Progress Report: How Are the Bottom Six Centers Doing?
This off season, Los Angeles unceremoniously parted ways with centers Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards. How are their replacements doing?
The season is now nine games old, and after dropping the first three, the Los Angeles Kings have come roaring back to win six straight. LA seems to be doing a lot of things right, and it's natural to question how much the players that find themselves in new roles are contributing to that. LA has been praised for their center depth over the past several seasons, and the departures of Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards certainly invite a lot of skepticism on that claim. The players assuming those responsibilities are now Nick Shore and Andy Andreoff. Let's look at how their numbers stack up so far.
Last season, Kings prospect Nick Shore saw a fair number of games in the fourth center role while Mike Richards was buried in the AHL with the Monarchs. With the departure of Jarret Stoll, it was assumed that Shore would fill the role of third line center. Several years ago, that wouldn't have been a small task, but as we covered in last season's review, Stoll had become replacement level in his contributions. Let's start by taking a look at Shore's WOWY chart so far this season.
As we can see from the chart above, players most commonly on the ice with Shore have allowed fewer shot attempts than without him, albeit sometimes at the expense of shot generation. Given this, it shouldn't surprise you that Shore has actually been one of LA's better possession players thus far this season, with a third ranked 60.2% Corsi For percentage.
What makes Shore's early possession numbers even more positive is how he has been deployed. In general, Sutter has deployed his bottom six forwards heavily in the defensive or offensive zone, leaving neutral zone starts for his more skilled forwards. For Shore, that means he's started 33% of his shifts in the defensive zone. Given Sutter's previous tendencies to deploy Jarret Stoll for defensive zone faceoffs based on his acumen for draws, it would make sense for that to occur with Shore as well if his numbers justified it. In his case, they absolutely do. So far, Shore has won 53.5% of his faceoffs, which is best on the Kings. He's been even better in the defensive zone, winning 57.9% of those. While some may overvalue the importance of winning faceoffs, there's no question that Shore is demonstrating an ability to check that box for Sutter in replacing Stoll.
When it comes to offense, Shore has been easy to miss. After making a nice tip to deflect the puck for the Kings' first goal on the year, he's failed to produce a point. This is especially troubling because bottom six production is something the Kings struggled with last year. Shore has only produced seven shots at even strength so far this year, while common linemates Tanner Pearson and Trevor Lewis have 12 and 16 to their names, respectively. That puts him roughly on pace to match Stoll's output last year. However, Stoll had many more minutes than Shore did.
There may not be too much reason for concern, though. Perhaps Shore will shape up to be a center who defers to his wingers to take shots when in the offensive zone. One final promising stat is Shore's scoring chance differentials. According to War-On-Ice, Shore has the third best scoring chance differential on the team at +15. His scoring chance for rate of 27.9 seems to be right in line with the team average. While Shore has yet to produce any significant offense, it stands to reason that he is capable given competent linemates.
Andy Andreoff only played a handful of games with the Kings last season. He largely failed to impress, and notched his first goal against Mike Smith in comical fashion. Coming into this season, it was assumed that he would compete for a fourth line spot, but it was uncertain whether he would play center or winger. Given the fourth center role had traditionally been Trevor Lewis', a natural assumption would have been that he would compete for the right wing spot. So far, that has not been the case, and he has centered Kyle Clifford and Jordan Nolan while Trevor Lewis assumed third line right wing duties.
Looking at Andreoff's WOWY chart, it's clear he's not spent a lot of time on ice yet this year. However, that time has been rather bleak, showing he essentially kills LA's chance to generate shot attempts while he's on the ice. His contributions have resulted in a team low 40.2% Corsi For percentage. Even worse, he's the only forward on the team with 50 minutes of 5v5 time that's below 50%. Yikes. His Corsi For per 60 rate of 36.25 is a full 23 attempts below the team average. Thus far, he's simply been lost in the offensive zone, and that's also shown with his lack of a point.
Andreoff's faceoff performance was also something known to be a work in progress coming into this season. He's been noted as taking extra time to hone his technique during the team's on ice activities. Unfortunately, he's yet to give much reason to be positive, only winning 30.3% of his draws. For those yearning for Lewis to re-assume 4C duties, I'm sad to say that he's been worse, at a dismal 26.1%. Going back to last year, Lewis was 43% on the dots, so that may instill a little more confidence in his capacity to recapture the role.
Finally, moving onto scoring chance differentials, the picture simply gets worse for Andreoff. He has a team worst -9 differential. His scoring chance for rate of 18.44 per 60 is also a team worst. Again, he simply seems to be a player that is lost in the attacking zone. While he will no doubt be given more time to improve his faceoff performance and offensive contributions, it seems safe to say that size and physicality are probably the chief attributes keeping him in the lineup over the smaller Jordan Weal. Moving forward, the return of Dwight King to the lineup likely makes Andreoff the first candidate for the press box, and it's hard to be upset about that. With the potential of a Michael Mersch callup perpetually looming, things look even more grim for the young forward.
Thanks to hockeyviz.com, war-on-ice.com, stats.hockeyanalysis.com, and NHL.com for all included stats.