Jordan Schroeder, 22nd overall pick in 2009, is a restricted free agent this summer. He is 23 years old and has only two partial NHL seasons and almost 200 AHL games under his belt. He’s a player who has yet to make a significant impact with the Canucks organization, and is still an unknown quantity going forward. To make matters more complex, if he can’t put up scoring numbers he will have a hard time finding a place on a roster, as not many bottom-six slots go to players standing 5’8.
With only 56 NHL games played, we need to dig a little deeper to try to figure out where Schroeder’s ceiling is. I’m sure the Canucks are hoping that he’s going to develop similarly to Mats Zuccarello or Martin St Louis, as similarly diminutive players who didn’t establish an NHL presence until their mid-twenties who have gone on to be star offensive contributors. However, over the past five years Schroeder has put up 0.6 PPG at the AHL level. That’s fine offensive production, but certainly doesn’t suggest that he’s going to be a big point scorer for the Canucks – this is borne out by his NHL stat line of 0.27 PPG, translating to 22 points over a full 82 game season. Zuccarello and St Louis, conversely, each produced at over a point-per-game pace in the AHL. As Tyler Dellow has noted, players who produce significant offence in the NHL tend to score at a level of 0.75 PPG or higher in the AHL, a benchmark Schroeder falls short of. So the question becomes whether Schroeder can establish himself as a bottom-nine or more likely a bottom-six forward.
Schroeder very clearly doesn’t match a traditional prototype for a bottom-six forward. He isn’t big and physical, he hasn’t spent much time penalty killing, and he isn’t great at the faceoff dot. That all becomes moot, in my mind, if he can control play. Watching LA and NY advance through their conferences this summer should have made everyone take note of how important it can be to have 4 effective lines, especially with LA having played three seven game series already. Schroeder doesn’t need to try to be a new type of player. If he can play at a level so that the Canucks out-possess their opposition when he’s on the ice, then he is worth a roster spot.
How has Schroeder done in terms of possession? In 2012-13 he had a Corsi For of 51.8%, and in 2013-14 he posted a CF of 52.4%. However, he was used very carefully. He has started 57.3% of his shifts in the offensive zone in his career, and his QoC Corsi Rel for his career is -0.751. What this means is that he has most often been on the ice against some of the weaker players on opposing teams. The 2012-13 season saw him being sheltered more than players like Max Lappiere and David Booth, and less than only Dale Weise and Chris Tanev, among the regular players that year. In 2013-14, Schroeder had the lowest QoC Corsi Rel of any Canuck who played more than 10 games. However, this past year Schroeder also posted up a 96.1 PDO, mostly due to an abysmal on-ice save percentage. Whatever your impressions were of Schroeder from watching the games this year, it’s safe to say he was playing better than he looked.
The numbers do nothing to suggest that Schroeder can drive possession at the NHL level. He certainly hasn’t at this point in his career. However, he remains a career 52.1% Corsi For player, and that alone is enough to suggest that it’s worth keeping him around. Few players drive possession early in their career – even likely Calder winner Nathan Mackinnon posted a dead even Corsi Rel of 0 this year – and it seems reasonable to project some improvement from him if kept around.
Even without driving possession, there are some indications that Schroeder is more useful than he seems. Without a lot of data for him, we saw this year that he performed phenomenally at entering the zone with control of the puck. This is clearly affected by sample size, but this year he kept control of the puck (as opposed to dumping it in) for over 90% of his zone entries. That’s an unsustainable rate over a full season, but with 31 games under his belt it does suggest that he is a good puck-control player when it comes to entering the offensive zone. This, intuitively, results in far more shots and far more sustained offence than playing a dump and chase style. It’s an enormous asset to have a bottom six who can play this type of hockey, as it really enhances their ability to play against the opposing top six, instead of just their counterparts in the opposing bottom six.
The type of player that Schroeder most optimistically projects to being, at this point, is one like Mikael Backlund of the Calgary Flames. Only two years older than Schroeder and a fellow first round pick, Backlund has put up pretty meager point totals until this year, but has excelled as a play-driving third line centre, putting out pretty outstanding possession numbers for the Flames (no mean feat). Backlund has posted Corsi Rel numbers of +7.3%, +4.6%, and 5.4% over the last three years. Skill does not necessarily manifest itself in point totals, and skilled players like Backlund and Schroeder do have value in the bottom six of a hockey team. Another alternative for Schroeder is moving him away from center. He may not be able to handle the responsibilities of playing center in the NHL, but he is a skilled player – his point per game totals in the AHL and zone entry numbers show that – and may be able to find a better home on the wing.
Icing a bottom six who do more than play chip and chase hockey is one of the biggest competitive advantages available in the NHL right now, and if Schroeder can mature into one of those pieces he will have real value to the Canucks moving forward. His size frankly just does not matter one bit if he can outpossess and outskill his opposition. It’s on that basis that I think he still may have a shot at being an NHL regular. For the time being, however, he is a totally unproven RFA with little NHL experience, and no real leg to stand on in contract negotiations. Even if the Canucks are pessimistic about his development, he can at the very least be a valuable piece for the Comets.