Part of handling fantasy advice, when it comes to the NHL, is answering inevitable questions about whether a certain player will bounce back or keep up his current pace.
One of the first things I want to do is find out whether or not a player is getting chances and one of the first places I'll look is to shots on goal per game. For some players, this can be revealing of a change in role -- more ice time, better linemates, power play time, whatever -- and an indication that, indeed, that offensive breakout is supported by underlying stats or, on the other hand, that there is jusfication for lowering expectations.
Comparing last season to the current season, I picked out 114 players that have played at least 10 games in each season and had more than a half-shot-per-game difference, either positively or negatively. Some of these players played little bits in either season, which present sample size issues (for example, Erik Karlsson's 4.65 shots on goal per game in 17 games last year was going to be crazy difficult to maintain over a larger sample of games), but the indicator is the objective here -- finding out whether the change in production might be supported by taking a step further back to gauge shots generated.
Among those recording the largest per-game increases, David Perron, Chris Kreider and Ryan Kesler have been tremendous contributors to their teams, but scanning through the list, players like Mike Santorelli, Jaden Schwartz, Andrej Sekera, Jason Garrison and Alex Ovechkin are among those whose improved production is supported by their increased shot output.
Perron has been even better than expected for the Oilers, and has been one of their leaders lately, but he's generating far more than he ever did in St. Louis. Santorelli and Schwartz are playing more significant roles this season (Schwartz in part because of Perron's departure), while Sekera has been asked to handle more puckhandling responsibility on Carolina's shallow blueline. Ovechkin is back to launching shots at the rate that made him the game's premier goal-scorer.
On the other hand, there are players that have struggled to this point in the year and their shot numbers suggest that's to be expected. David Clarkson, Matt Moulson, Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty are among those forwards to see the biggest declines in their shots per game compared to last season. No surprise, then, that their goal and point production is down too.
The move to Buffalo has not been kind to Matt Moulson and David Clarkson's decision to sign in Toronto has come with some pains as he has been suspended for a dozen games and, due to injuries, hasn't established a steady combination of linemates. Semin and Tlusty were part of one of the league's best lines last season, with Eric Staal, but Staal's production has improved this year only once they were no longer playing together.
There are some surprises on these respective ends of the shooting spectrum, because their production hasn't been dramatically affected. Matt D'Agostini has been getting an opportunity to play in a scoring role since he was picked up by the Buffalo Sabres, but is sitting on one point in 15 games this season, despite a respectable shot total. Anaheim's Matt Beleskey is generating more shots than ever before, but has just one goal thanks to scoring on just 2.9% of his shots thus far.
The Blues' T.J. Oshie has been rolling along for much of the season, racking up points alongside Alexander Steen and David Backes, but Oshie also has just four goals in 31 games, thanks to both a career-low shooting percentage (7.8%) and career-low in shots per game (1.65).
I cite these examples to show that changes in shot production don't automatically mean a player's point production is automatically destined to follow. Nevertheless, I like shots on goal as an indicator, a first place to look before digging deeper, if necessary.
The players with the widest shot-per-game differences from last season (minimum 10 games played in both seasons):
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.