Brett Connolly Washington Capitals featured
Even the best goal scorers need a bit of luck, but these five players have had more than their fair share.
Riley Sheahan probably wishes the Red Wings were playing tonight.
Sheahan has had absolutely no luck this season, and with Detroit 13 games away from the end of the regular season, he still finds himself searching for his first goal of the campaign. This isn’t a matter of being in and out of the lineup, either. Sheahan has played 67 games, is averaging consistent bottom-six minutes and has managed 90 shots on goal over the course of the season. Yet he still hasn’t found the back of the net, making for a goal-scoring drought so long that it’s reached historic levels.
With that in mind, what better day to suit up than St. Patrick’s Day? After all, Sheahan’s an Irish surname, so maybe he’d get a little luck of the Irish today and finally snap his dreadful scoring slump.
There are more than a handful of players who fall on the other side of the spectrum, however, managing to catch all the breaks that someone such as Sheahan hasn’t been able to this season. From unexpected goal 20-goal scorers to players who’ve caught fire in limited minutes, here are five skaters who’ve had all the luck this season:
5. Michael Grabner, New York Rangers
Grabner, 29, inked a two-year, $3.3-million deal with the Rangers when free agency opened, and the hope in New York was that heading back to the state — he had previously been an Islander — would lead him to another standout season. It’d be hard to believe even the Rangers saw this coming. Early in the campaign, Grabner went on a tear and now, through 64 games, Grabner has 27 goals and is on pace to crack the 30-goal plateau for the first time in six seasons.
What’s mind-boggling about the way Grabner has been scoring is that it’s not as if he’s found a fit on the Rangers’ power play. Matter of fact, not one of his goals has come with New York on the man advantage and the only special teams goal to Grabner’s name is a shorthanded marker. His 26 even strength goals are tied for the most in the league. None of this is to mention that Grabner has scored on 19.3 percent of his shots, which is nearly seven percent better than his career average.
4. T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals
The Capitals’ cap situation is going to make it awfully difficult to get the band back together next season. Even more so when Oshie is in line to get absolutely paid. The 30-year-old was already in line to be one of the more intriguing free agents on the open market next season, but that he’s in the midst of a career-best goal-scoring campaign makes it all the more likely that Oshie can cash in come July.
Coming into this season, Oshie’s career high was 26 goals. He set the mark in his first season as a Capital in 2015-16 and it was only the second time in his career he had scored 20-plus goals. This season, he’s matched his career-best mark, but he’s done so in 23 fewer games. His current goal-scoring pace puts him on pace to net 31 by the time the season ends, but that’s not the most impressive part. If he had played the whole season, he’d have scored 37 goals, putting him nearly a dozen clear of his previous career best.
While Oshie has considerable talent with the puck on his stick, even he’d have to admit that he’s firing at an unexpected rate. Coming into this season, his average shooting percentage was 12.2 percent. He’s more than 10 percent clear of that in 2016-17, scoring on 22.4 percent of his shots this season.
3. Patrick Maroon, Edmonton Oilers
At times while he was in Anaheim, Maroon, 28, showed potential. He was among the players who had been tested alongside Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, and he had some success with the Ducks’ duo. He never managed to have quite the year like he’s had this season, though.
In 70 games this year, Maroon has scored 24 goals, marking the first time he’s eclipsed the 20-goal mark. Not only that, but if he can maintain this pace, he’ll finish the year within a hair of the 30-goal mark and only several goals shy of doubling his career total in one season. The thing about Maroon is that it’s not as if he’s shooting the lights out all of a sudden or scoring at some bonkers rate for how much he’s seen the ice. His shooting percentage has only risen by five percent over his career average and his ice time has increased by nearly four minutes per game.
Rather, Maroon’s luck comes from where he fits into the Oilers’ lineup. Few players have had found a more favorable spot on any roster than Maroon has playing alongside Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Playing with the Oilers’ young duo has been the opportunity of a lifetime for Maroon, and he’s made the most of it. Of his 24 goals, 15 have been assisted by one or both of McDavid or Draisaitl.
Maroon has the chance to negotiate a contract extension come July, and if the Oilers want to keep him around, it could cost much more than the $2 million he’s currently earning.
2. Paul Byron, Montreal Canadiens
Few players have had a single-season rise that has been more fun to watch than Byron’s. Picked up by the Canadiens off of waivers ahead of the 2015 season, Byron had a nice year as a bottom-six spark plug in Montreal. He netted 11 goals and 18 points in 62 games and excelled as a penalty killer. This year has been a breakout, though.
Byron started scoring early and often, and with 12 games remaining in the season, Byron is on pace to double his previous career high of 11 goals and could very well be a 40-point player by the time the regular season closes. That’s nothing short of remarkable. So, how has Byron been able to do it? Well, when he shoots, there’s been about a one-in-four chance that he’s finding the back of the net.
As of Friday, Byron is leading the league in shooting percentage, scoring on 23.2 percent of his shots. His 19 goals have come on just 82 shots. No other player in the league who has less than 100 shots has scored as many goals, and the next closest 19-goal scorer in terms of shooting percentage is J.T. Miller, but he’s need 114 shots on goal to reach the mark.
It’s worth noting, though, that there’s some element of creating your own luck with Byron. He’s got a penchant for speeding away on breakaways, and his shooting percentage this season is only 1.2 percent better than his mark from 2015-16. Over a two-year span, it has repeated, and that’s the only reason he’s not in the top spot on this list.
1. Brett Connolly, Washington Capitals
Connolly, 24, came into this season expected to chip in a few goals here or there in the Capitals’ bottom-six, but the expectations weren’t all that high. In the 210 games prior, Connolly had only mustered 27 goals and 59 points while skating fourth-line minutes. It wasn’t that Connolly didn’t have any scoring touch, but rather that he hadn’t ever showcased it. But he’s certainly flashing it this season.
Through 56 games, Connolly has potted 15 goals and 21 points, which means he’s seen an uptick in overall production and certainly an increase in how often he’s finding twine. There’s a catch, though. Connolly has had one of those years where every puck he’s touched, and subsequently put on net, has turned into gold.
Before the season began, Connolly was coming into the season sporting a shooting percentage of 9.2 for his career. His shooting percentage this season? 20.5 percent. That’s an 11.3 percent increase, and it can’t really be credited to anything other than luck. Connolly hasn’t put more shots on goal — he’s at 1.3 per game this season, which is 0.1 less than his career average — and he’s not seeing the ice more. In fact, Connolly’s 10:53 average ice time is more than a minute less than his career average.
There’s no better time for this to be happening for Connolly, either. He’s a restricted free agent at season’s end. Better yet, he’s got arbitration rights, so he could be in line to land himself a nice raise.
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