conclusion

Nine games is too small a sample size to determine what to do with a rookie.

Overall, Monahan ended with 22 goals, 34 points, 15.7% shooting, an average of 15:58 a game, and a total Corsi of minus-210. His point totals were overall really good, if a little lucky, and he proved he could play a regular shift in the NHL, even if most of that time was spent defending his own net rather than attacking his opponent's (by a significant margin). It wasn't the greatest rookie season, but it was far from the worst.

But here's the thing: he never had an offensive stretch as good as his first nine games, and it was that stretch that probably kept him in the big leagues. Had he kicked off his rookie campaign with no goals, two assists, and decent possession statistics, he probably would have been sent back to junior, but that stretch didn't come until late in the season.

Maybe the Flames will give Sam Bennett nine games to prove himself, maybe they won't. Bennett already has a few things working against him. His age, size, and the mostly full lineup is going to make it hard for him to make the NHL this season. But even if he has a stellar first nine games, remember: all it is is nine games, and he may not have proven anything.