After winning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2013, Florida forward Jonathan Huberdeau has been experiencing a bit of a sophomore slump. After putting up 14 goals and 17 assists (31 points) in 48 games (.65 Points per game), Huberdeau has only managed 8 goals and 19 assists (27 points) in 66 games (.41 Points per game). The drop in production is concerning in itself; Huberdeau is averaging about 1 less point for every 4 games he plays. If we take a look at the games the Panthers have played with Huberdeau this year, they have lost 20 games by 1 goal (12 in regulation, 6 in the shootout, 2 in overtime). Assuming that Huberdeau scores in games where the Panthers need goals, the Panthers missed out on a definite increase of at least 5 points in the NHL standings. This season, that number is insignificant. But, 5 points can make a tremendous difference between making the playoffs, or finishing as a higher seed and not having to match up against an elite level team in the first round. For example, the New Jersey Devils would currently be tied for the second Eastern Conference wild card spot this year if they had 5 more points.
Even more concerning, however, is the fact that Huberdeau's production was projected to rise. As a developing prospect, his production is supposed to increase until around the age of 24-25, then slowly taper down until the age of 30, where he'll see significant decrease in point production. (Take a look at this article to see what I'm talking about). Huberdeau should have produced around .7 points per game this year, which is approximately a 60 point season. He is currently on pace for about 34 points.
Clearly, Huberdeau's projection has dropped, and by nearly half the rate of what it should be at this year, both hurting the team in the present and creating concerns for the future. The only concern that matters, however, is the simple question: Will Huberdeau recover and produce as expected next year? Or was his rookie season simply a fluke, making him yet another infamous Panther draft bust?
There will be no definitive answer to that question until we see how he progresses over the next couple of seasons, though it is more likely Huberdeau is simply going through a funk and will recover within the next season or two. Dale Tallon, however, does not have a couple of seasons to gauge Huberdeau's development. Huberdeau's contract runs out after the 2014-2015 season. He will be an RFA by the 2015-2016 season. This gives Tallon one more season to look at Huberdeau, and his development in the NHL, before deciding what type of contract to offer him. With that in mind, we look at both analytical and statistical explanations for Huberdeau's slump, as well as ways that Huberdeau can work around the troubles and come back with a productive third year in the NHL. (Advanced statistics taken from www.extraskater.com The majority of them are concerned with 5 on 5 play. I will specify the ones that are not.)
Hip Surgery - Huberdeau had surgery on his hip in May of the offseason, which kept him off of the ice until August. This cut his offseason from about 5 months to about 2. This loss of key training time to prepare for the upcoming rigors of an 82 game NHL season may have contributed to his lack of production during the middle of the season, especially during his goal scoring drought that spanned 16 games from early December to mid January. This would point to a lack of conditioning; Huberdeau may not have been able to fully prepare himself for the season, and would have been worn down after the first couple of months. After the Olympic break it might have been expected that his production would rise, given that he had been given time to rest and recharge before finishing off the season. This has been true, to a certain degree, as he's had 5 assists (0 goals) in ten games since the Olympic break. Though this is below his expected rate, Huberdeau is also playing about a minute less a game, as well as being used in more of a third line role, as seen by the minute less of TOI he's received, on average, this season. If Huberdeau's surgery is the cause for his slump, it should be remedied come next season. He'll be able to make use of the full off season in order to prepare himself for the upcoming season, and he won't experience a premature burnout. His production would most likely level out to where it should be, around 60-70 points in the season.
Adjustment period - It is also highly likely that Huberdeau is just going through a developmental stage, where teams are more aware of him, how he plays, and how to stop him. It will take work to develop his overall game, and work on improving his offensive game, to help him get over the slump and let his game (and production) flourish. This issue isn't rare, and it's not necessarily difficult to overcome. It just takes work to develop as a player, something that will happen naturally if the player himself wants to get better. If the slump is just a learning year for Huberdeau, expect him to come back next year producing at his potential.
His shot - Huberdeau's total shooting percentage (PP and SH included) dropped from 12.5% (3.5% over the league average) to 7.8% (1.2% below). Factor in his number of shots this year with last year's shooting percentage, and Huberdeau has about 5 more goals (12-19-31) on the season. Factor in the league average, and Huberdeau scores 4 less last year, and 1 more this year. Huberdeau is known more as a playmaker than as a sniper, and one would expect his shooting percentage to be around the league's average. Though he may see some increase in his shooting percentage next season, it won't lead to an incredibly heightened number of goals. Huberdeau was slightly lucky his rookie season. He also has been slightly unlucky this year, explaining the goal totals for both season. In order to rebound and become more of a scoring threat next year, he needs to work on either 1) getting a harder, more accurate shot 2) taking better shots that have a higher chance of going in, or 3) both.
