The 2014 Flames Fifteen - #1: Sean Monahan

Justin Azevedo
June 27 2014 08:00AM

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Via the NHL - let's hope we see this about, oh, 750 more times?

I’m not sure how much to write about Sean Monahan because we all watched him the same amount last year. I, along with a couple of other mysterious figures at FlamesNation, have had the same sort of idea about Monahan since day one: it was a mistake to keep him at the NHL level this year but holy crap this kid is real good at hockey!

Last year’s sixth overall pick is our number one prospect on this year’s edition of the Flames Fifteen.

You can look at part one of the above statement and think me insane; but I stand by it. When I started to write this profile, I didn’t want to come across as negative - I seem to have a reputation of being a little harder on Jankowski and Monahan. Unfortunately, all I could find were a.) reasons that a year of Monahan’s ELC has been wasted and b.) things that might actively hurt his development going forward. Neither of these things are technically the player's fault, but they might come back to bite him in the ass.

  Justin Kent Ryan BoL Byron Taylor Christian 2013 2012
Sean Monahan 3 1 2 1 2 1 1 N/D N/D

A quick note on my ranking - I believe Sven Baertschi has a little more offensive upside than Monahan, but Monahan plays the more influential position. It was literally a coin flip for me and the quarter said caribou. It just as easily could have gone the other way. Fun fact: eagle-eyed readers will notice just one point separated John Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Book of Loob robbed all of you of a situation in which we'd have to go to like the 5th tiebreak and/or done a run-off poll, both of which would've been #super #cool #supercool. Screw you, Floob.

The good thing that Monahan did this year was score goals. 22 of them, in fact. However, he had to do it in a historically lucky way: the 17th best SH% since the lockout. The amount of players currently in the league who have averaged a 15.7% shooting percentage or better over their career is 6. It’s entirely possible that Monahan is one of those 6 (well, 7) guys. I just don’t think it’s likely and I’m pretty sure he’ll regress next season closer to the average. If Monahan had shot 10% - a little higher than average - he’d have 14 goals and 26 points in 75 games. A little luck has changed the perception of him an insane amount. 

Of course, in the previous article we touched on his lack of production once Sven went down, as well - just 19 points in 51 games, which is certainly a poor performance. The entire summer, we were saying that we didn’t want Sean Monahan being in the NHL because of 9 amazing games. Unfortunately, that’s probably what happened. Monahan struggled in every way after those first 15 or so.

Some speculate that’s due to the fact that he missed an extended amount of time with injury. That’s fine, but struggles like that only last two, three games as a player gets back into game shape. Of course, I’m assuming that Monahan was fully healthy when he came back. Why would a team allow a player who’s supposed to be the future to come back and potentially damage himself in a year that means nothing?

We also have more of an advanced view of Monahan than any other prospect at this point, as well - and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture. Monahan, despite being sheltered for large points of the season, got his head bashed in raw and relatively this year. He faced easy competition - Extra Skater has only McGrattan and Colborne having worse opponents. He also started a huge amount in the offensive zone; more than 55% of his non-neutral zone face-offs were in the attacking end. Lastly, even though he had the benefit of both of those things - he got his skull caved in when he was on the ice, posting a 43.8% corsi and a -4.2% corsi rel. That rates him (league-wide) at 405/435 and 380/435, respectively. If I told you before the season that there would’ve only been thirty NHLers worse than Monahan, would you have kept him up?

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 11.39.46 PM

The usage chart isn't pretty.

I think this is where the Flames might’ve actually been harming his development. I don’t see how a player can be positively affected by going out there and spending the majority of his time a.) in his own zone b.) without the puck and c.) playing against players much better than he. I don’t believe that playing the sport with those three things dominating the amount of time he’s on the ice is good for his development. Comparable players - Max Domi, Kirby Rychel, Bo Horvat and Scott Laughton - all went back to the OHL this season and didn’t break it over their knees. I don’t think anyone was pining for Sven to be playing in the NHL full-time when he was going 2 PPG in the WHL. The physical argument - i.e. that Monahan needs to play against big boys or that he needs to be in Calgary to develop physically - is essentially null in my mind. 

