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Digging into Joel Farabee’s breakout sophomore season

How the 21-year-old forward rose above expectations in a year of disappointments for the Flyers.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

After spending most of his draft plus two season playing in the NHL during the 2019-20 campaign, Joel Farabee broke out in a big way offensively for the Flyers in his 2021 sophomore campaign. To put it simply, Farabee was one of the best goal scorers in the NHL this season, and he just turned 21 at the end of February.

Farabee led the Flyers in goal-scoring with 20, tying him for 30th league wide, equal to players like Nathan MacKinnon and David Pastrnak. Even more impressive is that 16 of those goals occurred at even strength, tying him for 6th in the league with Alex DeBrincat, Brad Marchand, Kirill Kaprizov, and Kyle Connor. On a per minute basis, Farabee trailed only Brandon Saad, Jakub Vrana, and Auston Matthews in goal-scoring rate at 5-on-5.

While Farabee’s minutes at 5-on-5 didn’t increase year over year (he averaged 12 minutes at even strength in each of his first two seasons) his conversion rate nearly doubled from just under 9 percent in his rookie season to 17.5 percent in year two. While it feels pretty unlikely that Farabee will consistently convert at the rate he did in 2021 — Leon Draisaitl leads the league in 5-on-5 shooting percentage over the last three seasons at 17.85 — it also feels unlikely he’ll regress to his rookie season conversion rate. Somewhere in the range of 12-14 percent seems like a reasonable expectation over the long run as Farabee racks up scoring chances on a team that wasn’t all that capable of doing so outside of him.

Upon watching all of Farabee’s goals from 2021, one thing that stood out was the frequency with which he scores off the rush. These types of chances inflate your shooting percentage quite a bit over the long haul if you’re able to consistently create them, which Farabee clearly is. While researching for this article, I reached out to Corey Sznajder for his thoughts on what enabled Farabee’s breakout season.

His stats were a little more interesting earlier in the year because he wasn’t carrying the puck in much on that line with JVR, but anytime they did it led to a scoring chance. Stats started to stabilize as I got more games tracked, but he was one of their better players at creating rush chances. Not as good as he was earlier in the year, but he was really opportunistic. I never know if there’s anything to players picking their spots like that because him & JVR didn’t carry the puck in much or lead many rushes, but the ones they did were good.

Farabee is able to create rush chances using a mix of speed and passing in order to effectively slice through the neutral zone. If he passes the puck off before entering the zone, he attacks the middle lane and has the hands to finish plays off in tight at high speeds.

Farabee seems to have developed a knack for timing his routes off the rush which enables him to jump into open lanes at just the right moment. Good goal scorers just seem to rack up a couple of those chances every game and it bodes well for Farabee that he excelled above his teammates in that area to such a high degree. He’s also able to execute on the one-timer every now and then, and he could conceivably improve on that immensely in the coming years.

Farabee doesn’t mind keeping the puck and shooting off the rush, either. When defenders afford him space in an attempt to prevent the cross ice pass, Farabee is patient and likes to walk right in on net before shooting. He’s got a good shot and he’s able to use deception in a variety of ways to hide his intentions from the goaltender. Often, it’s by looking pass all the way in, freezing the defender in the lane, enabling Farabee to easily walk right into the slot. Watch how he uses his feet to fool the defender into thinking he’s going to pass it early before walking right in on net and looking pass until the very last second, when he quickly fires the puck into the far side of the net.

Again, this time against the Capitals, Farabee uses just a little hesitation to buy himself that extra space right in the middle of the slot. The defender thinks he’s too far to block the shot, so he continues to sag off to ensure the pass can’t get across, so Farabee holds onto it for just another handle before quickly snapping it five-hole.

Another outcome of Farabee’s knack for finding soft spots in dangerous areas is that he racked up shots off rebounds at the highest rate on the Flyers. Coming into this I would’ve guessed the team leader would be Travis Konecny, who is right on his tail, but Farabee clearly isn’t scared to get beat up in the net front either.

