Columbus Blue Jackets

Columbus Blue Jackets: What’s Wrong With Alex Wennberg?

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Once a highly-touted prospect, Columbus’Blue Jackets centre Alex Wennberg has shown mixed results at the National Hockey League level. 

How Good is Alex Wennberg, if at all?

Alex Wennberg was a well-thought-of prospect going into the 2013 National Hockey League entry draft. The Swede possessed high quality skating, puck-handling and passing ability. Wennberg’s attractive skill set was capped off by his ability to play centre at a high level (Wennberg played for Allsvensken, the second-highest league in Sweden prior to the draft).

He was selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets 14th overall that draft. After completing a fairly-productive season in the Swedish Hockey League, Wennberg was ready to make the NHL full-time. Met with much anticipation, the results were a little disappointing.

in 68 games with the Blue Jackets in 2014-15, Wennberg recorded four goals and 16 assists (20 points). The 20-year-old Swede also posted a below average 49.3 CF% and a poor 96.2 PDO rating while starting an astonishing 52.5% of his shifts in the defensive zone.

Wennberg was also credited with creating six goals (involved directly in a play where Columbus had scored). All these statistics essentially mean that Wennberg was not especially effective at scoring nor defending, although he was tasked as the Jackets’ defensive centre. The graph below shows Wennberg In comparison to other rookies that season.

As displayed above, Wennberg is not exactly up to par with other rookies that season in terms of production and overall effectiveness. The Swede’s sophomore season was far better though.

2015-16 Season

In a season limited to just 69 games due to injury (it is not the last time you’ll be hearing that), Wennberg scored eight goals and added 32 assists for 40 points. Furthermore, Wennberg averaged a 50.0 CF% and a 100.4 PDO rating. These two statistics essentially mean that Wennberg is playing at exactly the pace of an average NHL player.

However, Wennberg emerged as a key contributor on the Jackets’ offense, as he was responsible for the creation of 13 goals for Columbus (more than doubling his rookie total). Much of Wennberg’s success this season can be accredited to deployment, as Wennberg started 54.9% of his shifts in the offensive zone (increases probability of scoring, +7.4% from his rookie season). Now, he is much more in-line with his counterparts.

2016-17 Season

In the 2016-17 season, Wennberg truly emerged as a core piece on Columbus’ roster. In 80 games played (career high), the quick playmaker scored 13 goals and added 46 assists for 59 points (another career high). While averaging a 51.6 CF% and a 101.0 PDO rating, Wennberg was able to create exactly 20 goals for his teammates. Moreover, Wennberg started 59.3% of his shifts in the offensive zone. This good production combined with ideal deploymet and favourable analytics was enough to convince the Blue Jackets that the centre was worth a 6-year, $29.4 million contract ($4.9 million AAV). Once again, here is Wennberg and his comparables.

2017-18 Season

Following a season of career highs, Wennberg was bound to face some regression, although it certainly was more confusing than expected.

While starting a more-than-favourable 61.1% of his shifts in the offensive zone, Wennberg only managed eight goals and 27 assists for a mediocre 35 points. On top of these poor numbers, Wennberg’s advanced analytics were…better than his career highs. He averaged a very good 53.7 CF% and a good 102.2 PDO rating.

The speedy Swede was also credited with creating 12 goals for his teammates. So, Wennberg actually improved in terms of offensive opportunities and defensive abilities, but lost a fraction of his scoring. In my opinion, this season should not be taken as a negative, as Wennberg established himself as a valuable two-way piece on CBJ’s roster.

2018-19 Season

The 2018-19 season was not kind to Wennberg to say the absolute least. in 75 games, Columbus’ top centre only scored two goals and 23 assists for a measly 25 points. This time, poor stats were followed by poor analytics.

While starting a concerning 49% of his shifts in the offensive zone, Wennberg averaged an mediocre 50.8 CF% and a bad 98.4 PDO rating. He also created seven goals for his Jackets teammates. His 2018-19 season was atrocious, reflecting similar numbers to that of his rookie season.

It’s hard to say exactly what went wrong with Wennberg this past season, but deployment (unlike past seasons) must have been a contributing factor.

During the 2016-17 season, when he posted career high totals, Wennberg averaged 18:23 minutes of ice time (the most of his career), while he only averaged 15:05 minutes of ice-time this past season (while posting down numbers).

Conclusion

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Wennberg has displayed a fair amount of inconsistency throughout, but has remained a fairly positive influence on the Blue Jackets when healthy and in the lineup.

While on a large, long term contract, Wennberg is only 24 years-old and has shown enough at the NHL level to suggest that he is capable of being a full time top-six forward. However, deployment of the Swede has varied from bottom-six minutes to second-line time, never really having a defined role. 

Thus, Wennberg either needs to adjust to whatever role he is dropped in by Head coach John Tortorella or he may find himself out of town. A good player with plenty more to give, I’d be hoping to find a new team if I was Wennberg.

Statistics and Other information retrieved from hockey-reference.com, capfriendly.com, eliteprospects.com, and quanthockey.com

Graphs created in Google Sheets with the help of Kyle Pereira 

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals

 

 

 

Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton Oilers: Thinking Outside the Box

The Edmonton Oilers have a big problem with Ryan Spooner.

