If you hadn’t watched a single Canucks game in 2013 and only looked at the numbers, Jordan Schroeder’s rookie season wouldn’t jump out at you. The diminutive center has two goals and five points in 17 games (roughly a 25 point pace over a full 82 game season). He has seen some time on the power play (and he will likely return to the top unit now that Ryan Kesler is out with a broken foot), but his numbers aren’t really all that impressive.
So why are some people (myself included) so bullish on Schroeder and his NHL upside?
For a lot of reasons, and they don’t include his goal or assist totals. Don’t get me wrong, goals are crucial to winning hockey games (unfortunately the NHL doesn’t give out wins to the team with the best Corsi rating – yet), but goals aren’t always the best indicator of how a player is performing. Schroeder has proven that he belongs in the NHL for his overall play.
Going into this season, a lot of people figured Schroeder would be used as trade bait. After all, how would he fit in with the Canucks? Schroeder isn’t a winger, and Alain Vigneault didn’t seem like a coach who would be willing to give third line minutes to an undersized rookie. However, Schroeder has impressed his coach with his attention to detail defensively, his aggressiveness in pursuing the puck, and his ability to make plays in traffic against much bigger and much stronger players.
I liken Schroeder’s success to that of Russell Wilson, the quarterback/messiah for the Seattle Seahawks. Wilson slid to the third round at the 2012 NFL Draft because of a lack of height. Many scouts went on record saying that he would have been a sure-fire top 10 pick if he were three or four inches taller. Wilson has succeeded because of his athletic ability, self-confidence, and incredible leadership and poise at a young age. He has also excelled because he understands his height limitations.
The argument that a player is too small to play is faulty to a degree – obviously height and size are important in contact sports, but it isn’t like you are taking a 6-6 person and shrinking them down. Wilson (and Schroeder) have been short their entire lives. They know how to make plays against taller and bigger players. They have learned how to use their lack of height as an advantage – in Schroeder’s case he has a low center of gravity which allows him to maintain puck possession. In Wilson’s case, he has a compact frame and uses that to elude would-be tacklers.
Schroeder, in particular, is very strong for a small forward, a sentiment that was echoed by his former strength coach at Minnesota (Cal Dietz) as well as his offseason trainer (Kirk Olson).
Dietz on Schroeder arriving at Minnesota as a freshman:
When he came in, he was developed. He matured pretty early – he was really physically developed. We did some pretty awesome things with him.
He’s a tough kid with a low center of gravity. He plays hard.
Schroeder has continued to look good in the NHL, averaging 14:04 of ice time per game. His production hasn’t really cooled off (to be fair, it never really heated up), and he continues to drive possession forward with linemates David Booth and Mason Raymond. Relative to most NHL forwards, Schroeder’s role is sheltered, but that is more so due to how to Alain Vigneault employs his centers and manages the matchups his young players face. Schroeder is starting 59.2% of his shifts in the offensive zone (Henrik Sedin is ahead with a 69.2 zone start rate), and his 5.9 Corsi Relative rating is among the best on the team. As an offensive center, he doesn’t see a ton of defensive responsibilities (at least to start a shift).
If you want an example of sheltering a player, look at how the Canucks used Cody Hodgson in 2011-12 (and January 2012 to be exact).
Advanced statistics via behindthenet.ca indicate Gillis’ comment here is not a smoke screen. In January, Hodgson scored 10 points in 11 games while starting in the offensive zone 83.3 percent of the time. If he had maintained that O-zone start percentage, it would have been the highest in the NHL.
When his O-zone start was 52 percent in October, Hodgson scored three points in 11 games and in November, when his starts were 40 percent he scored eight in 13 games. In December, his O-zone faceoffs dropped to 33 percent. He scored nine points in 15 games. In February, Hodgson’s O-zone starts decreased to 63.3 percent and he only scored three points in 13 games.
Yes, it is a small sample size, but when Hodgson wasn’t playing on the offensive side as often while in Vancouver, he scored 23 points in 52 games or 0.44 points per game. When he started 83.3 percent of the time in the offensive zone, he scored 0.91 points per game.
What does this all mean in terms of offensive upside, though? Schroeder, asides from a huge freshman year at Minnesota, has never been a scoring star at either the NCAA or AHL levels. He has been very good for the United States at the World Juniors (he is the all time points leader with 27 career points at three World Juniors).
There are reasons to believe that Schroeder has more to give offensively. For one, his PDO in 2013 is a team-low 958.
A quick refresher:
PDO is the sum of "On-Ice Shooting Percentage" and "On-Ice Save Percentage" while a player was on the ice. It regresses very heavily to the mean in the long-run: a team or player well above 100 has generally enjoyed good luck and should expect their "PDO" number to drop going forward – and vice-versa for players below 100.
Additionally, whenever Schroeder is on the ice, the Canucks are scoring on only 5.56% of their shots. That number should be expected to increase as the season continues on (the average for NHL players tends to be between 7 and 8.5%, depending on linemate quality and how good the player is). So not only is Schroeder not shooting the puck much, but his line isn’t getting any "puck luck" either.
Stats, as always, only tell a part of the story. What Schroeder has shown in his rookie season is an ability to make the right play the majority of the time. There isn’t any panic in his game. The one number that really jumps out at me is 20. In 17 games, Schroeder only has 20 shots on goal. He is more playmaker than scorer, but he simply needs to shoot the puck more.
Will Schroeder be a 60+ point player at the NHL level? Probably not. His production at lower levels doesn’t indicate that kind of upside. But it doesn’t rule it out, either. Schroeder has always been a player who excels with more talented linemates (to be fair, this could be said about any athlete in any sport). To expand on that further – Schroeder has terrific vision and plays a smart game positionally, and those attributes are best utilized when he is put with talented wingers. For example, he and Mason Raymond have been great together this year, and Raymond is another really smart hockey player (and he looks significantly stronger on his skates this year than last too).
What is Schroeder’s offensive upside? I’m not really sure yet, but he has laid the foundation for more offensive production with his defensive play. Vigneault rewards quality two-way players with ice time, and Schroeder’s steady defensive play bodes well for him. Once he gets more confident offensively and starts firing pucks on goal at a higher rate, expect his production to increase accordingly. And he has a significant opportunity ahead of him with Kesler out for the foreseeable future.