As we turn our attention to the open of training camps across the National Hockey League, front offices have begun dissecting their prospective lineups. Which players will make the cut? Which players need more time? And which players may offer a big offensive surprise to the upside entering the 2022-23 season?

The last question is one I find fascinating. It dominates pre-season conjecture, where all 32 franchises are bullish about their outlook. It’s impossible to blame teams for being optimistic, but the hype – particularly with younger players – can overwhelm at times. 

One quick analysis I like to dust off during the off-season is to identify players who may be primed for breakout or bounce-back seasons. The NHL can be volatile, and over smaller samples (even full seasons), strong and effective two-way hockey doesn’t correlate with scoring output.

But it tends to over time, which makes year-over-year analysis intriguing. If we can identify forwards who were aggressive and involved offensively without being rewarded on the stat sheet, we can reasonably only infer one of three things:

  1. The player is a relatively poor shooter of the puck.
  2. The player is being impacted by usage, which includes the quality of his teammates; or
  3. The player is unlucky.


It’s simplistic, but it’s generally true. Sometimes, rebounds in scoring are inevitable – remember last season when Toronto’s Auston Matthews started the year in a slump? That was a pure lack of puck luck, as Matthews was generating heaps of offence without being rewarded. He ended the season with 60 goals. (We also wrote about Jeff Skinner being unlucky a few years ago; Skinner scored 33 goals on an otherwise middling Sabres team last season.)

There is no exact science, but we love forwards who aggressively shoot the puck, and, more specifically, take those shots from dangerous areas of the ice. It’s one thing to fill up the stat sheet with shots, but if they are coming from the perimeter, the likelihood of that puck finding the back of the net is small.

Let’s take a stab at finding some of these forwards. Quick and simple, we are looking for forwards who (a) generated shots at a first-liner rate, per 60 minutes of play; (b) generated expected goals at a first-liner rate, per 60 minutes of play; and (c) ended the year with bottom-six real goals scored.