5 Overperforming NHL Players Who Will Come Back Down to Earth
To a degree, hockey is a game of luck. There are a lot of players on a slippery surface at the same time, and the puck can take unpredictable paths. Chaos occurs, and teams and players can sometimes benefit or suffer from the randomness. It tends to even out over the course of an 82-game season, but weird things can happen in smaller samples.
However, the NHL season is roughly a quarter of the way done, and that's long enough to start establishing some trends. It's also a short enough window that it's not necessarily a perfect reflection of how good everyone is and what to expect going forward.
At the individual level, there are some players who are experiencing a particularly great run of offensive performance but whose underlying numbers don't necessarily suggest they'll maintain such a high level the rest of the way.
Here are five players whose current point production is unsustainable.
Andrew Mangiapane, Calgary Flames
It took a long time for Andrew Mangiapane to get the respect he deserves. Despite playing brilliantly in junior hockey, he went undrafted in 2014 and only in the sixth round in 2015. At 5'10", he beat the height stereotype and proved himself to be a top-six NHL forward the past two seasons. He's taken that to another level this season with 16 goals in 24 games, and he's now being mentioned in the Team Canada Olympic discussion.
Mangiapane is a very good player, but there's been an overcorrection in how he is perceived. To his credit, he's going to the high traffic areas of the offensive zone and creating a number of mid- and high-percentage scoring chances for himself with deflections and rebounds. As opposed to some others on this list, he is not riding a wave of weak goals allowed by poor goaltending.
Still, his current 26.2 shooting percentage is unsustainable. His previous career shooting rate of 16.2 percent would put him at roughly 10 goals this season. That would still make him a major contributor, but with Mangiapane currently tied for third in the NHL in goals, he is a paper tiger in the Rocket Richard Trophy race and should drop down that list as the season progresses.
Ryan Hartman, Minnesota Wild
It's funny how much shooting variance can affect the narratives surrounding players. Kevin Fiala has become a lightning rod for trade speculation in Minnesota for many reasons, one of which is his abysmal 3.8 shooting percentage.
For now at least, he's fallen behind fellow Minnesota Wild winger Ryan Hartman on the depth chart, and Hartman is getting all the luck that Fiala isn't. He scored 19 goals in his rookie 2016-17 season and then hadn't breached the 10-goal mark until this season in which he's inexplicably found the net 13 times through 23 games.
Good for him to start the season so well, but the goal-scoring numbers don't tell an accurate story. For starters, two were empty-netters. Beyond that, he's benefitted from less-than-stellar goaltending. Over a third of the remaining 11 goals came from Hartman shooting low-percentage shots from the perimeter on rushes. His overtime winner against Anaheim is a great example.
In fact, the Wild have an inflated shooting percentage with Hartman on the ice this season, suggesting that his eight assists might also be suspect. Unless he's learned hypnosis, he is not likely to continue to see goaltenders off their angles or whiffing on these types of shots. Confidence does go a long way, and Hartman has it now, but he's a definitive sell-high candidate for any fantasy owners.
Ben Chiarot, Montreal Canadiens
Unrestricted free-agent-to-be Ben Chiarot is reportedly generating a lot of interest around the league, with TSN's Darren Dreger reporting a first-round pick could be the required return. It's hard to reconcile that with Chiarot's statistical resume that paints him as a third-pairing defenseman at best.
Why might he be fool's gold for general managers? Well, he's 6'3" and logged a lot of minutes during Montreal's surprising Stanley Cup run last season. Those are big ingredients that can contribute to a defenseman becoming overrated.
Then there's his offensive output this season, as he has five goals in 25 games. The 30-year-old who shot a career 4.1 percent entering the season is now suddenly converting at an 11.4 percent clip. Two of his goals were strange scrambles around the crease where he happened to find the puck, while another against Detroit was a low-percentage shot from the top of the left circle.
Per Evolving Hockey, Chiarot's shots this season combine for an expected goals value of 1.81. While that number does slightly undersell his production, he's generally an offensive black hole and doesn't have much of a goal-scoring history.
He's a decent defenseman if he's only expected to play depth minutes and kill some penalties, but buyer beware for any GM preparing to pay a premium price based on reputation and some flukey scoring numbers to start this season.
Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators
Filip Forsberg was a 2015 All-Star and has scored over 30 goals twice in his career, limited only to that by injuries and shortened seasons. There's no doubting he's a first-line forward who can score.
The concern here is in just how good he can be. His 10 goals in 14 games are not sustainable. Nobody should expect him to keep up this pace and flirt with a 55-goal season. In fact, his 28.6 shooting percentage is the highest in the league.
Evolving Hockey estimates Forsberg's expected goals to be 3.88. That number does not account for his above-average shooting ability, but scoring five goals for every 14 games seems like a more realistic trajectory for him going forward.
Forsberg is not a paper tiger. He's a legitimate NHL goal-scorer, and the pending UFA would be a major pickup for a contender at the trade deadline if Nashville does move him. But the Swedish winger is currently experiencing a fortunate run of shooting variance, and fantasy owners might want to shop him before he returns to more normal production.
Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche
Adam Fox vs. Cale Makar is going to frame the Norris Trophy debate for the next five-plus seasons. Fox has made an impressive case to repeat with 23 points through 22 games. Yet Makar is on a different level right now.
The 23-year-old missed a few games because of injury but has otherwise been dominant with 10 goals and 11 assists in 18 games. It's not a total shock. For one, Makar has been roughly a point-per-game player the previous two seasons. The Avalanche are also a juggernaut this season with players who will make him better and help him generate a lot of points.
These numbers don't fully add up, though. Makar is shooting 19.6 percent, or more than double his 8.9 percent in the previous two seasons. Believe it or not, although Makar has been an elite power-play quarterback, he's actually struggled to drive offense at five-on-five, and Evolving Hockey awards him only 2.71 expected goals based on his shots this season.
That number doesn't reflect his ability nor the complete offensive power of the Avs, and nobody is suggesting Makar is anything less than an elite NHL defenseman. But Aaron Ekblad and Adam Fox are the Norris front-runners whose point totals more accurately reflect their offensive play so far this season.