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A look at Connor Bunnaman’s 2017-2018 season so far

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The kid can get to the net

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at New York Islanders Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

Taken 109th overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers, Connor Bunnaman grabbed some headlines last year while playing the Ontario Hockey League. His 37 goals last season put him in a tie for 12th in the OHL in terms of goal scoring and helped him land an entry-level contract with the Orange and Black in April.

Thanks to a 22.6 shooting percentage last season, there were concerns about Bunnaman’s chances of duplicating his goal-scoring success this year. However, the Kitchener Rangers’ captain is on pace to finish with only a few less goals than last season while improving his shots-per-game pace by nearly 0.5. On top of his improvement in shot generation, Bunnaman has already surpassed his 15 assists from last season with 18 in his first 33 games this year. With things seemingly looking up for the power forward, let’s look at how he has accrued these points this season.

GOALS

Black = even strength, Red = power play, Yellow = shorthanded, Green = empty net

As you can see, most of Bunnaman’s success has come within a few feet of the net. Eleven of his 16 goals this season have come in the crease or just outside of it. His ability and willingness to get to the front of the net is often rewarded with rebounds from opposing goalies. Sometimes these rebounds result in extremely easy goals for Bunnaman, as seen in back-to-back games against the Saginaw Spirit on October 14th (1:39 in) and the Flint Firebirds on the following night (1:09 in). Sometimes Bunnaman has to earn them, like he did against the Windsor Spitfires on November 11th (1:30 in).

On top of these dunks, Bunnaman has also successfully pulled off a power move where he catches a pass below the goal line, skates backwards to get above the goal line, then beats the goalie. He pulled off this move for a game-winner against the Erie Otters on November 1st (1:15 in) and went top shelf after he did the move against the Guelph Storm on November 17th (0:27 in)

Since most of his goals come when he is parked out in front of the net, it’s no surprise that 11 of his 16 goals so far have come while Kitchener is cycling and only five of his goals have come on the rush. However, one of his most noteworthy goals of the season came on the rush, as he pounced on a clear in the neutral zone and pulled away from T.J. Fergus for a shorthanded goal against the Barrie Colts on November 18th (1:25 in).

Along with the one shorthanded tally, Bunnaman has netted 10 of his goals at even strength and five on the man advantage, which is an interesting talking point when it comes to the Rangers. The Flyers’ prospect has produced these power-play goals and five of his assists playing with an all-forwards unit of Adam Mascherin (taken 38th overall in 2016 by the Florida Panthers), Kole Sherwood (Columbus Blue Jackets’ prospect), Joseph Garreffa, and Riley Damiani (2018 Draft eligible) on the team’s top power-play unit. Evidently this approach hasn’t been blowing teams out of the water, as the Rangers rank 10th in the 20-team OHL with a 21.5 conversion percentage heading into Friday night’s games, but it is a unique approach that offers positional fluidity and creative plays most penalty-kill units aren’t used to seeing.

Bunnaman is somewhat of a streaky goal scorer, as he had a three-game stretch where he scored five goals and a four-game stretch where he scored five goals, and is currently struggling to find the back of the net. The Flyers’ pick only has two goals in his last 12 games, and one of those goals was possibly the luckiest goal in the OHL this season. Bunnaman lost a pass from Jake Henderson in his skates and lost control of the puck at the faceoff dot on a rush, but the puck managed to glide in from there thanks to failed poke checks by both teammate Damiani and opposing goaltender Matthew Villalta (seen here at 1:07, and enjoy Morgan Frost’s assist beforehand)

SHOTS

Black = even strength, Red = power play, Yellow = shorthanded, Green = empty net, Filled in = goal

Just like his goals, a lot of Bunnaman’s shots have come either in the crease or just outside of it. With most of his 21 power-play shots and a good amount of his 79 even-strength shots coming below the circles, it’s obvious Bunnaman goes to the net regardless of the situation.

Bunnaman isn’t afraid to shoot either, as he has produced four or more shots on goal in 14 of his 33 games this year: he has four games with six shots, four games with five shots, and six games with four shots.

Although he isn’t quite on pace to match his 37 goals from last season, Bunnaman is on pace to put plenty of more shots on net. His 37 goals on 164 shots last year let him finish the season with a 22.6 shooting percentage. With 16 goals on 103 shots, Bunnaman has a shooting percentage of 15.5. Since Bunnaman has played in 33 games so far this season and the Rangers have 33 games remaining, he is on pace for 206 shots and 32 goals. For comparison’s sake, 22 OHL players had 32 goals or more last season and 26 players had 206 shots on goal or more (only 14 players had each).

ASSISTS
Of Bunnaman’s 10 primary assists this season, seven have come at 5-on-5 and a pair of come when Kitchener pulled the goalie. The Flyers’ prospect made a pair of great plays for his helpers with the 6-on-5 advantage, as he flew into the offensive zone as the team’s extra attacker to set up Jonathan Yantsis for a goal against the Flint Firebirds on October 15th (0:42 in) and provided a screen that led to his own shot attempt before Greg Meireles ultimately put in it late in a game against the Firebirds on December 8th (1:31 in).

His ability to grab rebounds hasn’t just helped Bunnaman score goals. Against the Sarnia Sting on September 23rd, Bunnaman grabbed a rebound just outside the crease and provided an impressive assist to Damiani (0:16 in).

When it comes down to his production, seven of Bunnaman’s 10 primary assists have come off a pass while two were blocked shots that led to rebounds that his

teammate’s put in. He was also part of a net-mouth scramble where he was able to put a stick on the puck in the crease before Damiani eventually put it home on December 10th against the Guelph Storm (1:03 in). Six of his primary assists have also come on the cycle, while four have come on the rush. The most important thing about Bunnaman’s primary passing assists is all of them have involved making the opposing netminder move side to side. Four of his primary passing assists have gone through the slot, including his second helper against the Windsor Spitfires on December 5th that came below the goal line and traveled across the slot (1:45 in), while three were passed into the slot, including his assist on November 26th against the Sudbury Wolves that came from below the goal line (0:28 in).

Two of Bunnaman’s secondary assists were plays he created and they came in back-to-back contests. After he began a quick passing play off a missed shot in the offensive zone against the North Bay Battalion on November 23rd (0:54 in), Bunnaman won a board battle against two Greyhounds that led to a Sherwood tally the following night against Sault Ste. Marie (0:24 in).

He may not be posting the most dominant numbers in the OHL two years after being drafted by the Flyers, but Bunnaman is showing he has the ability to get to the net and create chances down low. Hopefully he is able to continue this trend next season when he is (most likely) with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.