If you want to consistently score goals at the NHL level, you have to be willing to score a lot of ugly ones. Goals are hard to come by in the modern NHL since goalies have learned how to goalie and as a result a huge portion of the goals are scored from right on top of the net. It’s pretty impressive that Farabee has figured out how to consistently create chances like that as a skilled forward in just his second NHL season just three seasons after being drafted fourteenth overall.

While Farabee’s standout trait is his ability to score goals himself, he’s a capable passer as well, racking up 11 primary assists at 5-on-5 to tie him for the team lead with Claude Giroux and Jakob Voracek. Converted to a per-minute basis, Farabee ranked 1st on the team in primary assist rate and 26th league wide. It should be noted that Farabee had an on-ice shooting percentage of 11 percent and that is likely inflated by a bit of good fortune, but once again he does create a lot of rush chances which likely accounts for some of it. All of this to say that while Farabee is a capable passer, he’s definitely a shooter first and I highly doubt he’s actually suddenly a better playmaker than Giroux or Voracek.

Farabee’s total power play ice time doubled in his second season in the league and he was rewarded with three goals and seven points on the man advantage. Two of his power play goals were beautifully ugly goals just whacking at the puck until it goes in.

The other one, though, was a beautiful short-side one-timer set up by Giroux from a really tough angle. A ridiculous shot, really.

It feels like Farabee has the tools to become a pretty decent power play threat, but with so many older vets that command big power play minutes (Giroux, van Riemsdyk, Voracek, Couturier, Konecny) Farabee may be best served running the second unit, or at least playing a big role. He’s capable in transition and once he gains the zone he’s very dangerous with the puck.

The other tool that makes Farabee potentially impactful on the power play is his ability to get the puck back. Farabee led the Flyers in takeaways in all-situations and on the power play despite playing significantly fewer minutes than the guys on power play one and playing on the top line at 5-on-5. Every possession becomes significantly more impactful on the power play, as a recovery means extended zone time with the extra man and failure to recover the puck results in the puck being iced and valuable power play time being thrown away. Farabee’s ability to retrieve pucks, create chances, convert on said chances and create off the rush, combined with the fact that he’s just 21 seem like good indicators to me that he is fully capable of becoming a power play threat for a long time in this league.

Farabee’s play-driving numbers still leave a lot to be desired, especially on the defensive side of things, but the offensive impacts were much improved from his rookie season both in terms of driving chances and goals.

Farabee is still a couple of years away from his hypothetical peak years, so it’s likely not a huge concern that his defensive impacts haven’t been great considering the noted improvement on the offensive side of things.

The fact that Farabee was trusted with some second unit penalty killing minutes in his sophomore year tells me his coach doesn’t think he’s a liability in the defensive zone. Obviously the penalty kill is an entirely different beast, but coaches don’t usually use players they don’t trust in those situations. The aforementioned abilities to steal pucks and to create off the rush make him a threat to burn a sloppy power play. That is likely part of the the reason the coaching staff uses him on that second unit as well, often jumping onto the ice while the power play is trying to transition the puck back up ice. Farabee didn’t pick up any shorthanded points in 2021, but the only Flyer to do so this season was Scott Laughton on an unassisted goal. I like Farabee in that spot as part of a potential “power kill” second unit and I think his minutes there are only going to increase.

Farabee had a break even penalty differential, drawing nine while taking nine himself, but it’s impressive he’s been able to take pucks from guys so often as a young forward who isn’t exactly about overpowering anybody with his strength without taking a bunch of penalties. It’ll be interesting to see if he starts drawing more penalties as his role on the team increases and he’s potentially carrying the puck more often because he can be slippery.

Ultimately, despite the slightly out of whack percentages in 2021, the Flyers look to have a promising talent on their hands in Farabee. The fact that he’s accomplished all this in just his third post-draft season as a mid first round pick has to have the Flyers and their fans drooling at the potential ceiling of this player. Farabee was one of the select few bright lights in an otherwise disappointing Flyers season and that in itself is something he deserves a lot of credit for.

RAPM charts via, impact viz via JFresh, shot & pass type viz via Corey Sznajder

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