The 2014-2015 season was a disappointing one for the Carolina Hurricanes. There is no denying that fact. However, throughout the year there were a few players who buckled down and turned in some outstanding performances. Chief among those players, in my mind, was none other than rookie center Victor Rask.
Heading into training camp, Rask was considered a decent bet to win a job as a bottom six forward. There was also the possibility that he would be assigned to Charlotte to serve as their top line center, but that was something that would not come to be. When Jordan Staal went down with a broken leg in that fateful preseason contest against Buffalo, the writing was on the wall that Rask would make the team. Along with Riley Nash, he would have to fill in for Staal on either the second or third line.
Rask ended up impressing early on in the season and proved to be fully capable of adequately holding down a spot as a middle six center. Rask's counting stats suggest that he had a very solid rookie season. His 11 goals, 22 assists, and 33 points reflect that he is absolutely a top nine forward at the NHL level.
However, a closer look at Rask's performance and numbers from last season suggest that the next step in his development may be even larger than the most optimistic of Hurricanes fans could expect. This article will take a look at Rask's impact on shot generation, shot suppression, and individual production. All told, there is a whole lot to like about what the 22-year-old Swede was able to accomplish in his rookie year.
The Hurricanes were an above average team with regards to shot generation at even strength last season. Their mark of 30.2 shots for per 60 minutes was good enough to place them 10th in the NHL by that metric.
A large part of the team's success in that department came courtesy of Rask's excellent performance. Out of the 359 forwards who played at least 500 minutes at even strength last season, Rask ranks 34th in the entire league with 33.66 shots for per 60 minutes.
To put that simply, that means that the Hurricanes generated 33.66 shots for per 60 minutes with Rask on the ice, compared to just 29.53 shots for per 60 minutes with Rask off the ice. That means that Rask's SF60 relative to his team (SF60RelTM) was +4.13. Coincidentally, Rask also ranks 34th amongst those same 359 forwards in that regard.
To put all of this into perspective, Rask's SF60 RelTM was higher than those of Alex Ovechkin, Phil Kessel, Joe Pavelski, Jonathan Toews, and Steven Stamkos. That's in no way to say that he's anywhere near those players in terms of quality, but he did have a higher impact on his team with regards to shot generation than any of those players did.
What makes it all the more impressive is that this obviously isn't the case of a pretty good player posting great relative-to-team statistics due to playing on a low quality team. As I mentioned earlier, the Hurricanes were 10th in the league in shot generation. Even if you were to just take their 29.53 number without Rask on the ice, that would still place them in the top half of the league. Make no mistake about it, Rask's shot creation abilities are very real.
And to tide over the shot quality crowd, the available evidence suggests that Rask's shot creation wasn't padded with a bunch of low quality shots while failing to produce high quality chances. Here's a detailed look at his Hextally courtesy of the outstanding war-on-ice.com:
The numbers here represent the totals in relation to league average. Anything above 1 is above league average, while anything below 1 is below league average.
While Rask is below league average in the high slot and the low slot, he's above league average in the mid slot. He's also either average or above average in every single zone that's off-center but still between the dots and below the points. So in the real quality scoring areas, Rask checks in above league average at generating shots in five out of seven of them. That's outstanding for a rookie.
While Rask was demonstrably outstanding with regards to shot creation, the Swede's rookie season excellence did not stop there. In addition to his underlying offensive success, there's also plenty of evidence to suggest that Rask possesses the same capabilities on the defensive end of things.
While Carolina ranked 10th in even strength shot generation last season, they were even better when it came to shot suppression. The team's mark of 26.8 shots against per 60 minutes ranked 5th in the entire NHL.
It's exceedingly rare for rookie forwards to have positive impacts on their teams defensively, and Rask is no exception to that rule. With Rask on the ice, the Hurricanes surrendered 27.11 shots against per 60 minutes. You'll note that that is only slightly behind the team's overall mark. His 27.11 mark was still well above league average for individual forwards as it placed him 104th out of 358. If said 27.11 from Rask was what the entire team was good for, the Hurricanes still would have been firmly in the top 10 in the league in shot suppression.
