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Johnny Gaudreau named NHL's Rookie of the Month for December

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The good times keep coming for Johnny Gaudreau as yesterday morning he was named the NHL's rookie of the month for December. Wanna know why? We'll tell you why.

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Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Mute: as soon as Eric Francis comes on. Unmute if you want after.

People said he was too small to be in the NHL and that he would never make it. Critics said his success with the Boston College Eagles would never transition over to the NHL. Now he's the NHL's rookie of the month and probably a candidate for the NHL's Calder trophy at season's end. I mean who expected a 4th round (104th overall) pick to be playing at his level? Not many. Hell, before the season I expected him to play 8-9 games and be sent down. I was wrong.

So why has he excelled so far?

Here is why: The kid can score, the kid can play, and he has only improved since the beginning of the season. In 14 GP this month for the Flames, Johnny Hockey put up 8 goals and 5 assists. No big deal, right? Currently (before the game against the Islanders), he's sitting 3rd in team scoring with 30P (12G, 18A) in 38GP. No big deal.

How about this:

Or this?

It's not just his ability to score. It's his overall hockey sense, his ability to pass and distribute the puck, his ability to enter the zone. He does so many little things that make the players around him so much better. His chemistry with Jiri Hudler is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what he can do.

Example: Gaudreau to Monahan (in November against the Panthers)

Oh hell, how about moves like this?

Everyone has been speaking about the ability for him to hold up over the season and he may cool off a bit but he's the most exciting Calgary Flames player of recent memory. He was a scratch October 17th versus Columbus and since then he has emerged with 30 points (12G, 18A) in 33 GP.

For the folks who don't care about the analytics/underlying numbers; you can end your read here if you want with the following non-fancy stats courtesy of Torie Peterson/CalgaryFlames.com.

Here is a TL;DR: DOIN' WELL BUT NEEDS MORE TIME THIS SEASON TO KEEP PLAYING. LOTS OF NUMBERS AND JUNK.

For the month of December here is his underlying numbers:

Legend for reference to all but ZSO% Rel which is explained below!

CF% FF% Corsi Rel CF/60 ZSO% Rel
All Situations 58.4% 59.6% 13.5 68.6 31
ES - 5 v 5 50.4% 51.2% 5.1 58.1 20.4
ES - 5 v 5 Score Close 52.7% 52.9% 9.1 61.6 16.8
ES - 5 v 5 Score Adjusted 48.6% 49.9% 4.1 54.3 20.4

So overall, he's not looking too bad for a rookie who happens to play on a team who had an 8 game losing streak recently, over-performed despite expectations, and was winning some games they probably shouldn't have. That said, he's the subject of very deliberate sheltering at times thanks to Bob Hartley. I mean it's fair of Hartley to want to do that. He's a rookie after all and it's not very often you see a rookie succeed in difficult zone starts, top competition, and do it for a sustainable amount of time.

That said, in the month of December he was pretty good despite a few concerns not shown in the data above that I will explain in a moment. The ZSO column is the "fraction of offensive vs defensive zone starts relative to the team" meaning a higher number usually means more OZ starts while lower numbers indicate more DZ starts.

Hartley is incredibly careful and smart at times deploying Gaudreau; though sometimes it does backfire but he is learning. Several games in the month of December had him take some more difficult starts which showed.

Now back to the aforementioned concerns:

  • There is a small differential (negative) on his CF/60 vs CA/60 with regards to ES 5 v 5 Score Adjusted. CF/60 being Corsi For per 60 minutes while CA is Corsi Against. The differential is only -3.1 but examining much of the team, they're all negative differentials.
  • Deployment. This can't last forever, much like Monahan before him. Some zone starts need to happen to see how he handles more DZ and NZ starts. That said, with a pending road-trip this month to Vancouver, California, and Arizona; I'm curious to see his continued deployment.
  • Is what he is doing on the ice (eye test + underlying numbers) sustainable? It's hard to say but he is defying a lot of questions and opinions asked/said before the season. I think he slows down a bit, takes a hit possession wise and regresses a bit. Regression isn't bad as it takes a lot of the luck he may be getting and gives us a more realistic interpretation. His skills are undeniable but the schedule isn't going to get easier.

In comparison to a few other rookies mentioned, I've compared Filip Forsberg, Aaron Ekblad, Mike Hoffman, and former rookie of the month (October) Tanner Pearson. Other players mentioned on the NHL.com posted included Chicago goalie Antti Raanta and Winnipeg Jets' goalie Michael Hutchinson.

  • Everyone is getting optimal zone starts - specifically Forsberg at ES 5 v 5 play. Where as Tanner Pearson of the five has the tougher starts. That said, Pearson's experience may play a factor in his deployment for the Kings.
  • Aaron Ekblad is an interesting case. He's putting up stellar numbers in Florida mostly due to his play along side Brian Campbell. As you can see here, at ES with Campbell, Ekblad is 55.95% CF but without he is 44.25%. A huge drop, which would say he's being carried a bit. That said he's going to round out well and he's playing pretty well so far.

