Friday, March 24, 2023

NHL’s top regression candidates for the 2022-23 season: Rangers’ Chris Kreider leads the way

The game of hockey, maybe more than any other, is subject to a lot of random variation. The puck bounces a certain player’s way, and he has a career year. A player gets poor puck luck, and people are wondering what happened to him.

The bad news for players who benefit from that randomness, and the good news for players who are negatively affected by it, is that regression is an unstoppable force. Most people focus on negative regression, but positive regression occurs just as often.

Today, we are taking a look at which players should regress in the 2022-23 season. Some of them scored at an unsustainable pace and are due to cool off a bit this year. Others, however, are strong bounce-back candidates after being snake-bitten for much of the 2021-22 campaign.

Here are the top regression candidates for the upcoming NHL season.

Chris Kreider | LW | New York Rangers

After failing to hit the 30-goal mark in his first nine NHL seasons, Kreider scored 52 last season at the age of 31. Kreider’s insane scoring binge was fueled by an insanely high shooting percentage on the power play. He has always been a power play weapon, but last season, he led the league with 26 power play goals. He took 66 shots on the man advantage (that is an insane number), which comes out to a shooting percentage of 39.39%. By contrast, fellow Ranger Mika Zibanejad took 71 power play shots in 2021-22 and scored on 15 of them. Kreider will continue to score at a high rate on the power play, but maintaining a shooting percentage just shy of 40% is nearly impossible.

Brendan Gallagher | RW | Montreal Canadiens

Gallagher could be the poster child for positive regression this season. In 2021-22, Gallagher scored on 0.88% of his shots at five-on-five. That is not a typo. I did not mean 8.8%. According to Natural Stat Trick, Gallagher took 113 shots at five-on-five last season. He scored on one of them. Gallagher is probably not the 30-goal scorer he was from 2017 to 2019, but he is definitely not the seven-goal scorer he was last season, either. If Gallagher’s shooting percentage just regresses back to his career average of 9.7% — and he stays healthy for the entire season — it’s not hard to imagine a 20-goal campaign from him in 2022-23.

Matt Duchene | RW | Nashville Predators

Through his first two seasons in Nashville, Duchene failed to live up to expectations, and his contract started to look like a weight around the franchise’s ankles. Then, Duchene exploded for a franchise record 43 goals in 2021-22. In the process, 18.9% of Duchene’s shots found the back of the net, which was far higher than his career shooting percentage of 12.3%. His 16 power play goals were nearly double his previous career high of nine. It’s clear that Duchene has found a groove in head coach John Hynes‘ system, but it’s still tough to expect another 40-goal season out of him. However, Duchene is still fully capable of hovering around the 30-goal mark at this point in his career.

Phil Kessel | RW | Vegas Golden Knights

The change of scenery alone should give Kessel a nice boost. The Golden Knights, even with some obvious flaws, may as well be in a different league than the Arizona Coyotes. Kessel should have much more talent around him, and he won’t be asked to do as much. Also, take into consideration the fact that Kessel was simply unlucky in 2021-22. He has a career shooting percentage of 10.9%, and he scored on just 4.6% of his shots last season. That resulted in him scoring single-digit goals for the first time in his 16-year career. If Kessel can get back on track, Vegas will have gotten a nice bargain on a productive depth player.

Ryan Hartman | C | Minnesota Wild

Prior to 2021-22, Hartman had never scored 20 goals in a single season. Last year he broke out for 34 tallies and 65 points. His 33 even-strength goals put him in the same ballpark as Alex Ovechkin, Johnny Gaudreau and Connor McDavid, per Natural Stat Trick. Playing on a line with Kirill Kaprizov certainly has its benefits and Hartman has always been a solid role player throughout his career, but I am very skeptical that he can replicate that 34-goal campaign. The main reason? Hartman scored on 14.2% of his shots last season, which is 4.5 points higher than his career average. There is no doubt Kaprizov can elevate those around him, but I’d be surprised to see Hartman hit 30 goals again in 2022-23.

Brock Boeser | RW | Vancouver Canucks

Boeser didn’t have a bad 2021-22 season. He notched 23 goals and 23 assists, but the Canucks need more out of him if they want any chance of reaching the postseason this year. They should get just that. Last season, Boeser got off to a terribly slow start with just four goals in his first 22 games. Then, the team made a coaching change and hired Bruce Boudreau. From there, Boeser scored 19 goals in 49 games. That is just under an 82-game pace of 32 goals. He provided a boost for the entire Canucks team, and it seems like he was able to maximize Boeser’s talent. If that continues, expect Boeser to get closer to 30 tallies.

Ivan Barbashev | C | St. Louis Blues

A versatile forward who played at center and on the wing for the Blues last season, Barbashev made a huge leap in the goal-scoring department. Through his first five seasons with the franchise, Barbashev never found the back of the net more than 14 times in a single season. In 2021-22, Barbashev nearly doubled that with 26 goals. Converting on 23.4% of his shots had a lot to do with that, as did scoring 17 five-on-five goals (3rd on the Blues) while generating 10.77 expected goals at five-on-five (6th on the Blues). Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t think Barbashev is a good enough finisher to keep that up moving forward.

Mathew Barzal | C | New York Islanders

The Islanders struggled last season, and Barzal was not immune to those issues. The Isles finished 23rd in goals scored, and a down year for Barzal played a big role in that. In 73 games played, Barzal scored a career low 15 goals. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that coincided with a career low shooting percentage of 9.3%, which was the first time it had dropped below 10%. The Islanders have since moved on from head coach Barry Trotz, whose structured defensive system didn’t always let the team reach its full offensive potential. If new coach Lane Lambert lets the Islanders open it up a little more on the offensive end, that could benefit Barzal, along with some positive regression.

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