Canucks Army Player Previews: Nick Bonino

When murmurs of a possible Ryan Kesler trade first surfaced on the internet, Canucks fans were understandably somewhat pensive. After all, here was a two-time 70-point scorer who had eclipsed 40 goals not too long ago, won a Selke trophy, and was a special teams monster, and Vancouver was going to trade him. Those guys just don’t come around all that often, so even though Ryan Kesler was no longer RYAN KESLER, it still seemed imperative that Vancouver got an A-grade prospect in return.

Instead, Kesler used his NTC to force a trade to Anaheim, where Jim Benning was unable to acquire any particularly young assets aside from the 24th overall pick, spent on a very-good-but-not-great prospect in Jared McCann. What Benning was instead able to acquire was a cheap, cost-controlled 26-year old centre who scored 22 goals last season, and would have finished 2nd on the Canucks in both goals and points in Nick Bonino. Those guys also just don’t come around all that often, so if that’s what Nick Bonino is going to be, Vancouver has themselves a valuable asset.

But that’s the big question here: what exactly is Nick Bonino?

2013-2014 Performance

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Whenever you see a GF% spike so far above any possession measurement, the first thing that should jump out at you is the phrase “unsustainable PDO!” And sure enough, Nick Bonino saw an astronomically high PDO last year in Anaheim. His team scored on 9.3% of their shots on goal, while the goalies behind him stopped 93.4% of the shots fired their way. Barring Bonino having found the mythic fountain of sustainable shot quality creation and prevention, he almost certainly will not outscore his opponents at 5v5 to the degree he did last season.

What’s also problematic is that Bonino’s personal shooting percentage was over 14% at 5-on-5, meaning that his individual goal scoring is due for a drop. Not only that, but 14% of Bonino’s goals came at 5-on-3. If preseason games are to be believed, he isn’t likely to get that chance this year with the Sedins, Radim Vrbata, and Linden Vey seeing the bulk of top unit reps.

There’s also the matter that with the exception of Bryan Allen, Bonino’s most common teammates did better without him on the ice than with him. Our friend MoneyPuck took a stab earlier in September to disentangle Bonino’s performance from his teammates and came to the conclusion that he was being dragged down by Kyle Palmieri and Matt Beleskey. While this likely isn’t wrong, it may not be entirely right either. If it were Bonino’s wingers that were the anchors, we wouldn’t expect to see them break even from a possession standpoint without Bonino after performing so poorly with him. WOWYs seem to tell us that Bonino was a bit of a dead weight himself that broke 50% Corsi when either playing with Patrick Maroon and Teemu Selanne (who Bruce Boudreau sheltered the hell out of), or a known play-driver.

*Need help understanding some of these fancy stats, click here.

2014-2015 Outlook

Unlike many Canucks, Nick Bonino’s season last year can best be described as “very fortunate,” and it’s safe to assume that he isn’t likely to repeat his performance with the Canucks. Barring some unforeseen upswing in his possession numbers, Bonino projects to be a serviceable depth forward, and unfortunately not much more than that.

The Canucks’ biggest problem last season is that they spent much of the year with a gaping hole at C behind their #1 guy. To address this, they went out and traded away the only guy in their organization that had been a good #2 NHL centre at any point during his career for a package of stuff to hopefully get better in the future. It’s obvious that there’s no sure thing at C behind Henrik Sedin, and Nick Bonino’s addition doesn’t change this, despite what Canucks brass seems to believe, at least publicly.

With all this being said, Nick Bonino is still a fine addition to the roster, and with 3 years left on a contract that pays him just $267k more than Derek Dorsett per season, Bonino has the potential to be a great value player even in a 3C role, perhaps playing with traditionally solid possession players like Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen. He would likely be an upgrade on Brad Richardson at even strength, who was given that role last year, even though he wasn’t as effective as Richardson was on the penalty kill.

Bonino will likely get every opportunity to replace Ryan Kesler directly on the second line, but who he plays with is going to be a question all year. Maybe he finds chemistry with Zack Kassian and Alex Burrows. Maybe Radim Vrbata comes down from line 1 and forms a secondary scoring unit with Bonino and Chris Higgins. Maybe Linden Vey shifts Bonino over to the wing and Jannik Hansen becomes the 3rd guy on that line – who knows. Based on his output in Anaheim, however, betting that Bonino is more than a stopgap solution at 2C does not seem like a safe proposition.

