Pittsburgh Penguins: Zach Aston-Reese Defensive Prowess Earned Selke Votes in 2019-2020
|Photo Credit: Associated Press|
We continue our breakdown of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2019-2020 season with individual player recaps. Today will feature Zach Aston-Reese
With the Pittsburgh Penguins continuing to be in ‘win-now’ mode, they have sacrificed a lot of early draft picks in favor of immediate help. So they have had to rely on college free agents and mid-to-late round draft picks.
Pittsburgh has actually done well when it comes to drafting and developing through the college ranks.
Jake Guentzel, and Bryan Rust are both top-six players that went the college route. Teddy Blueger went the college route, and his line mate from last season, and the focus of this recap Zach Aston-Reese also spent four years at school.
Aston-Reese spent four years at Northeastern, going undrafted in each of his eligible seasons.
In four years at Northeastern, Aston-Reese got better year-by-year, eventually being named Hockey East’s Player of the Year his senior season. That year, Aston-Reese scored 63 points (31 G, 32 A) in 38 games played.
For his career, ZAR registered over a point-per-game, with 148 in 145 games played before signing with the Penguins as an undrafted free agent.
He made his NHL debut his first full season as a professional and two seasons ago, posted a career high 17 points (8 G, 9 A) in 43 games played.
This past season Aston-Reese entered the season as a regular in the lineup, while injuries limited him to just 57 games, while he was on the ice, ZAR became a part of the Penguins’ shutdown line with Blueger and Brandon Tanev.
Aston-Reese: By The Numbers
Like the rest of the team’s fourth line, ZAR didn’t offer much on the offensive side of things. His goal, primary assist, and point-rate were all well below average, near the bottom of the league.
*Numbers courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, based off of all forwards with at least 250 minutes at 5v5 during the 2019-2020 season
ZAR was actually a high-volume shooter this past season, but his success rate was among the worst in the entire league. The high shot-volume helped his expected goal rate, finishing right around average in percentile.
His bread-and-butter was his defensive play. Aston-Reese was one of the best defensive-forwards in the league last year. He was so good he actually got recognition for his efforts, receiving two votes (a fourth, and a fifth place, respectively) for the Selke Trophy, given each year to the best defensive-forward in the league.
One could make the case, based on his heavy defensive zone time usage (only 28.4% of his zone starts began in the offensive zone) and the fact that he completely suppressed the opposing team’s scoring opportunities, that Aston-Reese should of gotten more votes than what he did.
But despite being an award for being a defensive-forward, offense still plays a factor into the voting.
Aston-Reese ranked in the 98th percentile in expected goals against per 60 minutes play. He also ranked in the 94th percentile in actual goals against as well. So whether you looking at it analytically through expected goals, or what he actual gave up - he was elite either way.
Would it be nice if the fourth line contributed more on the score sheet? Definitely. The Tampa Bay Lightning were able to get scoring from all four lines on their way to the Stanley Cup Final. The Penguins at their best during their back-to-back Cup victories were capable of the same feat.
But when Aston-Reese is on the ice, two things happen,
1. The opponents don’t score. They aren’t getting opportunities to score either.
2. The flow of play is usually being driven towards the offensive side of things for ZAR, finishing with a positive puck possession metric.
The second feat isn’t the easiest of things when starting in the defensive zone on almost every shift.
Upcoming Season Outlook
We all want hockey back. Even Aston-Reese. But if there is one player, especially from the Penguins, that could benefit from hockey taking its time to come back, it’s ZAR.
After undergoing shoulder surgery in mid-August, Aston-Reese currently has about a six-month time frame to return back 100% healthy.
That would put a return around February or even March. If the seasons is going to began around the middle of January, that would mean Aston-Reese could be back a month or so into the season.
When he does return, expect him to take on the role as a defensive-minded fourth line winger for the Penguins. Now who he plays with may be a question at this point.
Do they reunite him with Blueger and Tanev? There is a chance that both of them will make up two-thirds of the team’s new third line with Jared McCann, so that may not be an option by then.
Wherever he plays, the Penguins will certainly welcome back Aston-Reese’s grit and defensive makeup. With him never shying away from shooting the puck, to go along with his expected goal rate, some have wondered if he could fill a front net presence on the power play at some point.
What are your expectations for Aston-Reese this upcoming season? What did u feel about his season last year? Should he have gotten more votes for the Selke? Let us know in the comment sections below, make sure you subscribe to the site and the link above and follow me on Twitter @AJ_Murfy and @SportBlogMurphy.