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2017-18 Player Review: Jordan Weal and the season that was (and might have been)

Not a single pun, herein

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Tampa Bay Lightning Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The curious case of Jordan Weal— his narrative arc in Philadelphia has been a strange one since arriving after a trade from Los Angeles. He’s been parked in the press box, waived, torn up the AHL, finally called back up and scored eight goals in 23 games, become one of the more highly sought after pending free agents around this time last year before re-signing with the Flyers, and then came back to put up a season that was just as strange and messy as all of that. And that is what we’re here to talk about today, my friends.

By The Numbers

Since it feels like much of the reading on Weal’s season comes as a comparison to his 2016-17 end of season run with the Flyers, we’ll do a bit of comparing with the numbers. Spoiler alert: things don’t get much less strange than our introduction.

Let’s start with the raw scoring numbers. In 2016-17, Weal scored eight goals and four assists in 23 total games with the Flyers, notching a nice little .52 points per game pace. All told, that would put him on pace to score 42.64 points over an 82 game season. And that would be nuts if he could do that over a full season, right? That would be awesome!

Except… well… that didn’t really happen.

Basic Stats

Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM Shots on Goal Shooting Percentage
Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM Shots on Goal Shooting Percentage
70 8 13 21 12 102 7.70%

After signing his extension, Weal came back, played 70 games, and registered eight goals and 21 points.

No, your eyes are not deceiving you. I haven’t done a typo. That’s right, in 70 games, he recorded the same number of goals as he did in 23 at the end of the previous season. Which seems, if nothing else, a little surprising. If you had jumped through a rip in the space-time continuum and told one year ago Maddie that Jordan Weal would score the same number of goals in three times as many games next season, I’d say you were nuts. I’d have a lot more questions about the future. But I’d also say you were nuts.

So, what’s going on here? And what are these numbers not telling us?

After his callup, Weal was flexing some impressive skill, but he also seemed to be the beneficiary of a fair bit of luck. Over that 23 game stretch, Weal was shooting at an insane 18.42 percent (for reference, the league average tends to hang out at about 9%), allowing him to pick up those eight goals in such a short span. In short, just about everything he was touching was going in the back of the net. And this year? Not so much. Weal saw his SH% dip to 7.7 percent as his luck seemed to dry out.

5v5 Individual Stats

Points/60 Primary Points/60 Shot Attempts/60 Expected Goals/60
Points/60 Primary Points/60 Shot Attempts/60 Expected Goals/60
1.23 0.92 10.99 0.65

5v5 On-Ice Stats

Score-Adjusted Corsi For % SA-Corsi Relative Corsi For % RelTM Score Adjusted-Expected Goals For SA-Expected Goals Relative Goals For % PDO
Score-Adjusted Corsi For % SA-Corsi Relative Corsi For % RelTM Score Adjusted-Expected Goals For SA-Expected Goals Relative Goals For % PDO
49.88% -0.13% 1.31% 50.47% -0.34% 43.26% 97.35

But that’s not the end of the story, in fact, this piece might make it even stranger. With such strength in production, it should come as no surprise that in 2016-17, Weal posted figures like an adjusted 55.93 CF% and 57.9 xGF% (as well as a 6.45 RelTCF% and a 10.11 RelTxGF%). This season, as one might expect based on the numbers we’ve seen so far, these metrics also took a dip, but not one that was quite so dramatic. Through his 70 games in 2017-18, Weal posted respectable Corsi and Expected Goals figures, with 49.88 CF% and 50.47 xGF%, more or less regressing to average. But, at the same time, he also was able to produce in these fields above the level of a number of his teammates, as he ended the year with a 1.31 RelTCF% and 1.69 RelTxGF%. Still not exactly the world burning figures of the previous season, but an undeniably positive impact.

So, what are we to take from all of this? Maybe a bit of hope. It would be easy to look at the dip in scoring pace and shooting percentage and say “wow, yeah, that was a bad year.” But the underlying numbers, though not as strong as they once were, don’t paint the picture of a player that’s underwater, by any means. I mean, he ranked fifth among forwards in ixGF/60, so despite the scoring figures lagging, we’re seeing him putting in the work. These numbers, if nothing else, seem to point to his shooting percentage as being unsustainably low, and offer the hope that with a bit more time, everything may start to even out.

Three Burning Questions

You know the drill, by now. Let’s dip into our three questions. First up:

Did this player live up to our expectations for this season?

Nope. Next question.

Okay, that was a little mean and not altogether true. Let’s try that again.

Did this player live up to our expectations for this season?

It depends who you ask.

If you were hoping he would be able to keep scoring at the clip he was to end the 2016-17 season, or at least close to it, you would be disappointed. That’s almost a 29 goal per 82 game season pace. He didn’t even come close to that.

But if you ask somebody like one Steph Driver (Steph, hello), who said she would be happy if he hit the 20 point mark, he’d be more or less right there for you. You might be pleased with his season, on the whole, even.

But on the scale of Driver to Whatever You Want To Call That End Of Season Pace Optimism (snappier name is still in beta testing), many of us likely leaned towards the latter. There was optimism, and the production we got didn’t quite live up to it. And maybe that was to be expected too—like we said earlier, he was shooting at 18.52 percent, and can’t really be expected to sustain that over a whole season—but I don’t know how many of us would have predicted this sharp of a decline.

What do we expect from this player next season?

It’s hard to say. Making any sort of guess on expectations or production or anything like that is contingent upon Weal actually getting regular time in the lineup, which he wasn’t at the end of the season. If you’re building a “most skilled roster you could possibly ice with the pieces we have,” Weal should be right in there. But there are pieces coming. Also the coach. You know where I’m going with this.

Let’s assume he gets some regular playing time, for the sake of ease. I expect some kind of middle ground between what we saw at the end of the 2016-17 season, and last season. I don’t think he can be expected to maintain the clip he was moving at after his callup, but I also don’t think we’ve seen quite all that he has to offer. I could see a scenario where he starts to get some bounces, is put on a line that can produce more or less regularly at 5-on-5, and maybe even gets some time on a PP2 unit that starts to actually do something (is this starting to sound like a pipe dream?). With the proper contextual pieces coming together, we could see his numbers get a nice little boost. But if we don’t see that, and only get a small improvement over last season, I think I’d be okay with that, too.

What would we like to see this player improve on?

I think something we’ve noticed with Weal is that, while he has a lot of skill, and has the ability to dominate a game (see: their last regular season game against the Penguins), we’ve also seen him fall victim to frustration. When the bounces aren’t coming, he can start to press.

In their last practice of the season, before their Game 6 elimination, we watched as the players present practiced wraparound and short side goals. In a way it felt more like practice for the goalies, but still, Weal was beating Neuvirth and Mrazek with relative ease (I know, I know, but please leave that one alone). Where am I going with this? It’s just to say that Weal’s skill is readily apparent, but we’re not always seeing it translating from the practice rink to the game situations.

And maybe part of this clears up on its own—we can expect that if he can go from getting all of the bounces to getting virtually none of them, he’ll soon find himself somewhere in between, and the cause for frustration is eased. But, all the same, we need to see him find a way to loosen his grip a little, so to speak, and to get out of his own way. And it all may start to come together.

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