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2019-20 Player Review: Connor Bunnaman’s tale of two seasons

An upward trend for another prospect.

Montreal Canadiens v Philadelphia Flyers - Game Five Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

We’re back again for another season review, and even more prospect talk along with it! As we know, the Flyers had a whole host of prospects get a look with the big club last season, and next up on that list is Connor Bunnaman. And it was sort of a strange year for him—he had a strong training camp and was rewarded with the chance to start the season with the Flyers, but it became pretty quickly apparent that he was out of his depth. So he went back to the AHL, got back to work, and the new year saw him get another chance with the Flyers, and this time, he sure did impress. There’s a lot going on here, but don’t worry, we’re going to work through it together.

All stats via Natural Stat Trick, and as an additional note, all advanced stats are just for the regular season.

By The Numbers

Basic Stats

Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM Shots on Goal Shooting Percentage
Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM Shots on Goal Shooting Percentage
25 1 1 2 2 18 5.56%

There isn’t really a whole lot to break down in this section. Bunnaman played in a fourth line role in his time with the Flyers, so to begin with there isn’t a whole lot of a chance to generate offense in those limited minutes. He chipped in a little bit offensively, and by the time he got to his second stretch with the team, didn’t seem to be as lost in the pace of play. We might have liked to see a little bit more, but it’s hard to be too fussed about a young player in a fourth line role not putting up massive scoring numbers.

He only chipped in the one goal, though that first NHL goal was a pretty prototypical Connor Bunnaman goal—he parked himself in front of the net and saw a shot by Mark Friedman deflect in off of him. If you’ve talked to him much (as I have), you’ll know that his buzz word is “greasy goals,” how those are his game, and this certainly was that.

We love consistency, right?

5v5 On-Ice Stats

Corsi For % Corsi For Relative GF% Expected Goals For % PDO
Corsi For % Corsi For Relative GF% Expected Goals For % PDO
51.94 -0.3 45.12% 48.47 0.98

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
2.9 1.2 6.96 0.69

Dipping into some of these underlying numbers, we get sort of a mixed bag. The Flyers, when Bunnaman was on the ice, did tend to give up more shot attempts than they generated, though they did maintain the edge in more dangerous chances and goals, which tells us that they were pretty successful at keeping opponents to the outside when they were on the ice, which is certainly something.

But it’s here where I’m also starting to think again of what’s become one of my favorite adages: regression eventually comes for us all. There’s sort of a lot to interrogate about these numbers, and one of the biggest questions is “is the reason we feel pretty positively about Bunnaman’s NHL time because he was just getting stellar goal-based results?” This certainly does feel like the piece that would be the one that sticks in our heads—understandably, because who doesn’t love a line that just never gets scored on—but if the underlying shot impacts are just fine, what happens when the goal based results start to regress downward towards the mean? Do we have a very different narrative happening?

But maybe there’s some solace to be found in this last note: Bunnaman’s final numbers were, after all,1 being drug down by those from the first stint, which were really poor. Because, once we isolate this second half numbers, though it is a smaller sample (17 games), the numbers come up a bit. In his second stint with the Flyers, he put up a 49.20 CF% and 53.59 xGF% (though still an insane 90 GF%), which is an improvement. We’d still like to see those numbers improve (as well as his individual shot contributions, but more on that later), but it does feel encouraging that they improved already from one stint to the next. The goal based results are bound to regress at some point, but if positive work is being put in to continue to boost those shot impacts, then that regression doesn’t have to look like such an ugly thing.

Three Burning Questions

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

I would say yes, and in a couple of ways (and in ways that seemed at times at odds). I was certainly impressed with the work that Bunnaman put in over the summer on his speed and conditioning, and I came away from his rookie camp feeling like he might wind up being closer to NHL ready that some might think (certainly than I had thought immediately after the Phantoms’ last season had ended), I felt really optimistic there. I was impressed with his training camp as well, but at the same time, remembered some of the struggles he faced in playing more limited minutes in his time with the Phantoms (as would be expected of him with the Flyers), and at the same time felt a bit hesitant about the idea of throwing him into an NHL job right away. So the fact that he struggled some in his initial stint with the Flyers didn’t come as a huge disappointment, but neither did it come as a surprise when he was called back up in January and seemed to be in a better position to succeed at the NHL level. He had a bit more work to do developmentally at the AHL level, he addressed some of that, and it made a big difference. A season split in some manner between the two levels so he could continue to work on different pieces of his game was more or less what I expected, and that’s what we got. No complaints here.

What do we expect from this player next season?

A lot will likely come down to what happens in training camp, but there will be spots open with the Flyers, and Bunnaman should be pretty firmly in the mix for one of those spots. He’s already proven that he can be effective at the NHL level, has found chemistry with some of the players in the bottom-6, and that should be something working in his favor. He still has some pieces of his game that we could see him continuing to smooth out at the AHL level, and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him split time between the levels once again, but I do think he’s going to have a real shot to earn a job and start the season with the Flyers, and continue to hone his NHL game.

What would we like to see this player improve on?

This is sort of a sneaky tough one. Because, in a vacuum, we can look at some of those underlying numbers for Bunnaman and say “man, I wish we could see some of those shot rates improve,” but at the same time, we say that knowing the he does play something of a low event game. That’s just the type of player he is, and you can get into some dangerous territory when you go in and try to rebuild a player’s game in a big way. But maybe there is a bit of room for it here, if the Flyers want a bit more offense out of him, just encouraging him to shoot the puck more. Can’t hurt, right? But it’s going to come down to how much offense the coaching staff wants out of him, in the end.

The big piece the he needed to work on coming into this season was finding a way to be effective while playing much more limited minutes (something he hadn’t really had to do since the early days of his junior career). It was something he struggled with early on with the Phantoms, but he seems to really be putting it together, and we certainly saw a good bit of that consistency when he was up with the Flyers before the trade deadline. There was a lot to like there, but there’s always at least a little room for improvement, just making sure he really has that locked down. Because there are going to be a lot of talented prospects vying for jobs next season, and if he gets one, consistency is going to be a big key to him keeping it.