A 48-game season can be weird. One hot streak can turn a good player into a league MVP and some bad bounces can make a good player look replacement level. It can also lead to statistical anomalies. In 1995, during the 48-game, lockout-shortened season, Peter Bondra led the league with 34 goals. Of course, he only racked up nine assists and finished 27 points behind Jaromir Jagr for the league lead. So things can be pretty unpredictable.
But even though we might end up with some weird stats, the advanced statistics from the past can tell us much about where a player will land this season. Combine his scoring rates with past usage (offensive, defensive, PP, PK) and add that with how that player will be used this season and we can put together an educated guess about how things will go this year.
So as Part 1 of 2, (part 2 will feature defenseman) here is a look an advanced stats breakdown of each Sabres forward with a projection about their scoring. The projections are based on super-stat guy Robert Vollman's (Hockey Prospectus, ESPN Insider) projection combined with knowledge of how each player will be used this season.
Tyler Ennis – Finally at home playing center, Ennis went wild in the last 20 games of the season scoring eight of his 15 goals. His overall totals were swayed heavily by a ridiculously high shooting percentage of 18.3. That will be impossible to maintain, especially if his power play time is limited. However, he will presumably shoot the puck more this season. He shot only 82 times last year. The biggest question is whether he can handle No. 1 center assignments. Last year he ranked 7th in Quality of Competition – meaning he was put in easier situations than most No. 1 centers who face top competition.
Projection: 10 goals, 20 assists
Marcus Foligno – Foligno burst on the scene while playing with Stafford and Ennis. He scored 13 points in 14 games and registered 44 hits. The scoring rate will be near impossible to repeat over an entire season. His shooting percentage was 26.1 percent, which is about 15 percent above what top-line wingers usually shoot. He was also sheltered last year in his span (understandably so) ranking 12th amongst forwards in Quality of Competition and 1st in Quality of Teammates. He'll face harder competition this year, no doubt. Foligno's numbers were in a small sample last year, but taking into account his skill set, Steve Ott-type scoring seems plausible.
Projection: 9 goals, 13 assists
Drew Stafford – While he may be a streaky player, Stafford ran into some bad luck with an extremely low shooting percentage last season. His shooting percentage dropped from 17.9 percent in 2010-11 to 8.9 percent last season. He still finished the season with a solid 2.16 points per 60 minutes at even strength. Interestingly, Stafford was a much more physical player last year than he was in the past with 102 hits – nearly double the previous two seasons. Two things to watch: Whether his line with Ennis and Foligno plays against top competition (it shouldn't) and whether one hot or cold streak defines his season.
Projection: 15 goals, 15 assists
Cody Hodgson – Hodgson is hard to get a grasp on because he only played 22 games with the Sabres last season and in Vancouver he was used in every role imaginable. Keep an eye on him on the power play. Last year in limited minutes, he scored at an elite 5.62 per 60 minute rate. It's tough to keep that up, but even if it drops around 4.50, that's still a solid power play forward. His two-way game is still a question mark and he rarely faced top competition (10th amongst Sabres forwards). However, power play time and playing with Pominville and Vanek should have an extremely positive affect on his numbers.
Projection: 8 goals, 25 assists
Thomas Vanek – The Sabres' best power play producer (and among the league's best) at 5.40 points per 60 minutes. Decent puck possession vs. Quality of Competition, but has ranked behind Pominville for most of their careers. Solid 2.12 points per 60 at 5-on-5 last year, but below players with comparable contracts. Had below team average Quality of Teammates last season, which could certainly be a criticism of Lindy Ruff.
Projection: 17 goals, 20 assists
Jason Pominville – Phenomenal two-way forward. Top-level puck possession stats, used in offensive and defensive situations, solid 2.24 points per 60 minutes at even strength, top power play producer and penalty killer. All-around All-Star talent.
Projection: 14 goals, 25 assists
Steve Ott – The newly-acquired Ott is an all-around player who has exceeded 250 hits the past three seasons in a row. He has also been amongst Dallas's best puck possession players and defensive forwards. Two seasons ago, he started only 31 percent of the time in the offensive zone and still managed 32 points. Last year, he only saw 47.4 percent O-zone starts. Don't be surprised if that figure goes up if he stays on a line with Grigorenko, who Lindy Ruff will want to put in advantageous offensive situations. Ott is also very good at faceoffs and can chip in on the power play.
Projection: 9 goals, 13 assists
Ville Leino – Scored only eight goals, but shockingly only took 78 shots in 71 games last season. That's with a fairly high offensive zone start percentage of 54.5. Lack of power play time accounts for some drop in total shots, but still should be a major concern. It's hard to even say he'll score more when playing with Grigorenko because he had a solid Quality of Teammates stat last season and didn't score.
Projection: 7 goals, 15 assists
Patrick Kaleta – A lock-down defensive forward, Kaleta was asked to shut down the league's best last year and performed well. He started only 41.9 percent in the offensive zone and faced fairly good overall competition. His possession statistics weren't overwhelming but decent considering he had never played a lock-down role before. Kaleta also drew the most penalties on the Sabres last season – something that is sorely missing from the lineup.
Projection: 2 goals, 5 assists
Nathan Gerbe – Depending on health and role, Gerbe could have a bounce-back season. He was used in a defensive role last season more often than the year before and performed fairly well. He rarely had the benefit of quality teammates, ranking 11th amongst forwards in QoT. His shooting percentage was a lowly 4.4 percent, which seems primed to go up.
*Projection: 9 goals, 12 assists
*starting the season on IR. Projection based on 48 games
Jochen Hecht – A versatile two-way player, it's hard to know exactly what to expect from Hecht. Over the past few seasons, he's been one of the best possession players on the Sabres' roster. He has also been one of the most used penalty killers. Expect to see him in limited minutes unless there is an injury and add solid depth at multiple positions.
Projection: 4 goals, 10 assists
John Scott – Will fight a few times. You already knew that.
Projection: 0 goals, 1 assist
Matt Ellis – Played limited minutes against low quality opponents last season. Will likely do the same this season.
Projection: 2 goals, 4 assists
Mikhail Grigorenko – There aren't advanced junior stats, but he scored well over a point per game in the Q. He's a top-level talent and will be put in every situation to succeed this year. If the Ott, Leino combo stays, he'll have two capable (but not elite) offensive talents by his side. It's reasonable to project he'll get a ton of offensive zone time and power play time.
Projection: 9 goals, 20 assists