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2020-21 Player Review: Connor Bunnaman battles the sophomore slump

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It happens to the best of us.

Philadelphia Flyers v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

This season was a challenging one for the Flyers in a number of departments, that’s no secret. Between the pandemic related struggles and the team’s own underperformance of expectations, the picture wasn’t pretty. It was a difficult mix for everyone, but particularly for young players like Connor Bunnaman, who were left to deal with all of that, and also had to add into the mix the challenge of finding their footing and continuing to get adjusted to playing at the NHL level in the first place.

After putting in some good work with the Phantoms during the 2019-20 season, Bunnaman was given a well deserved call-up to the Flyers, and a chance to showcase a bit more of the positives of his game. He was certainly able to bring some flash, but with a chance to see if he could keep that ball rolling into this season, he ran into a few snags, and the implications of that may well reach into this coming season. There’s a good bit to unpack here, so let’s get into it.


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
18 0 1 1 2 15 0

It was a relatively small sample of games that we got from Bunnaman this season, but it’s enough for us to talk about and have some thoughts on. Looking at the scoring numbers for that stretch first we see that, well, there’s not a whole lot going on there. Now, we didn’t have the expectation of seeing a massive offensive outpouring from Bunnaman, given the role that he was given and his history (one goal and one assist in 21 games with the Flyers in 2019-20), but it does remain true that the results here aren’t too much to write home about. And we can come at this from the side of understanding that the team overall had their struggles offensively this season, and that it can be difficult to find your footing and manufacture a ton in the way of individual offense (particularly for a young player still getting adjusted to this level) with all of that going on around you, while still wishing a bit that Bunnaman had been able to find a way to step up and be more of a part of the solution. Both feelings can be valid here.

5v5 On-Ice Stats

Corsi-For% Corsi-For% Relative GF% Expected Goals-For% PDO
Corsi-For% Corsi-For% Relative GF% Expected Goals-For% PDO
45.45 -4.33 25 36.13 0.94

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
0.32 0.32 8.19 0.31

The underlying numbers from this season, too, took a little bit of a dip. The Flyers were left playing something of a low event game when Bunnaman was on the ice, not generating lot in the way of offense, which isn’t inherently a bad thing, but we also see that they were bleeding a lot in terms of shots and more dangerous chances, and the scoring results (a 25 GF%) reflected that.

And in some ways, this isn’t a huge surprise—we know that his in general is a bit of a low event game, the individual offensive output isn’t huge, but he and his linemates have in the past found a good bit of success because they were also able to limit the number of chances they allowed in turn, so it all worked out in the end. This season, though, we saw what can be the ugly flip side to that—when you’re not manufacturing much offense, when you start bleeding more chances in your own end, the floodgates can open quickly and the possession disparity can start to look particularly stark.


Three Questions

Did they live up to our expectations?

Not entirely, but it probably depends on where your particular expectations were at, because there did seem to be a healthy range. Now, the reasonable expectation was that, as Bunnaman is still a young player and had just 21 NHL games under his belt in the last season, there would still be some growing pains that he would have to work through, and the transition to a (hopefully) NHL regular wouldn’t be seamless. And that’s by and large what we saw from him this season, and it’s hard to be too fussed about that, all things considered.

That said, in his second run of games with the Flyers towards the end of the 2019-20 season, he really did seem to be able to tap into a bit of magic, and that certainly left many of us with a lot of optimism for what he would be able to do with a longer look with the team. The certain expectation that he would be able to replicate those results was probably a step too far, set the bar for this season a bit too high for some, but it wasn’t unreasonable as a hope. He didn’t really quite make it to that bar, so if that’s something that you felt that you absolutely needed to see from him to call this season a success, you’re probably walking away from this one a bit disappointed.

What do we/can we expect next season?

Bunnaman will almost certainly be in the mix for a spot on the Flyers’ fourth line out of training camp, but with the recent signings of Nate Thompson and Derick Brassard, plus the likelihood of the last somewhat underwhelming season being taken into consideration by management, the path to that spot has gotten a little more difficult. We certainly can’t rule out the possibility of a scenario in which he wholly out-performs each of the older and more established players in camp, but we do know that experience still gets weighed in those conversations, it feels more likely that we see Bunnaman start the season with the Phantoms.

That said, injuries obviously happen, and it feels like a safe bet that we’ll see him back up with the Flyers at some point this season, but the reality is that with the veteran additions, Bunnaman’s been boxed out a bit.

How would you grade their 2020-21 season?

We’re going to be a little generous here and give his season a C-. The on-ice impacts weren’t stellar, but we’re grading on a bit of a curve because of his age and the fact that he’s still adjusting to the NHL game, and those adjustments were expected to come in a team setting that was... tumultuous to say the least. We saw him make some strides in his apparent confidence level, which is big, but he’s still working on finding a way to be more consistently effective in the limited minutes he was given to work with. It’s a work in progress, but he’s not in a bad spot to continue to build his game.


All stats via Natural Stat Trick and Capfriendly.