Photo by Amanda Bowen
Fresh off signing a seven-year, $40.25-million deal, Matt Niskanen’s boxcar stats were due for some regression in 2014-15. In 2013-14, he had a career high in PP ice time and PDO, both of which were likely to drop in Washington. Both did and, predictably, his offensive production regressed. Yet, Niskanen’s first year in Washington was solid. But it also left me wanting more.
|22:21||Average time on ice per game|
|52.3%||Shot attempt percentage during 5v5|
|50.6%||Goal percentage during 5v5|
Niskanen’s on-ice shot-attempt percentage in 10-game running segments, according to War on Ice:
Niskanen’s possession numbers sum up my feelings on his season pretty well. He posted a solid, acceptable, yet unspectacular plus-0.9 percent relative shot-attempt percentage. From some players, you take this and run. But from a guy who had a plus-7.3 percent relative shot attempt percentage the season before, you can’t help but want more. And while it’d be nice to point to a change in teammates and roles as the cause for his decline from possession dynamo to solid possession player, Niskanen played against similar competition and with similar teammates.
Jumping back to his production, Niskanen skated just under three minutes per game on the power play in 2013-14 in his final season for the Penguins. In DC, he wasn’t given the same responsibilities, as he skated just over one minute per game when the Caps had the man advantage. His career high PDO of 103.1 in 2013-14 dropped to 100.1 this past season. This is important context to note given that Niskanen scored six fewer goals and tallied nine less assists in 2014-15 than he did the season before.
Niskanen’s fewer offensive opportunities and drop in puck luck give reason to dig a little bit deeper into his offensive production.
At 0.1 5v5 goals per 60, Niskanen tied a career low. A career 4.1 percent shooter at 5v5, and 5.8 percent over the previous two seasons, the fact that Niskanen shot just 2.4 percent in 2014-15 explains much of the drop. He was still getting rubber at the net close to his career rate.
It’s understandable to want more production from a player with Niskanen’s contract and skill set but, in fairness to him, he hasn’t been given the same opportunities to produce in Washington as he had in Pittsburgh. An improvement in puck luck wouldn’t hurt either.
You can’t speak about Niskanen’s season without mentioning his defensive partner, Karl Alzner. In a word, this pair was steadying. The Caps saw 52 percent of the shot attempts when they were on the ice together. The sample size is small, and the reasons likely numerous, but Alzner’s shot-attempt percentage plummeted to 42.7 percent when not skating with Niskanen. It would be too simplistic to say Niskanen is the reason Alzner’s possession increased so much when they skated together, but he’s not hurting him, and there’s evidence to suggest he stabilizes Alzner. The Caps should have a steady second defensive pair for years to come, and Niskanen’s plays a big part in that.
What did you think of Niskanen’s season? One year in, how do you think his contract looks?
Read more: Japers Rink
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