It is very much worth pointing out that Rask wasn't exactly sheltered by Bill Peters in his first year with the team. Rask's 10 most common forward opponents read like a who's-who of the Eastern Conference's top offensive players: Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, Sean Couturier, Matt Read, Rick Nash, Jaromir Jagr, Sidney Crosby, Brayden Schenn, Jakub Voracek, and Chris Kreider. Of those 10 players, only Couturier and Read were not among the top 120 in the NHL in points. Or more simply, 8 of Rask's 10 most common opponents would have been one of the four best forwards on randomly assigned NHL teams.
Given that, it shouldn't be considered at all surprising that Rask was ever so slightly on the wrong side of Carolina's shot suppression ledger. If anything, it should be considered a huge positive that he was so close to actually being on the right side of it despite literally facing the other team's top offensive performers on most nights.
Rask was a rookie facing top competition playing for an elite shot suppression team, so it's fully expected that he should be below league average in terms of SA60RelTM, but he still placed higher than quite a few highly regarded two-way forces around the league such as David Backes, Henrik Zetterberg, Bryan Little, Brandon Saad, Nick Bjugstad, and Derek Stepan.
Rask's standalone weak point in shot metrics rears its head in his Hextally for shots against:
As you can see, Rask is worse than league average at preventing shots in five of the seven highest danger scoring areas, with the high slot and the right-high slot being the lone exceptions.
But again, this is pretty much the only weakness in Rask's underlying numbers to this point, and everything else is outstanding. No player is perfect, and certainly no rookie is great at everything. I'm sure this is something that will improve for Rask as time progresses and his development curve takes hold.
When it came to his own production, I've already pointed out that Rask's 33 points as a rookie are an impressive total by any standards. Only nine rookies had more points than Rask did last season. Of those nine, Rask is younger than six of them. The only rookies that were both ahead of Rask in points and are younger than him are Aaron Ekblad, Johnny Gaudreau, and Filip Forsberg.
However, Rask's rate stats fall a little bit short of where the Hurricanes likely would have hoped he would be under ideal circumstances. His 1.22 even strength points per 60 minutes aren't great, but that number very likely suffers severely from some of the awful puck luck that ravaged the entire team last season.
Rask's on-ice even strength shooting percentage was an abysmally unlucky 6.0%. In other words, opposing goalies were good for a save percentage of .940 when Rask was on the ice. This despite the aforementioned fact that Rask was above league average in generating shots in five of the seven highest danger shooting areas. If that number improves even marginally, it could mean a significant boost in the goal and assists columns for Rask this season. That's an exciting proposition for management and the coaching staff heading in.
At the individual level, Rask was outstanding at generating shots on goal on his own. He ranked 95th among NHL forwards with 126 shots on goal at even strength, but just 187th in even strength goals with eight. This again is easily explained by poor puck luck. Rask's individual shooting percentage of 6.35% ranked 288th in the league. So unless you expect Rask to continue to shoot with less efficiency than the likes of Steve Ott, Gregory Campbell, and Cody McLeod, then you can probably expect Rask's goalscoring output to increase dramatically next year.
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All this being said, it's up to coach Peters to put Rask in a position to succeed next season. Rask saw a high degree of inconsistency in terms of who his wingers were throughout the season, and that could have had more than plenty to do with why his percentages were so low throughout.
Rask's elite underlying numbers mean nothing if he's not surrounded with the talent to help his percentages skyrocket. Were it to be up to me personally, I'd stick him on the second line between Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm and let that youthful trio work some offensive magic behind a first line with both Staal brothers on it. With Skinner's goalscoring, Lindholm's playmaking, and Rask's two-way excellence, that line has all the makings of a second line that could help carry a team offensively.
At the end of the day, it certainly appears that the Hurricanes hit it big with their second round pick in 2011. I fully expect Rask to develop into a well-above average second line center who excels in every single facet of the game with the possibility existing that he could eventually become a roughly average first liner in time. Be sure to let us know in the comments what you expect out of Rask this season, who you would have as his linemates, and what you think his ultimate upside will be as his career progresses. Thanks for reading.