Why I’m excited for Eric Staal to join the Wild

With the addition of Eric Staal this offseason, the Wild’s top-six have a good shot to be among the best in the league. Throw in the signing of a new coach who has won four consecutive division titles, and there’s a buzz about the potential new line combinations and whether Boudreau will be able to get more scoring out of the roster that Yeo and Torch could not.

I’ve been pretty excited about the Staal signing, because I really think when you have a proven vet coming off a statistically down year, that gamble is usually worth taking. I’m working on a feature piece on Charlie Coyle’s deployment but I thought I’d talk a little bit first about why I’m excited to see what Staal will bring.

eric-staal-cf-and-ca-per-60-over-time

In the above chart, we see that adjusting for playing time, Staal has been a consistently high event player over his career, at least one shot attempt per minute skated while he’s on the ice. Although the very early part of his career was before the fancy stats age it’s a safe bet to say he was similar pre-2007. What’s interesting is that his corsi against numbers have dropped sharply over the last three years or so–and this is with line mates like Elias Lindholm and Kris Versteeg (nothing against those guys).

untitlederic-staal-total-shots-per-60-over-time

Everyone knows his goal scoring is down but another interesting note is that his individual event stats have held steady. His total shot attempts declined overall since about ’08 but have really steadied out since about 2012-13. His shooting percentage was way down last year (6.5%) after never dropping below 9.0% in any previous year. I think even with a modest rebound in puck luck, Staal will still rack up the shot attempts with the Wild. We just hope that he doesn’t get over-conservative like Vanek did and defer the shots to Parise or others.

I don’t want to sound like *that guy* but I do worry a little bit about Staal and Parise developing chemistry on a line together. Both guys want the puck on their stick, and you throw in a guy like Charlie Coyle who is expected to step up his goal scoring even more this year… Maybe I’ve had too many flashbacks to the horrendous over-passing that was taking place in the early part of last year but I just want to see this club live up to their offensive potential.

I’ll leave you with one final chart, from ownthepuck.blogspot.ca:

eric-staal-hero-chart

This chart takes the last three seasons into account, and does a good job overall of showing that even if Staal’s individual goal scoring is down, his possession is elite, driven by elite shot generation and well above average shot suppression. If he can adjust to playing on his third team in two years after spending over a decade in Carolina, he could really propel this team forward without eating up too much salary cap. Another attribute that he can bring is stability–recall that the Wild have had very good starts to the season over the last couple of years, so another strong presence in the locker room will not hurt.

Thanks for reading! Still hoping to get a podcast recorded in the next week or so, please keep your eyes and ears open for that. In the meantime, be sure to follow me on Twitter @BobaFenwick and @HTHpod!

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What to look at: When September Ends

I got back from my honeymoon just in time for the Wild to get into their preseason schedule, so I thought I’d share some things I’ll be watching over the next couple of weeks.

  • Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle – These two guys have been playing with the club for a while now. Both are 24, which means by many statistical models, their window for development might be starting to close. Zucker has shown flashes of speed and talent that would make him a game-breaker, and Coyle has been very good at drawing penalties, and finally cracked 20 goals last year. Whether they play together or separately, each could really  push the team forward if they continue to improve. They are playing together on the top line in today’s first preseason game against the Sabres, though I don’t expect Coyle to stay at center once the regular season begins. We’ll have to see if Bruce Boudreau gets more out of these guys than Yeo could. Which brings me to…
  • Bruce Boudreau’s deployment and line combos – I’ll be honest…I’m still not sure how the Wild got so lucky as to snag Boudreau. Coach Yeo had a lot of success but also a lot of roller-coaster stretches too. If BB can steady this team out, that could really go a long way toward having a strong regular season leading into a playoff run, rather than scrambling just to make the postseason as happened each of the last two years. The Central division is still awful, and got even tougher with the addition of PK Subban. But I do like the Wild’s overall roster construction this year, and I’m very excited to see what Eric Staal can do. If he and Pominville can both benefit from some positive regression to the mean, we could be looking at this team a lot differently than in years past. Back to Boudreau, I think Minnesotans liked Yeo well enough, but they’re going to LOOOOVVVEE BB.

  • The young guys, particularly Alex Tuch – The Wild have generally focused on developing a solid group of prospects over the last decade, but in recent years, vets were brought in and expected to contribute (Heatley, Vanek in particular). That trend continues this year with Eric Staal, though I’m not sure that wasn’t more of a savvy move by management to capitalize on a down year, rather than a campaign like #VanekWatch that we saw. I’m rooting for Staal to turn things around, and maybe he won’t face as much pressure to perform right away that both Heatley and Vanek had. But anyway, my point is that the club hasn’t had a young player turn in a really breakout performance in a long time. Zucker was starting to do that but had seasons derailed by injury. I am most excited to see Alex Tuch when he makes this team because I think he brings a size and skill combination that Minnesota hasn’t had in a long time, but perhaps Bertschy or Downing or even Lucia could turn in surprise performances.  I liked Justin Fontaine well enough but he wasn’t really ever that dynamic of a presence. Chris Stewart should get lots of time in the bottom six, but with the depth at the top of the roster, a strong performance by one of the young guys could really change the makeup of the squad.

Thanks for reading!Let me know what you think by commenting on this post, on Twitter, or on r/wildhockey.

Dan and I are probably going to get the podcast back up and running in the next few weeks, so make sure to check out @HTHpod and @BobaFenwick