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The bad from 2013
After a great start to the season, Matt Read suffered a torn stomach muscle in a February game against Pittsburgh. That injury was supposed to sideline him for six weeks ... though, since he's a hockey player and most hockey players aren't real people who feel pain and all, he was back in two weeks instead.
That said, chances are Read may have rushed back from that injury juuuuuuust a little bit too soon, as he seemed to be a bit slower upon his March 7 return to the lineup. And even though he actually got more average ice time per game after that return, his scoring rates fell off as well -- he put up 0.72 points per game pre-injury and 0.46 post-injury. In essence, the injury sort of derailed what had started out a really nice sophomore season for Read, and made his second half of the year a bit less exciting.
The good from 2013
That first half of the season, pre-injury, was quite a good one for Read. He spent some time on the team's top line while Scott Hartnell was out with a broken foot, he took minutes on both the power play and the penalty kill. (He still, in fact, managed to play on both special teams units post-injury as well, albeit maybe not quite as effectively at first.) And he was surprisingly adept at getting shots up close to the net, which is generally a good thing for producing offense.
The Flyers clearly liked what he was doing out there. Read played more minutes per game than any forward not named Claude Giroux for the Flyers, and the team valued him enough that they decided to give him a four-year contract extension -- set to kick in next year -- before the year even started.
What should we expect this season?
Even with his post-injury struggles last year, Read's a fairly steady player in that you know what you're getting from him -- solid play at both ends of the ice, from any forward spot on any line, at even strength and on both special teams units. Chances are, though, his average ice time will fall a bit, and he'll start the year on the third line with Sean Couturier and (mystery third-line winger to be determined), and probably on the second PP and PK units as well.
How many points he puts up will probably depend on a couple of things. How much defensive responsibility will that Couturier line get? If they're buried in the defensive zone 60 percent of the time against the other team's top players night in and night out, Read probably won't score as much. If that responsibility is spread out a bit (likely between the Couturier/Read line and the Giroux/Voracek line), we can probably expect to see him around where he's been the last two years.
The only other thing with Read that makes me wonder is his individual shooting percentage. He's been right above 15 percent in both of his NHL seasons to date, and while that's nice, the list of guys who can sustain a shooting percentage like that is not very long. Chances are he'll have a season at some point where that number drops a lot, though hopefully the fact (as mentioned above) that it looks like he's got a nose for chances near the net will help mitigate any possible regression there. Even if he falls off a bit, he should still be fairly successful as a shooter for the most part.
Read brings some offensive punch to the defensively-oriented third line, and he and Couturier more than hold their own against the other team's top lines while also putting pucks in the net in the process. He also continues to do a good job on the power play and penalty kill, while filling in elsewhere in the lineup when necessary.
Read is still a bit slow from his injury last year, and he and Couturier end up buried in their own end under the burden of too much defensive responsibility. On top of that, his shooting percentage swings in the other direction and he has the worst offensive year of his career.
At this time two years ago, we were expressing our skepticism that Matt Read would hang around at the NHL level at all. Now he's become a steady, versatile middle-six NHL player. With a new contract in hand and likely more defensive responsibility than he's had in his first two seasons, the pressure will be on him to show that he can keep up the strong balance of scoring, two-way play and special teams that he's shown in his career to date.