Over the past couple of months, we here at LBC have broken down the 2014-2015 season of several Panthers and given some predictions for the performances of these players in 2015-2016.
As the offseason creeps to an end, we are quickly running out of time, and will be condensing the few remaining players into one large, final article.
Without further ado, here is the final edition of the Florida Panthers Season in Review Series.
Scouting Report: Brandon Pirri was a prospect in the Chicago Blackhawks pipeline for quite some time, and when he had trouble breaking into the NHL with stacked Chicago, the general manager that drafted him back in 2009 (Dale Tallon) saw an opportunity to give a skilled player an opportunity.
Pirri hasn't disappointed, and has scored a total of 29 goals in only 70 games with the Cats. Last season, he averaged almost half a goal per game, and was a needed sniper on a team that lacked true goal scorers.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with one of the goalies who participated in the "Goal of a Lifetime" contest the Panthers held. Though he wasn't one of the final two selected, he still got to practice with the team, and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to pepper him with questions.
When I asked him who the most deceptive shooter on the Panthers was, he immediately answered "Brandon Pirri." No hesitation, no internal debate. When I went back and looked at video of some of Pirri's goals over the season, it was easy to see the deception in his shot. Goaltenders just aren't set when Pirri shoots, and as a result, the puck finds the back of the net more often.
When it comes to possession numbers, Pirri isn't exactly impressive, but he's not a huge drag on the team. Though he can't really drive possession on his own, he could probably succeed next to a player who could.
The most impressive aspect of Pirri's underlying metrics last year was the rate at which he scored goals.
So... In all situations, out of skaters with > 500 MIN TOI, here's where Brandon Pirri ranked in G/60 pic.twitter.com/jQLI0aNHJc— Shane O'Donnell (@shane1342o) August 2, 2015
Pirri did have an extremely high shooting percentage in 2014-2015, as the 15.4% he shot was much higher than the 11% average he shot in the AHL, so the initial, gut reaction would be to say that the former Blackhawk is due for some regression.
Digging deeper tells a slightly different story, however. True shooting talent for forwards usually stabilizes around 223 shots, and over the course of his NHL career, Pirri has taken 231. His career NHL shooting percentage currently stands at 15.2%, so there's reason to believe that he could continue to have an above-average shooting percentage next season. Combine that with one of the league's highest shot attempt rates (23rd out of skaters with 500 minutes played), and Pirri could be primed for a huge goal-scoring season.
The eye test and the stats match (to a certain degree) in this case. Pirri's deceptive shot has led to an above-average career shooting percentage, and though he may not rack up the assists, 35 goals wouldn't necessarily be out of the question for the 24-year-old sniper.
Scouting Report: Vincent Trocheck has developed into one of the best prospects in the Panthers' system, despite being taken in the third round of the 2011 NHL Draft, and not in the top round, like many other prospects. Trocheck plays a very fast style of hockey that makes him insanely effective at 5-on-5, though his effectiveness does decrease on special teams.
Here are a few examples of Trocheck making plays by utilizing his speed and his skill.
In this first example, Trocheck pinches at the blue line instead of playing it safe, and is rewarded with control of the puck. He creates a scoring opportunity for himself using his speed, then recovers his own rebound and centers the puck. Dylan Olsen then picks it up fires a shot that sneaks past the netminder.
In this example, Trocheck's speed means he's a threat to break the puck out of the zone on his own, and the forecheckers have to follow him. When he swings back around, he creates tons of open space for himself, and the team gets a clean breakout.
This is an example of just pure speed and quickness. Trocheck's size doesn't even matter because he gets to the puck way before anyone else, and has time to chip it back to his teammate.
This is an amazing assist by Trocheck, as the 22-year-old uses his speed and skill to carry the puck through the neutral zone, throws an insane head fake to open up space in the offensive zone, and then gives the puck to Pirri, who has time and space to take the shot.
Overall, Trocheck's game is so effective when he can use the full width of the ice. Though he may get beat in the offensive and defensive zones, where size matters a bit more, his speed and skill allow him to win the neutral zone, and winning the neutral zone usually means winning the puck possession battle.
We've taken a look at the skilled forward's underlying metrics before, in a comparison between Trocheck and Bjugstad. We'll just let our past work do the talking.
As we can see, their expected values are incredibly similar; their performance on the year, or their actual values, are not. Trocheck outperforms Bjugstad by a considerable margin offensively, even if Bjugstad did lead the team in goals.