  • They’re heading into the season with a lot of question marks down the middle and the candidates to be chosen are all pretty much interchangeable until someone really starts to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. Really, there’s nothing substantial enough to suggest that Bonino is a better option than Vey or Richardson for 2C at this point but he’ll get first crack because of who he was traded for.

    The centre situation along with Miller’s performance will likely decide how well the season goes. All the talk about improved depth will go out the window if the team can’t sort out the pivot spots which indirectly decide the rest of the lineup. If it all gets figured out early on, it’d be great but I wouldn’t count on it.

  • Andy

    I think there are some fairly glaring assumptions built into the way you’ve parsed the analytics here. First, it seems you think that Bonino has “peaked” when it comes to his possession-driving ability, and that it will naturally regress to its mean, whereas the sample size is so small that a possession mean actually reflective of his ability hasn’t been arrived at yet. I don’t doubt that his shooting percentage will come down a little, but it’s also possible that his other numbers will come up. Also, being that he dragged some players down but others also dragged him down, wouldn’t the simplest explanation be that he simply had chemistry with different types of players?

    In any case, he looks to me like he could be anywhere from a passable to an excellent #2C depending on where he truly is on his development trajectory, and that is something that is very hard to project. The team may indeed view him as a stopgap with a longer term future on the wing, being that they have a number of prospects in the system (Horvat, Vey, McCann, and to a lesser extent, Gaunce and Cassels) who will be vying to try to grab that spot behind Henrik Sedin over the next couple of years.

  • I have an eery feeling that the 2nd line will really struggle if Burrows, Bonino and Kassian are the 2nd line. They will be playing against fairly tough competition with nobody on that line really being able to drive the play. What could end up happening as a result, to create more secondary scoring, is that Bonino will end up with Vrbata on his wing to provide more support, along with Higgins to create an offensive capable line with defensive capabilities to go against tough competition. Burrows would go back with the Sedins, and then the 3rd line could be an exploitation line that plays sheltered minutes with Vey, Kassian and perhaps Jensen/Hansen?

  • I believe that having more responsibility thrust upon you can make or break a player. Playing in the shadows of stars can be a great shelter, but all of a sudden he is out in the open and must thrive. We will see if he starves or thrives.

    One thing I have taken away from his early preseason play is that Bonino is a slick passer of the puck.

    That is something Kesler did not do… Set up team mates.

  • Disagree with the analysis on Bonino. I do not see him as a significantly weaker center than the sham Kesler we had last year and he is good in the dressing room from all accounts. He I think will be in the top half of the second line centers with good wingers. I expect those to be Burrows and who knows on the other wing. Maybe Vey. I would like to see Matthias get a good chance on a third line with Higgins and Kassian. Hansen is a defensive specialist and belongs on fourth line with Richardson and Dorsett. I would have preferred they keep Jensen, instead of Horvat, and put him on second line and then Vey to third line and Matthias to fourth line and Hansen to the bench. Personally, I think they should let Sestito go, between Dorsett, Kassian, Sbisa, and Matthias they can handle most fights, except the good squads.

  • Fans are delusional if they believe a couple of extra conversations with Burrows and a Kesler/Tortorella-free locker room will turn this aging core into Benjamin Button.

    It remains to be seen whether or not Bonino is even an upgrade on Santorelli let alone Kesler…

    Excellent breakdown as usual Rhys.

    The absence of fanboy homerism is refreshing…

    • Andy

      Ridiculous….

      Coachs make a huge difference! Let’s see, an underachieving Rangers team goes from 1st round defeat under torts to Stanley Cup final under AV…. Conection?????

      Santorelli played 2 good months in his hockey career and Bonino scored 22 goals last year.

      Your analysis is as sharp as your well, usual analysis.

      • Andy

        “Let’s see, an underachieving Rangers team goes from 1st round defeat under torts to Stanley Cup final under AV…. Conection?????”

        And the Red Sox went from last in the AL East in 2012 to winning the World Series under John Farrell in 2013.

        Connection?

        P.S. Don’t bother looking up what they did in 2014…

  • Are any of these guys ever going to make the NHL club?

    Nope. and that’s really sad, considering they can’t even make the Canucks…the most elite team in the NHL.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  • Andy

    His points total will drop without that pp time, but at even strength his points/60 over the last 3 seasons is comparable to Vrbata and better than Kesler.

    His possession numbers are obviously a problem, but Burrows should help with that and maybe Hansen would be a better fit than Kassian if they’re facing tough competition.

    He’s never played anything but a sheltered depth forward role though, so it’ll be interesting to see how he handles more minutes and tougher competition.