Pittsburgh Penguins’ Player Report: Sam Lafferty Offers Versatility In Rookie Year
|Photo Credit: Joe Sargent/Getty Images|
I wanted to start a new series. A player season recap of sorts that takes a look at how the player performed, by the numbers, and an outlook for going forward.
With one of the most intense ‘win-now’ mindsets in the league, the Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t been able to add many ‘blue-chip’ prospects to their organization.
Instead they have had to rely on college free agents, and hitting on their mid-to-late draft picks to add depth to their roster.
There may not be a bigger example of this than Pittsburgh-native Sam Lafferty. A former fourth round pick in 2014 - General Manager Jim Rutherford’s first draft in Pittsburgh - Lafferty took the long route to the NHL, but eventually got there and after a rookie season that saw him play in 50 games, it earned him a two-year contract extension.
Lafferty spent four-years at Brown University, registering 79 points (29 G, 50 A) while playing in 124 games. He would later play in parts of three seasons in the American Hockey League, adding in another 55 points (17 G, 38 A) in 85 contests.
Finally, on October 8th Lafferty would make his NHL debut against the Winnipeg Jets, later registering his first career goal in his third game - his first multi-goal contest came the game after.
However, after scoring five points in his first four games, he managed just eight more over his final 46 regular games. Despite the struggles to continue scoring, not unexpected from a rookie playing mostly fourth line minutes, Lafferty enters this season as a key piece in the team’s bottom-six - especially with Zach Aston-Reese set to miss time due to an injury.
By The Numbers
Lafferty brought a refreshing amount of energy that is a perfect fit for a fourth line that features Teddy Blueger and Brandon Tanev. He filled the scoring sheet early on in his time in Pittsburgh, and while he struggled the rest of the way he still posted being numbers than you would maybe think.
*Numbers courtesy Natural Stat Trick, based on all forwards with at least 250 minutes at 5v5 last season.
Looking at these numbers, you can almost make a case that Lafferty should be making more of a case to be flanking Jared McCann on the third line than potentially rotating with Colton Sceviour on the fourth line.
Nothing really stands out, except his dangerously low expected goal rate that long-term could be something to pay attention to, but everything else grades out on the average side of things.
It was never expected for Lafferty to light up the scoresheet, so any extra production he can pitch in is a bonus.
That being said, let’s see how Lafferty influenced play while he was one the ice, using the same sample size (forwards with at least 250 minutes at 5v5 last season) as above.
For someone who was heading in the opposite direction so often, Lafferty was actually one of the best goal suppressors in the league.
Despite more and more opportunities heading towards his own net, Lafferty finished towards the top of the league in goals against, expected goals against and on-ice save percentage.
He didn’t do much for creating goals while on the ice, but depth scoring was an issue for the Penguins - especially late in the season, so that’s not surprising. It will be interesting depending on who he plays with next season if he can create more opportunities while he is on the ice.
As stated above, there is almost enough there to make a case that Lafferty, not Evan Rodrigues should get the first crack at playing on the wing with McCann on the third line to start the season.
While he is defensively sound enough to be a perfect a fit on the fourth line with Blueger and Tanev, it’s an option definitely looking into when training camp finally rolls around.
After signing a two-year deal this offseason as a restricted free agent, Lafferty looks to be a regular depth option for the Penguins going forward.
What were your impressions of Lafferty last season? What are your expectations for him this upcoming season and going forward? Let us know in the comment section below! Subscribe to the website above, near the title and follow me on Twitter @AJ_Murfy and @SportBlogMurphy