That’s not news. The sky is blue, Connor McDavid is the most skilled player in the NHL, and you can still find me in the stands cheering on this team. Some things, unfortunately so in some cases, never change.

My weird love/hate relationship with this team aside the Edmonton Oilers find themselves trapped by one of Peter Chiarelli’s final moves (man does typing that feel good!). However now is the time to start correcting those mistakes and I think there’s an outside solution to the Spooner problem.

Buried in the AHL

It was announced on January 23, 2019 that both Kailer Yamamoto and Ryan Spooner were assigned to the AHL:

The former being there makes sense in the short term, as Yamamoto can play a few games in Bakersfield over the all star break or in the long-term. Personally I feel like Yamamoto should stay the rest of the season on the AHL so he can be a key cog in Bakersfield’s playoff push/run. The latter on the other hand is a different story. Spooner has failed so spectacularly in Edmonton that they no longer feel he is anything but a detriment to the team.

My first ever post on ThePuck77 was on Ryan Spooner and in it I stated that Edmonton needed to find a lineup spot for Spooner that works for him. I won’t go into too much detail on him here but my main points were:

  1. Ryan Spooner is not an offensive driver
  2. Ryan Spooner was, at his most successful, a good 3rd piece of a top 6 line.
  3. He benefited greatly from being on top power-play units
  4. He is a really ineffective possession player.

If you want more in depth analysis on Spooner check out my first piece on him here.

Someone Similar?

You would think this situation would be rare in the NHL. Not many teams employ 3+ million dollar men in the AHL…

But there is another…

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Yes that’s right I’m talking about Sam “8 points in one game” Gagner.

Gagner has been a very nice addition to the Toronto Marlies roster since being sent down. In 36 games thus far Gagner has 10 goals and 22 assists for 32 points. He definitely isn’t letting his demotion slow him down any. Even when he has played in the NHL he was not that poor. In 7 NHL games Gagner had 3 points, 1 goal, 2 assists. He has also been very good in terms of possession at the NHL level, posting a surprising 59.9% Corsi rating, and a 15.2 Corsi relative for rating. This, along with his 59.9% Fenwick for rating and 17.4 Fenwick relative for rating, paint a picture of a player who has more to give at the NHL level.

Gagner does a lot of things well that mesh with the Oilers needs right now. While he does have some warts to his game in regards to defending Edmonton at current needs a guy who is an offensive weapon. Gagner is a power-play, overtime, and shootout specialist. Put in the right situation; i.e on the left side of a Connor McDavid/Leon Draisaitl power-play, should result in increased success for Edmonton’s power-play.

Power-play Prowess

For example in 2016/17 he had 50 points, 18 of which came on the power-play. In 2017/2018, in his first year with Canucks (way lower teammate quality), he had 31 points, 11 of which were on the power-play.

In 2016/17 Gagner played on a unit with Zach Werenski, Nick Foglino, Cam Atkinson, and Alex Wennberg. on a much less successful Vancouver power-play Gagner played with a mix of Alex Edler, Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, both Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Sven Baertschi, and Thomas Vanek. Vancouver struggled to find the right mix of players and eventually Gagner got lost in the shuffle. He ended up struggling to the point where he was demoted to the AHL at the beginning of this season.

Wherever Gagner goes he always finds a way on to that team’s power-play because that is where he excels. He is an extremely gifted offensive player who has a good shot and is extremely creative with the puck. The thing that he is the best at on the power-play is MOVING. The Edmonton Oilers power-play right now has stagnated. This is mainly due to the same issue that plagued them last year. They are too slow. they do not move the puck around enough to properly open up seams and lanes in an opposing team’s penalty kill. This kills them and they need a player like Gagner that can keep the puck moving on the power-play.

Is This Trade Realistic?

This is always the huge question with the hypothetical articles. It’s why I don’t enjoy making these speculation articles in general, do it wrong and you immediately can ruin your credibility as a writer. 

However in this case I think there’s a realistic possibility a trade like this could work. Right now at left-wing the Canucks employ Nikolai Goldobin, Sven Baertschi, Josh Leivo, Loui Eriksson, and Antoine Roussel. Goldobin has 23 points, Eriksson has 20, Leivo has 7, Baertschi has 13, and Roussel has 19. It’s safe to say they could use a boost. Edmonton currently employs Alex Chiasson, Milan Lucic, Jesse Puljujarvi, Jujhar Khaira, Tobias Reider, and I could go on at wing. Outside of Chiasson none of those players have 20 points, outside of Khaira, none have 15 points. Edmonton needs wingers bad.

So a swap of two players that both make almost exactly the same amount of money, that could potentially re-spark their careers makes a lot of sense. Gagner makes 50k more than Spooner at 3.15 million over the same amount of term. At current neither of Spooner or Gagner are going to see the light of day back in the NHL with their respective teams. It makes sense, at least to me to try to swap the two players in the hopes that they could re-find their offense elsewhere.

Wrap Up

The main reason this probably won’t happen is Vancouver and Edmonton are teams both currently in a dog fight for the last wildcard spot. While it would be an interesting trade as it would create a potential double rental situation if both Spooner and Gagner bounce back, the risk involved nixes that trade.

What do you think? is this trade realistic for both sides? leave a comment or find us on twitter at @ThePuck77 and me personally at @chayzdj.

All stats used in this article came from HockeyReference.com, Capfriendly.com, and HockeyDB.com.