I want to draw some attention specifically to Forsberg here now in comparison to Gaudreau as they're both the most likely rookie forwards in the league currently to keep doing what they're doing unless something bad happens. For those not super familiar with Filip Forsberg he was drafted by the Washington Capitals 11th overall in 2012. He played in Sweden for Leksands IF for a few seasons. In 2013 he was randomly dealt to Nashville for Martin Erat and Michael Latta.

This season for the Predators, Filip is leading the team in scoring with 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists) in 36 games. He's been a revelation for them. Part of his success so far could be attributed to his experience prior to this season. With 18 games  (5GP in 12-13 and 13GP in 13-14) played with Nashville prior to this full-time rookie season and 47GP  (50 if you include playoffs) with Milwaukee of the AHL; he has some incredible experience playing against pros. More info here.

They're both incredibly talented forwards but their underlying numbers do have some interesting differences:

Season - Filip Forsberg

CF% FF% Corsi Rel CF/60 ZSO% Rel
All Situations 62.0% 62.0% 13.2 75.2 27.0
ES - 5 v 5 56.3% 56.2% 4.7 68.3 18.7
ES - 5 v 5 Score Close 56.5% 56.9% 4.9 72.5 24.3
ES - 5 v 5 Score Adjusted 56.6% 56.5% 4.1 67.9 18.7

December - Filip Forsberg

CF% FF% Corsi Rel CF/60 ZSO% Rel
All Situations 63.4% 63.5% 16.9 80.6 32.3
ES - 5 v 5 57.5% 58.3% 8.2 70.5 23.2
ES - 5 v 5 Score Close 61.9% 64.3% 15.3 80.9 26.5
ES - 5 v 5 Score Adjusted 58.0% 58.7% 7.0 70 23.2

As you can see Filip Forsberg had a phenomenal December but on top of all of that, his season has been nothing short of spectacular as well. This is why the Calder trophy race is going to be so much fun for the remainder of the season. A few key points about why Forsberg excelled so well in December:

  • Zone starts. Relative to the rest of the team, he was subject to the most OZ starts than his team. Mike Ribeiro was behind him at 20.3 ZSO% Rel and the next closest was James Neal at 16.6. Sheltered.
  • Contrasting that, his teammate Colin Wilson who put up 8 points (4 goals, 4 assists)  in December meanwhile was a -1.4 ZSO% Rel giving him a few difficult starts. Though, two different players and roles set before them yet similar success despite the zone starts.
  • For the season, He's averaging 1.2 G/60, 1.5 A/60 (goals and assists per 60 minutes) to a sum of 2.7 P/60 (Points per 60) at ES - 5 v 5. Impressive stuff for a team in the "Third Conference". In score close scenarios he's still averaging quite exceptional numbers at 1.1 G/60 and 1.1 A/60. In comparison to Gaudreau: in ES - 5 v 5, Gaudreau is 0.8 G/60 and 1.3 A/60. For Score close, 0.4 G/60 1.6 A/60.
  • December alone: Forsberg was 1.0 G/60 and 1.0 A/60 in ES 5 v 5. Gaudreau edged due to some strong performances at 1.6 G/60 and 0.9 A/60. In score close, Forsberg was 1.7 G/60 and 0.6 A/60; whereas Gaudreau was 1.1 G/60 and 1.7 G/60. Very strong from both of them.

Finally, here is Johnny Gaudreau's season to date (not including the Islanders game):

CF% FF% Corsi Rel CF/60 ZSO% Rel
All Situations 54.1% 56.1% 9.9 61.6 22.6
ES - 5 v 5 46.7% 49.0% 2.7 53.0 13.9
ES - 5 v 5 Score Close 48.5% 50.7% 4.1 57.2 8.7
ES - 5 v 5 Score Adjusted 46.1% 48.3% 1.8 50.7 13.9

Some final points:

  • Despite Johnny Hockey generating 53.0 CF/60 (Corsi For per 60 minutes of play) during ES - 5 v 5 play he is at 60.6 CA/60 (Corsi Against) despite more the zone starts. Meaning there are still more shot attempts on ice against him while he is on the ice.
  • Overall he's still at times a negative possession player, much like a bulk of the Flames.
    Ex: ES 5 v 5 has a -62 differential on his overall Corsi, -13 for Fenwick. ES 5 v 5 SC has a differential of -17 Corsi, +6 Fenwick (YAY!). Score adjusted has him at -70.8 Corsi, -20.7 Fenwick. So some room for growth there.
Overall, not to bad for a 4th round pick. He's only going to improve and make the team around him better. He's leaps and bounds ahead of where Monahan was last season so we have something positive there. He has a long road ahead of him for the rest of the season. He has shown moments of incredible two-way play but also faultered along the way too. It's all growing pains and if he can be where Monahan is in his sophomore year, we'll have no problems.

Congratulations again, Johnny. We love you.

TL;DR - DOIN' WELL BUT NEEDS MORE TIME THIS SEASON TO KEEP PLAYING. LOTS OF NUMBERS AND JUNK.