His Usage - Looking at advanced statistics again, we see Huberdeau's usage has become more defensively inclined, especially in terms of his deployment. Last year, Huberdeau started 39.4% of his shifts in the offensive zone, 37.9% in the neutral zone, and 22.7 in the defensive zone. This year, however, the numbers have changed to 34.3% (-5.1%), 35.2 (-2.7%), and 30.5% (+7.8). Huberdeau is starting in the defensive zone more often than he was, which will lead to a drop in offensive production. This becomes especially clear when looking at Huberdeau's shot totals. Last year, he averaged 1 shot every 7:41 of ice time. This year, he has averaged 1 shot every 10:43 of ice time. The less shots and the lower shooting percentage all add up to less goals and lower production.
Huberdeau has also seen his powerplay time cut. Last year, Huberdeau was the fourth most used player on the powerplay. He was on the ice 49.2% of the Panthers powerplay, and scored 9 points (2G 7A). This year, Huberdeau has been the eleventh most used player, and has only been on the ice 33% of the time. His production has dropped to 6 points (2G 4A).
Now, this brand of analysis prompts the age old "chicken or egg" question. Has Huberdeau's production dropped because of his usage? Or did his drop in production result in more defensive usage? The answer is usually more opinionated then not, and leaves it open to discussion. The hope for next year, however, is that his production increases, along with his offensive usage so as to optimize the production the Panthers get from the talented winger.
Teammates - Huberdeau's on ice shooting percentage for all situations last year (which takes into account all shots on net taken, even those by teammates, while the player is on the ice) was 8%. Taking his shooting percentage into account, (as 20% of the total on ice shooting percentage value) the rest of the team averaged about 6.9% shooting percentage while he was on the ice. That's 2.1 percent below the league average, indicating that either 1) the Panthers have poor shots off of Huberdeau's passes or 2) Huberdeau doesn't set his teammates up to score. Based off of his scouting reports and junior league statistics that peg him as a playmaker, the first option is more likely than the second. Based off of the stats, his 2 most common linemates last year (Mueller, (65.8% percent of Huberdeau's ice time last year was with Mueller) and Shore, (56.1 TOI w/Huby)) shot below 6.5%. (Mueller shot 6.1% and Shore shot a borderline impossible 3.1%) He definitely had no help from his linemates. This season, on ice shooting percentage has decreased, but only minimally to 7.8%. Huberdeau's shooting percentage, however, has dropped, and thus his teammates shooting percentage has gone up to around 7.8% when he is on the ice. This explains why Huberdeau has a higher assists to goals ratio this year (17:14, 18:9), and offers a simple solution to increasing Huberdeau's assist totals: Get him better people to pass to. Even though the shooting percentage of his teammates has gone up, it's still below the league average. A perfect example of this is Tomas Fleischmann, who is second on the Panthers with ice time shared with Huberdeau (26% TOIw/Huby). Fleischmann is shooting at a pathetic 4.8%. With linemates that tend to have a shooting percentage at least at the league average, Huberdeau's assists production will increase.
In all, there are a number of factors that have contributed to Jonathan Huberdeau's sophomore slump. Pinpointing the blame on one specific factor, then, will not fully explain the slump. It is also difficult to determine how much of a role the answers denoted by advanced statistics (Usage, teammates) play. Are they simply a result of Huberdeau's lack of production? Or are they a reason as to why he hasn't produced as expected? It makes more sense that it's a combination of the two. Huberdeau most likely did experience a lack of production during the beginning half of the season. The offseason hip surgery leads to a significantly lower shooting percentage; which, when coupled with his age and the fact that he is still developing as a player, make his point production drop enough to cause the coach to cut his playing time. However, as he has recovered, and especially since the return from the Olympic break, it is very possible that it's Huberdeau's usage and linemates, (which are both lower when compared to last year and the league average, respectively) that are keeping him from producing at the rate he is capable of. With only 10 games left in the season, it will be hard to tell what actually is the case; point production causing less usage and poorer linemates, or poor linemates and less usage causing less point production.
Overall, however, there isn't strong evidence anywhere to indicate that Huberdeau won't bounce back from this slump and have a strong outing next season. Even though his rookie season goal totals may be inflated, the assist totals are deflated enough to balance the point total out. On the same note, even though his assists may have come close to averaging out this season, his usage hasn't allowed his goal total to be close to his rookie production. Look for him to have a career year, and look for Dale Tallon to sign him to a nice multi-year deal that ensures his services long enough for the Panthers to finally make a run at the Stanley Cup.
For more information on on ice shooting percentage, take a look at this article.