Our countdown to the 2016-17 season continues, with 22 days to go...
Lost in all the furor over Team
Dean Lombardi USA getting unceremoniously booted from the 2016 World Cup of Hockey and Team North America causing spikes in everyone’s blood pressure: Team Europe! Anze Kopitar’s international magic has reached Toronto, and the underdogs have taken down the United States and the Czech Republic to guarantee themselves a spot in the semifinals. Through the prelims and the official round robin games, Mats Zuccarello is the leading scorer for Team Europe, and Leon Draisaitl is the team’s most prolific goalscorer. But Marian Gaborik — he of 22 points last season — has been the most consistent offensive threat.
Gaborik had two goals and an assist in the three preliminary games, then opened the scoring in a 3-0 win over the United States. He was third in ice time among forwards, behind Kopitar and Marian Hossa, in the nailbiter against the Czechs. Most notably: he led the team in shots on goal through the preliminary round, then racked up nine shots in the first two games of the round robin. No one else has more than six.
Last season, I surmised that Gaborik might be the Kings’ X-factor. He was, but not in the way we expected. His shooting percentage dropped off a cliff, which might have been survivable if his teammates’ shooting percentage (with him on the ice) hadn’t been even worse. His PDO (on-ice shooting percentage + on-ice save percentage) of 94.85 was second-worst in the NHL, which is staggering considering that he’s shown a tendency to be above-average in that regard.
I made a graph while everyone was talking about Nick Shore: pic.twitter.com/iZE1OVg8Y5— Eric (@EricJFTC) March 22, 2016
He also got injured, of course. Avoiding a repeat of that is out of his control, as with the PDO. As for the rest? Aging sucks, but the way he was able to produce in 2014 and 2015 seems to indicate that any loss of speed and athleticism shouldn’t significantly damper his goalscoring abilities.
International play is a different animal, of course, but the fact that Gaborik is still firing away is the best sign we can see that a bounceback is possible. Gaborik’s game will succeed if he can get looks, and he doesn’t even have to shoot above 15%... even though he’s doing that now and did it in 2015. We won’t know for a few weeks how high is ceiling is, because we don’t know how much he’s going to play with Anze Kopitar, but that can’t stop us from expecting way more than 22 points in 2016-17.