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2019-20 Philadelphia Flyers prospect review: Connor Bunnaman

A curious sophomore campaign.

Heather Barry / SB Nation

We’re back with our last round of prospect season reviews, and we’re diving right back in and taking a few moments to talk about the somewhat curious case of Connor Bunnaman’s sophomore season.

It was, quite literally, an up and down season for Bunnaman—he made the Flyers out of training camp, but found he was having some trouble keeping up right away, and was sent back to the Phantoms to continue to work on his game. And the results there were something of a mixed bag, but they were trending upwards as the season went on, enough so that he earned a second look with the Flyers, and really impressed therein (but that’s a story for another day). But there’s a lot to parse through, with regards to his time with the Phantoms, and while we did see some growth and positive flashes. there were other areas where he seemed to fall short. And what are we to make of that? Let’s talk about it.

By the numbers

Basic Stats

Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM SOG SH%
Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM SOG SH%
29 6 3 9 21 67 9

So, at first glance, these numbers leave a bit of a sour taste in our mouths. It’s true that his point total is way down from 2018-19, which saw him score 19 goals and 32 points in 62 games. But context is really important here, and there are a couple of things we should note.

In terms of goal-scoring, this season Bunnaman was actually on pace to just exceed his 5-on-5 goals total from his rookie year (a 10.69 goals in 62 games pace), but the final total looks worse because we didn’t get the same boost from power play goals (Bunnaman had nine in his rookie year, and just one this season). And this makes sense—the Phantoms’ power play was pretty abysmal this season, and dropped from 14th in the league last season, to dead last this year. No one was getting good results on the power play, and scoring was almost entirely left to come at 5-on-5, so just about everyone’s stat lines were taking a hit.

But the results remain what they are, and it does seem fair to have wanted to see a bit more from him this season. He proved to be a bit streaky, but the good news, if we’re looking for some, is that he was scoring well both in the stretches before his call up to the Flyers, as well as in his short stretch back with the Phantoms, after he’d been sent back down following the NHL trade deadline.

5v5 On-Ice Stats

Corsi For Corsi Against Corsi For% Corsi For% Relative Scoring Chances For% Goals For Goals Against Goals For%
Corsi For Corsi Against Corsi For% Corsi For% Relative Scoring Chances For% Goals For Goals Against Goals For%
266 299 47.08 -1.47 44.44 8 21 27.59

And now we’re dipping into the underlying numbers, and up first we’ve got the shot impacts, and folks, they’re not stellar. In both shot quantity and quality, the Phantoms have been out-done while Bunnaman is on the ice. Now, we know that the team as a whole really struggled to drive play this season, but still Bunnaman was a bit below the average for his teammates in these metrics. The good news, though, is that while these numbers in isolation really aren’t strong, they are an improvement from his rookie season, where he registered a 43.25 CF%. So there’s still some work that needs to be done to turn Bunnaman into a stronger play driver, but at least there’s some progress being made.

But something curious did happen to Bunnaman’s game this season. We’ve come to know him as a player who’s sort of made his bread and butter scoring “greasy goals” and really emphasizing getting to high danger areas for chances. And the numbers reflected that, as he put up 20 individual high danger chances in 36 games tracked in 2018-19. But this season? He was held to just five iHDCF in 29 games. And I don’t really have a good explanation for why this happened, but it did, and it certainly stands to reason that the results would have been better if he had been about to keep with those rookie year practices. So here’s hoping he can get back that that next season.

5v5 Neutral Zone Stats

Entry Attempts Entries Controlled Entry% Possession Entry% Exit Attempts Exits Controlled Exit%
Entry Attempts Entries Controlled Entry% Possession Entry% Exit Attempts Exits Controlled Exit%
44 36 38.89 55.56 35 27 55.56

And now turning to the transition numbers, well there’s no sense beating around the bush—these numbers aren’t really stellar either. A positive that we could take away is that at least he’s above fifty percent on Possession Entries, but he’s still pretty well below the averages for forwards, and still these numbers could be better.

But also worth noting, and this perhaps lines up with what we know about Bunnaman’s game generally, is that he isn’t generating a ton of entries (just a hair over two per game, on average), so the numbers suggest that he’s a bit more defferential to his linemates in this department. And maybe that’s not the worst thing—if there’s something you know you’re not great at, at least make sure you’re getting the puck into the hands of linemates who may be stronger. But we’d still like to see him work on this—even if he isn’t the one generating the bulk of the entries for his line, we’d still like to see him be a bit more consistent in making sure the ones he does execute are done with control.

And, as a neat bit of symmetry, he’s exactly as strong in Possession Entries as he is in Controlled Exits. Which is... fun?

Three burning questions

1. Did Bunnaman live up to our expectations this season?

This isn’t really an easy cut and dry answer, as in some ways he did, yes, but in other ways no. Of his time with the Phantoms, we expected to see him, at the very least, find a way to replicate his results from his rookie season (which were solid), and then hopefully work towards pulling up his underlying numbers and looking more confident driving his own line. And we did get some of that—his 5-on-5 scoring pace was just about comparable, and he improved some of his underlying numbers. But consistency was something of an issue, and we saw him straying a bit from his more traditional game (more on that later) and that was somewhat disconcerting. So it was a bit of a mixed bag, not a poor season, not a super strong season either. If nothing else, it’s still something to build on.

2. What do we expect from Bunnaman next season?

This is an interesting question, because really that depends where he ends up. Considering the time he spent with the Flyers this season, and how he really did look to be finding his game at the NHL level in that second stretch, we can reasonably expect that he’ll be in the mix again to earn a spot with them to start the season. So maybe we see him resuming his role as the Flyers’ 4C, and if not, we can expect to see him back with the Phantoms and playing a significant role. He will be a third year pro, after all, and has been working pretty well to earn the trust of the coaching staff. We’ll need to see him take the next step forward in his development, and if he finds himself back with the Phantoms, he should be given the chance to do so.

3. What would we like to see Bunnaman to improve on?

We alluded to this already, but the big thing really is that we want to see Bunnaman get back to his game, fully. We’d like to see all of his underlying numbers come along, to see him work more towards asserting himself as a stronger play driver, but really it’s the individual high danger chances generated that we want to see rebound. Bunnaman has a real nose for scoring goals in tight, but he’s not going to score those goals if he isn’t consistently generating those chances. Really, that goes without saying, but that really is the key piece that we need to see more of. The results will come if he’s able to get that underlying process back on track. We’ve seen it working before, he just needs to get back to it.