Japers' Rink Mailbag: Laich as a Top-Six Forward and Johansson as a Goal-Scorer

Evan Habeeb-US PRESSWIRE

A look at a couple of Caps forwards, their roles and production in this week's installment of "you ask, we answer."

Our first questions ponders scoring lines and whether one Cap forward belongs on one:

Ask ten hockey fans this question and you'll probably get ten different answers. They'd all agree that Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are legit top-six forwards and that Aaron Volpatti and Jay Beagle are not. But it gets a little murkier after that. To me, a "legitimate top-six forward" is one who can skate on and contribute in some meaningful way to an average scoring line over time, rather than just being dragged along on one. And there are certainly players who don't fit that definition skating on second lines in the League, just as there are third-liners who meet the criteria.

That was the hard part of the question. As for the second piece, last summer, we piggybacked off a post by Tyler Dellow to look at how the Caps' projected lines fit in the buckets into which he'd grouped forwards. Brooks Laich was a tough player to peg at the time because of the tiny sample that was his 2013 season, so let's see what he's done so far this year:

Laich_bucket_medium

Basically, there's nothing there that says Laich is a credible second-liner - his shot-generation and possession numbers are poor (and it's not the result of particularly unfavorable deployments, either, though some of it owes to the larger team issues there), and the result is that even with an "as expected" PDO and not obscenely low on-ice shooting percentage, the goals aren't coming. In fact, of the Caps' regular forwards, only the fourth-liners have been on the ice for a lower five-on-five rate of Caps goals than Laich (and only Volpatti has been on for fewer Caps shots/60), only Beagle and Volpatti are scoring at a lower rate at fives, and Laich has the lowest five-on-five Individual Points Percentage among the team's forwards.

Brooks Laich has, at times, been an acceptable fill-in as the third-best forward on a scoring line, but that's probably his ceiling at this point. He can still be a very good checking-line center (or wing), and perhaps prior to the last lockout my answer would have been different, but right now he sure doesn't look like a top-six forward.

Next up, whether or not to hit the panic button on another Cap winger's lack of production:

What, one even-strength goal in 53 games, fewer even-strength goals than Volpatti, the same number as Alexander Urbom (and Mike Smith, for that matter)... all of that isn't doing it for you?

We know that Marcus Johansson isn't a goal-scorer or much of a shooter, but one goal on 54 shots is absurdly bad luck especially when you consider (and we have) his shot selection. Look for yourself (via Sporting Charts):

Johansson_shots_medium

How has only one of those pucks gone in? It's a mystery (and it's also killing Ovechkin's and Backstrom's assist totals), and comes on the heels of the three even-strength goals he had last year (in 34 games) after posting 23 over his first two seasons (149 games). But Johansson's five-on-five shot rate is nearly identical to what it was a season ago (and two seasons ago, for that matter), it's just that his shooting percentage has dropped off the table (from 17.6 to 9.4 to... 2.0). That will bounce back up over time, and the goals will come... but even then, there won't be a ton of them.

So should we be worried about Marcus Johansson's lack of even-strength goals so far this season? Only if you were worried about it before the campaign.

***

Agree? Disagree?

If you've got something on your mind, go ahead and ask it here on the site, on Twitter (use #JapersMailbag), via email or on Facebook, and we'll try to get to them. There are always a lot of question marks around this team... so let's talk about as many of them as we can.

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