How many goals will Jordan Eberle score next season?

Jonathan Willis
July 16 2012 09:27AM

Jordan Eberle had a great 2011-12 season. However, his goal-scoring was largely shooting percentage-based – does that mean it’s going to drop off, or is Eberle one of the league’s rare high-percentage shooters?

To try and answer that question, I decided to look at a group of 15 players since the mid-1990’s who had posted shooting percentage totals similar to Jordan Eberle over their first two seasons. The list is as follows, with the group average compared to Eberle’s totals over his first two seasons at the bottom:

Rk Player From To GP G A PTS S S%
1 Mark Parrish 1999 2000 154 50 31 81 281 17.8
2 Jonathan Toews 2008 2009 146 58 65 123 339 17.1
3 Paul Stastny 2007 2008 148 52 97 149 323 16.1
4 Alexander Radulov 2007 2008 145 44 51 95 279 15.8
5 Evgeni Malkin 2007 2008 160 80 111 191 514 15.6
6 Steven Stamkos 2009 2010 161 74 67 141 478 15.5
7 Lee Stempniak 2006 2007 139 41 38 79 266 15.4
8 Thomas Vanek 2006 2007 163 68 64 132 441 15.4
9 Ilya Kovalchuk 2002 2003 146 67 51 118 441 15.2
10 Ryan Malone 2004 2006 158 44 43 87 292 15.1
11 Dany Heatley 2002 2003 159 67 89 156 454 14.8
12 Martin Havlat 2001 2002 145 41 51 92 278 14.7
13 Alexander Semin 2004 2007 129 48 47 95 335 14.3
14 Sidney Crosby 2006 2007 160 75 147 222 528 14.2
15 Jonathan Cheechoo 2003 2004 147 37 26 63 269 13.8
  Average     151 56 65 121 368 15.3
* Jordan Eberle 2011 2012 147 52 67 119 338 15.4

As we can see, the averages compare very well to Eberle’s two-year totals, so this would seem to be a comparable group. How did they do in their third NHL season?

To answer that question, I’ve nixed Alexander Radulov (he left for Russia after his second NHL season) and gathered the numbers for this group’s third year:

Player GP G SH SH%
Mark Parrish 70 17 123 13.8%
Jonathan Toews 76 25 202 12.4%
Paul Stastny 45 11 118 9.3%
Evgeni Malkin 82 35 290 12.1%
Steven Stamkos 82 45 272 16.5%
Lee Stempniak 80 13 162 8.0%
Thomas Vanek 82 36 240 15.0%
Ilya Kovalchuk 81 41 341 12.0%
Ryan Malone 64 16 125 12.8%
Dany Heatley 31 13 83 15.7%
Martin Havlat 67 24 179 13.4%
Alexander Semin 63 26 185 14.1%
Sidney Crosby 53 24 173 13.9%
Jonathan Cheechoo 82 56 317 17.7%
Total 958 382 2810 13.6%
Average 68 27 201 13.6%

The games played total is lower, but I wouldn’t read too much into that – it’s really a function of three players (Stastny, Heatley and Crosby) missing time in their third seasons. Overall, shooting percentage fell significantly – Stamkos and Cheechoo were the significant exceptions, though Cheechoo would fall off the map over the next two seasons – but an increase in shot rates made up the vast majority of the difference.

Based on this group, we would expect Jordan Eberle to see a jump in total shots, a slight dip in shooting percentage, and maintain similar goal-scoring numbers next season. Or would we?

The Other Way of Looking At It

In our initial look at this problem, we considered the first and second years of these players as one sample, not bothering to split up those two seasons to see how much progress each player made. If we do that, how does Eberle compare to the average?

Player 1GP 1G 1S 1SH% 2GP 2G 2S 2SH%
Mark Parrish 73 24 129 18.6% 81 26 152 17.1%
Jonathan Toews 64 24 144 16.7% 82 34 195 17.4%
Paul Stastny 82 28 185 15.1% 66 24 138 17.4%
Evgeni Malkin 78 33 242 13.6% 82 47 272 17.3%
Steven Stamkos 79 23 181 12.7% 82 51 297 17.2%
Lee Stempniak 57 14 100 14.0% 82 27 166 16.3%
Thomas Vanek 81 25 204 12.3% 82 43 237 18.1%
Ilya Kovalchuk 65 29 184 15.8% 81 38 257 14.8%
Ryan Malone 81 22 139 15.8% 77 22 153 14.4%
Dany Heatley 82 26 202 12.9% 77 41 252 16.3%
Martin Havlat 73 19 133 14.3% 72 22 145 15.2%
Alexander Semin 52 10 92 10.9% 77 38 243 15.6%
Sidney Crosby 81 39 278 14.0% 79 36 250 14.4%
Jonathan Cheechoo 66 9 94 9.6% 81 28 175 16.0%
Average 72 23 160 14.3% 79 34 208 16.1%
Jordan Eberle 69 18 158 11.4% 78 34 180 18.9%

In the first year, things look very comparable – Eberle’s shooting percentage (and consequently his goal-scoring) is a bit lower than the group average, but overall he’s in the range. The group managed 2.22 shots/game, on average; Eberle managed 2.30.

