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Projecting Jay Beagle

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The 29-year-old set multiple career highs in 2014-15. What should we expect from him moving forward?

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest surprises for the Capitals last season was the productivity of Jay Beagle. Just a year after setting career highs with four goals and five assists, he more than doubled that output, with 10 goals and 10 assists, and was rewarded in late June with a three-year, $1.75 million AAV deal.

Given Beagle's sudden increase in output at an unexpected age, it's easy to dismiss his year as a fluke, and assume he'll revert back to a player who'll score four or five goals and add the same amount of assists — and there certainly are some red flags in the numbers. For example, his shooting percentage was 11.9%, far better than 2013-14's 6.7% or his career mark of 6.3% entering last season. His five-on-five on-ice shooting percentage was over nine percent, double what it was in 2013-14 (about 4.6%) and well above what it was the previous two seasons (around 5.4%).

But Beagle was also a different player last year than he has been in the past. First, let's take a look at his individual scoring chance generation over time (from War-On-Ice):

Beagle rolling isc

(Note that these are 30-game moving averages, and the gray vertical bars mark the offseasons.)

Under Trotz, Beagle took off, ending the year with about 1.5 scoring chances and one high-danger chance per game (both career highs). He ranked fifth among team forwards in five-on-five scoring chances from Oct. 22 (when he made his season debut) to March 11 (his final game of the regular season), and tied for the team lead in "high-danger" chances with Alex Ovechkin over that same period as well.

How? He's been going to the front of the net, as this shot map from Sporting Charts shows:

Beagle shot heat map 1415

Compared to the same map from 2013-14, it looks like he increased his shot volume from the slot without sacrificing quantity elsewhere. His cumulative shot histogram shows the same story — relatively more shots from close range.

Beagle shot hist

Beagle's shot profile also changed for the better. Again, from Sporting Charts, here's the relevant breakdown:

Season(s)

Snap/Wrist

Slap

Backhand

Deflection/Tip-in

Wrap

2013-14

38

2

8

7

4

2014-15

41

1

26

14

2

Backhanders, deflections, and tips (as classified on the play-by-play) are high-quality shots on average. So not only was Beagle getting more shots from better locations, he was also getting them in ways that gave him the best chance of scoring, compensating for his below-average shooting skill. Here's what "more shots from better locations in ways that give him the best chance of scoring" can look like:

Beagle also got his stick on plenty of rebounds — far more than he has in the past — and turned five of those chances into goals in 2014-15.

Beagle rebounds

Put it all together and based on these factors, Beagle "should" have scored nine or 10 goals. He may have been a bit fortunate to hit his expected value — his track record suggests someone who shouldn't quite hit his expectation consistently — but even taking away a goal or two based on shooting skill still would have given him eight goals, double his career best prior to 2014-15.

On the assists front, Beagle picked up four on goals alongside Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin; given the Capitals' skill depth, he probably will spend a fair bit less time on the top line in 2015-16 than in 2014-15. That said, while his on-ice shooting percentage (8.5%) was a fair bit higher than it was the previous three years (around 5%), it still was far from an outlier, and given his own improvement, plus potentially a fair bit of ice with a good goal-scorer like Marcus Johansson or Andre Burakovsky on the third line, his on-ice shooting percentage should still be higher than it's been in the past.

It's hard to say how high, exactly, but even given the much more modest percentages in 2013 and 2013-14, he still put up 11 assists in 110 games. At one assist every 10 games, around 60-65 games played (his usual range), that puts his boxcar range at about eight goals, six or seven assists, and about 15 points.

Long story short: If Beagle maintains his underlying shot profile, it's safe to say he's legitimately improved as a scorer.