[For defense as well], the expected values are almost identical, while Trocheck out performs Bjugstad when it comes to the actual results.
Trocheck, on the other hand, has been good at limiting chances in front of his own goalie, and creating opportunities in the high slot while in the offensive zone.
Trocheck and Bjugstad are both good players. Putting one ahead of the other, whether it be to boxcar stats, or underlying numbers, doesn't make sense. Bjugstad had an impressive season lighting the lamp; Trocheck had an impressive season possessing the puck. Don't be surprised when both of them impress us again next season.
To summarize, Trocheck is a very underrated player, and could be a great bottom six forward for the Cats next season.
Scouting Report: There's no denying that Willie Mitchell was a key part of the Panthers' turnaround last season, as his presence in the locker room as team captain and on the ice as shutdown defender were both integral in the growth and development of young players. With a reasonable cap hit of $4.5 million, and only one year left on his contract, there's not much about Mitchell to dislike.
As we can see, Mitchell is a useful shutdown defender who can exceed expectations when put in such a role. Though his relative possession metrics are negative, this is more a result of his usage than of his play. Going into 2015-16, the expectation is for Mitchell to continue to provide solid defensive play, and help head coach Gerard Gallant free up more offensive roles for players such as Aaron Ekblad and Brian Campbell.
Derek MacKenzie / Shawn Thornton
Scouting Report: A consistent fixture on the fourth line, this duo was brought in during the 2014 free agency period to provide grit, hard work, and a good locker room culture to the team. MacKenzie works hard every shift, and never takes a day off. He's always the first to sacrifice for his teammates, and even scored this beautiful goal against the Winnipeg Jets.
The 34-year-old doesn't have the best offensive skills, but he's considered by many to be the perfect fourth line forward, providing the team with energy and grit, as well as sturdy defensive play.
Thornton is an enforcer who used to have some skill, but doesn't quite have the hands or speed in his game anymore. He still brought a great locker room presence, and was never afraid to stand up for his teammates, and drop the gloves.
As much as MacKenzie is loved by fans of the Panthers, it seems to be that his abysmal stick-handling skills lead to almost zero offensive chances for, and his scoring chances numbers are downright atrocious because of it. Though his relative shot attempt numbers aren't terrible, his delta Corsi rating of -2.11 is scary, as it means that he underperformed while playing in a fourth line role.
Thornton's numbers are just as discouraging, and he too underperformed while playing in a fourth line role. Overall, there's no denying that the two players don't quite help the team with their on-ice play, and better replacements could probably be found in free agency, or in the team's minor league system.
This doesn't mean that the players are completely without value. Despite his offensive shortcomings, Derek MacKenzie is a stellar defensive forward, and fits well in a shutdown role.
As for Thornton, there's been plenty of (anecdotal) evidence to suggest that his locker room presence is an immense help to the team. In a recent article on CSNNE.com, it is stated that he had "a natural ability to make younger players, or players who would otherwise sense they were on the periphery, feel as if they were important and valued members of the team."
Then we look at a recent piece on The Players' Tribune by Matt Duffy that attributes part of the San Fransisco Giants success to how welcoming the clubhouse is to rookies, and we can see how Thornton brought value to the Cats.
After all, rookies and AHL call-ups all performed incredibly well this season whenever needed. Vincent Trocheck, Steven Kampfer, Alex Petrovic, Garrett Wilson, Shane O'Brien, and Dan Ellis all came up from the AHL at some point in the season, and never really looked out of place.
Could this be coincidence? Yeah.
It could also be Thornton's welcoming nature working wonders on the confidence levels of AHL call-ups. Given his history, it's a good idea to have him in the locker room, though maybe not the best idea to give him tons of ice time.
Dylan Olsen / Alex Petrovic / Steven Kampfer
Scouting Report: These three were each the team's sixth defenseman at some point in last season, and weren't absolutely terrible. Olsen and Petrovic are both big, bruising defenseman, while Kampfer is a little bit quicker, and more of a puck mover. It will be interesting to see how the camp battles between the three shake out.
As expected, the three defenseman are fairly close, though the (slight) edge would have to go to Kampfer. The puck moving aspect of his game seems to translate to better overall puck possession, and depending on who the 26-year-old plays with, he can fulfill the role of sixth defenseman quite nicely.
This doesn't mean he's going to win the job, however. Olsen, who took time during the season to focus on his mental health, could be a much improved player in 2015-16, and the management group seems to be really high on Petrovic (despite his poor underlying numbers).