In year two, things change dramatically – because while our average group enjoys a modest bump in shooting percentage and a big bump in shots-per-game (they go from 2.22 shots/game up to 2.63 shots/game), Eberle sees no increase in shots-per-game and a massive increase in shooting percentage. Eberle literally goes from firing 2.30 shots per game in his rookie season to 2.31 as a sophomore.

The fact that Eberle’s increase – unlike our group average – is based on shooting percentage and not an increase in shots is troubling, because it raises doubts that his shot totals will increase in the same manner that the group as a whole did. We also know, barely short of a certainty, that his shooting percentage is going to fall from his second year totals.

Knowing what we do, there are three individuals on the chart above worth looking at in more detail: Paul Stastny, Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Cheechoo. What makes those three interesting?

Stastny and Crosby are of interest because they’re the only two players from our sample to see their shot totals in their second season either decrease or show zero growth. Every other player saw their shot totals improve significantly. In both cases, the players went on to show negligible growth over the rest of their careers to date. Stastny fired 2.26 shots/game as a rookie, while on his career he’s fired 2.37 shots/game; Crosby fired 3.43 shots/game as a rookie and his career average currently sits at 3.39 shots/game.

Cheechoo is of interest because he’s the only player on this list with a similar improvement in shooting percentage. Like Eberle – and like nobody else on this list – his shooting percentage jumped ~160 percent from year one to year two. In Cheechoo’s case, he was able to ride the shooting percentage wave for one more season before a long, slow, slide pushed him into the AHL. In his last NHL season (with Ottawa in 2009-10) he scored five goals on 117 shots (4.27 SH%) and he’s now been an ~11% shooter over two AHL seasons.

What are you saying!?!?

It’s important not to draw too firm a conclusion from the players we’ve looked at above – this is a small group and it gets smaller when we look at three individuals who relate to Eberle in some way. However, based on this data, if I had to project how Eberle fares next season I’d go with the following:

  • A small increase in shots/game
  • A large decrease in shooting percentage
  • A significant decrease in goals scored

If I’m forced to pick a number? Over a full season I’d guess Eberle fires the puck ~190 times and scores ~26 goals. There’s any number of ways that could be wrong – particularly if Eberle finds a way to increase the number of shots he takes this season in a significant way – but if I were drawing a line in the sand that’s where I’d put it. I do not expect him to match 2011-12's totals in 2012-13.

THIS WEEK BY JONATHAN WILLIS

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#101 David S
July 16 2012, 04:22PM
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This same methodology was trotted out before last season to suggest that Jones was going to fall off a cliff. On the contrary, he astounded and disgusted stats guys across the Oilogosphere throughout the year.

Why is it that those same people simply cannot fathom the fact that talent often overrides the logical argument? With another year's experience under his belt and (hopefully) more experienced linemates (*cough* Hall...*cough* Gagner), you could just as easly suggest Eberle will have another great season. Maybe, MAYBE he's just that good.

Numbers don't often capture the intangibles of an outlier, which Eberle could certainly be. I feel sad for people who can't appreciate the beauty of sport because they're so myopically focused "on the numbers". For the love of god man, what does your gut say?

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#102 DieHard
July 16 2012, 04:27PM
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My gut says "Oiler Domination to Follow".

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David S wrote:

This same methodology was trotted out before last season to suggest that Jones was going to fall off a cliff. On the contrary, he astounded and disgusted stats guys across the Oilogosphere throughout the year.

Why is it that those same people simply cannot fathom the fact that talent often overrides the logical argument? With another year's experience under his belt and (hopefully) more experienced linemates (*cough* Hall...*cough* Gagner), you could just as easly suggest Eberle will have another great season. Maybe, MAYBE he's just that good.

Numbers don't often capture the intangibles of an outlier, which Eberle could certainly be. I feel sad for people who can't appreciate the beauty of sport because they're so myopically focused "on the numbers". For the love of god man, what does your gut say?

I like this guy.

The main reason I love watching sports is the unpredictable nature of it. I love getting blown away when the unexpected happens.

Stats are great but I only look at them after the fact. I want it to summarize the game not predict it for me. But what do I know, I use a loonie to pick my playoff teams.

Like the old saying goes... there are three types of sports fans, those who like numbers and those who don't.

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#105 TigerUnderGlass
July 16 2012, 04:56PM
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David S wrote:

This same methodology was trotted out before last season to suggest that Jones was going to fall off a cliff. On the contrary, he astounded and disgusted stats guys across the Oilogosphere throughout the year.

Why is it that those same people simply cannot fathom the fact that talent often overrides the logical argument? With another year's experience under his belt and (hopefully) more experienced linemates (*cough* Hall...*cough* Gagner), you could just as easly suggest Eberle will have another great season. Maybe, MAYBE he's just that good.

Numbers don't often capture the intangibles of an outlier, which Eberle could certainly be. I feel sad for people who can't appreciate the beauty of sport because they're so myopically focused "on the numbers". For the love of god man, what does your gut say?

He could very well be an outlier.

The point is that we will have to be one to put up similar goal totals next season.

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#107 David S
July 16 2012, 05:25PM
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I stand corrected. You are right and my comment was too precise. What I meant was several stats guys went on and on and ON at length last year about Jones' unsustainable performance (relating I believe to shooting percentage - could be wrong).

The point is it's a trap of comfort with numbers. Maybe Jones is just realy good at his sort of game and Eberle the same, albeit in a different way. In that manner they may be outliers, where numeric logic becomes unreliable at best. But to come out and say Eberle is going to fall back? He could just as easily hit for 80 this year with the right linemates and ice time. Why is that so hard to believe?

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#108 godot10
July 16 2012, 05:28PM
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@Jonathan Willis

My point was that one could not draw any conclusion from the post because you had omitted huge parts of the analysis.

1) Ice time analysis 2) Zone start analysis 3) Quality of competition analysis

Of Eberle and all the competitors.

Contrast this post with mc79's post on Sutton, which is basically bulletproof from an advanced stats analysis because it is a complete analysis. He considers all the options and variables and shows by each is relevant or not relevant in evaluating Sutton's performing.

You can claimed to be an advance stats guy and put out such a superficial, incomplete, handwaving analysis as this one.

I take it that you want to take advanced stats seriously, and you want to be an advanced stats guy.

Well, that means you can't be a pageview whore, and put out quickie shoddy analysis or you discredit the advanced stats field, and diminish your credibility as an advance stats guy.

You've left gaping holes in this Eberle analysis. It is not worth even having an opinion on because there are variables you did not even bother to consider.

For an analysis to be valid you have to show not only why the variables you have chosen are important, but why other variable are not important to the analysis.

In this post, you clearly have not done that.

It was a Willis, pageview whore post, and not a Willis, serious advanced stats guru post.

Ultimately you are going to have to make a choice between those two hats.

A serious advanced stats guy is ultimately not going to be able to slum as a pageview whore.

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#110 Butters
July 16 2012, 05:36PM
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Eberle doesn't simply put the puck on the net, he puts the puck IN the net.

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#111 godot10
July 16 2012, 05:36PM
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And furthermore, you did not credit or note mc79's nor zona's previous work on Eberle.

Serious "research" always credits and/or footnotes past work on a particular topic.

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#113 DieHard
July 16 2012, 06:26PM
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godot10 wrote:

And furthermore, you did not credit or note mc79's nor zona's previous work on Eberle.

Serious "research" always credits and/or footnotes past work on a particular topic.

boring stuff if all you want is stats. Willis' analysis is totally fine with me. I can disagree without being a pig.

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#114 Oilswell
July 16 2012, 08:12PM
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@David S: It sounds like what you're saying is that fact-based analysis is useful only when it conforms to what our gut is telling us.

But I agree with your greater point: remember that Cogliano's rookie shooting percentage was considered to be an aberration, and what did he do? He followed it up with another high-percentage season, that's what he did. And he's been a consistent 15-18% shooter ever since! Clearly counting on a player bucking the trend is less fallible than assuming he regresses to his peer group average.

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#115 BusDriver
July 16 2012, 08:22PM
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Pretty sure if Willis was a "page view whore" he wouldve just started a porn site and left the advanced stats to other guys.

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#116 Kodiak
July 16 2012, 08:37PM
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John Tavares shooting % went down 2% from 9/10 to 11/12 but he scored 7 more goals because he took 100 more shots.

Jeff Carter's shot totals went 215, 260, 342 in consecutive years.

James Neal's shot totals went from on pace for 225 in his second season to 329 last year.

Zac Parise's shot totals went 247, 266, 364 in consecutive years.

Taylor Hall was on pace for 278 shots last year. Eberle took 180. What is stopping Eberle from taking 278 next year? You've pulled out the numbers to examine his shooting percentage but have no basis that I've seen to back up why you don't think his shot totals will increase. 180 shots is ridiculously low. He will shoot more. All good young hockey players learn to shoot more (except maybe Hemsky).

Steven Stamkos shooting percentage has been 17.2, 16.5, 19.8 his last three years. Taking averages is fine but for every low there is a high and no reason why Eberle won't be one of the highs. Stamkos has sustained it. It is possible for Eberle to as well. I doubt it as well but could still see 14.5%. With 235 shots that's still 34 goals.

The Oilers are an improving team. Schultz, an improving Petry, a healthy Whitney, the puck should be moving in the proper direction a lot more than last year. When injuries hit, Eberle was keyed on heavily but with a healthy Hall and the addition of Yakupov that shouldn't happen this year. I still see him scoring 30+.

Just curious Jonathan, if you project his goals to go down, what do you think will happen points wise?

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#117 Wanyes bastard child
July 16 2012, 08:45PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Yeah, I can't concentrate on anything you say until I find dinner. So, what am I going to be - a vegan or a carnivore?

Might I suggest a nice bacon wrapped fillet mignon grilled to medium rare and finished with garlic butter.

Some asparagus on the grill with a simple olive oil drizzle with salt and pepper to taste.

Garlic smashed new potatoes and top everything off with a bernaise sauce? If you can't do bernaise from scratch there are some really good packaged mixes out there eh.

Best of all worlds and no need to decide :)

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#118 bam
July 16 2012, 09:40PM
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Keep in mind Eberle only played 17m a night this season. I agree his production will likely drop but I wouldn't be surprised to see him get more shots just from an increase in icetime alone, let alone making the conscious decision to shoot more.

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#119 TonyT
July 16 2012, 11:56PM
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@Jonathan Willis

Great article, the argument is sound. I love Eberle as much as the next guy (and I sincerely hope he breaks Wayne Gretzky's goal scoring record next season), but it's a statistical prediction people it's not a damn condemnation of the guy...

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#120 The Mook
July 17 2012, 12:53AM
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The guy who's shots went up dramatically in his third season is none other than Wayne Gretzky. Not only did his shots per game go up around one per game but his shooting percentage increased dramatically as well. Eberle is no Gretzky, but he is clutch around the net. I say 250 shots, 15% for 38 goals, highest Oiler total since Smyth's 39 in 96-97, except Hall is cracking 40, first Oiler since '91 to do so.

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#121 Walter Sobchak
July 17 2012, 08:58AM
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Low end 30 high end 40 but somewhere in between would be just fine as well.

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#122 Chainsawz
July 17 2012, 10:17AM
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If the O/U of goals for Eberle is 26.5 over 82 games next season, I will bet EVERYTHING plus what ever lines of credit I can max out on the over.

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#123 Jayamania
July 17 2012, 10:41AM
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I can't wait for Eberle to score 30+ goals this year. Then we can all say "Hey stat nerds, stuff it!!!"

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#124 Coronos
July 17 2012, 04:09PM
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Ebs isn't a lucky shooter. He is patient and has incredible vision. He's a sniper.

His percentage will drop, but I predict he will stabilize around 16%. Shots will increase with experience.

He will end up with 35-40 goals next year.

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#125 Lurch_tm
July 18 2012, 01:32PM
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@Br91

I agree with Br91's second point: You have to consider the TYPE of goals Eberle scores, because a simple shooting percentage doesn't capture all the variables.

Many of Eberle's shots are very high quality, because of the way he carries/controls the puck. How many times does he wait until two or three defenders AND the goaltender are laying on the ice before he shoots into an open net?

When he scored the goal of the year (!) in his first NHL game, people said he was lucky. His highlight reel for the last two seasons says otherwise, and that doesn't show the 2-3 similar opportunities per game that he DOESN'T score on. He will continue to create this type of opportunity, likely at the same rate, and I don't see his percentage going down on those type of goals.

The second type of goal he scores are finishing shots after passing plays. He's unlikely a) to be on the receiving end of fewer passes in the next year, and just as unlikely b) to start missing open nets more than he already does.

The third type of goal he scores are laser-accurate shots from difficult and sneaky angles. His shooting percentage might go down in this category, but because defenders are aware of his explosive linemates and his ability to create chances in the first two categories above, Eberle will continue to catch goalies and defencemen cheating, so I think his numbers in this category of goal last year are not really as lucky as they appear.

My prediction: Eberle's shot total and shooting percentage in the last two years were not an anomaly. He will score at the same pace as last year for several years to come. He won't be a 50-goal scorer, but a solid 30-40 goal man.

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