  Power Play Points Secondary Assists Team Scoring
Sean Monahan 29% (10/34) 33% (4/12) 18% (34/189)

However, in between getting destroyed and having his development harmed, Monahan actually did a lot of good work in terms of producing offense at even strength. 24/34 points were earned at even strength, which means that his 1.47 PTS/60 ranks him 172nd in the league last year. That’s a damn good result. The secondary assists are good too - but remember that the lack of sample size can go both ways. The team scoring percentage is a little lower than where we’d like it - but, remember, this guy is 19. I want to be clear, though: Monahan didn’t technically have a bad season. We know young guys struggle at the NHL level, so I’m not going to blame him for his poor underlying numbers and producing enough shots to score 14 goals on average in your first season isn’t anything to sneeze at.

I do want to touch on one thing that will invariably be brought up - his “low” on-ice SH%. Average in the NHL last year at 5v5 was 8.6% and Monahan’s was just shy of that at 8.5%. Now, this might suggest that the amount of points Monahan got was actually the correct amount. That’s probably true for his 24 even strength points, even though he had the 2nd best on-ice SH% of the Flames’ forwards. However, his 12.3% on the PP brings his overall SH% up to about 9.7%, or, about .8 percentage points higher than the overall average of 8.9%. Take away his extra six goals and we get an overall on-ice SH% of 8.7%, or, about average luck considering his team.

Conclusion

The following are facts and are not up for debate:

  • Sean Monahan produced pretty good counting numbers for a 19-year-old in the toughest league in the world last season.
  • Sean Monahan produced horrible underlying numbers as a 19-year-old with easy circumstances.
  • Sean Monahan was personally lucky on his way to scoring 22 goals.

To me, those three essentially equal out - like a void, or something. If he had been an average shooter, there would be zero talk of him being too good to be in the OHL, full stop. Like I said above, though, it’s entirely possible that Monahan is a 15% shooter and he’ll be able to maintain that production. I’m just not willing to bet that he’s part of an exclusive group (0.7% of the players that played in the league this season were the same or better, 99.3% were worse) based off one season.

The reasons for these things? Something out of Monahan’s control. I’m not blaming him. But there was another option the Flames could’ve taken last year that would have benefitted the team economically, the player developmentally and the franchise as a whole. They ignored that path - even though many people said not to - and the end result is that they got lucky with a player shooting a lot better than he probably will in the future. Saying all of that, though, this kid has an uncanny ability to just be at the right place at the right time more than anyone I can recall seeing in a Flames uniform. He’ll just pop out of nowhere and do something amazing, and I think this has a little to do with his skating; which I believe was a little better than advertised.

As we reach the end, this profile seems negative, which I didn’t want - but that’s because the season he had was a negative one. It’s not his fault; most 19-year-olds don’t have good seasons at the top level. But the fact that he struggled so hard and we’ve still ranked him so high is a testament to how hard the NHL really is. I still believe that Monahan will be a first-line centre and a disappointing 19-year-old season in the NHL doesn’t do much to sway my opinion.

Click here for the full breakdown in image format (Wotherspoon and Reinhart are obviously backwards), and thanks for reading another year's worth of rankings. We'll be back next April, and happy draftsmas.

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Justin is a 23-year-old Flames fan who also happens to be pursuing a double major at the University of Calgary. He has played hockey at high levels, enjoys wearing shorts and tends to drink far too much Grasshopper. Please don't hate him.
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#1 the-wolf
June 27 2014, 08:12AM
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Good article, but I don't get why he's included on here if he's played a full season already? How does he qualify as a prospect?

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#2 the-wolf
June 27 2014, 08:14AM
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I've flip-flopped on whether Monahan should've been kept in the NHL more times than I can remember. It started as a "no" and it probably ends as a "no." And yet, there's still something about it I didn't mind.

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#3 piscera.infada
June 27 2014, 08:20AM
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Very fair and reasoned analysis. I agreed with the majority of it as well. By eyes and underlying numbers, he wasn't the greatest thing since sliced bread - an argument that gets most of my friends extremely riled up in discussion. That said, he's going to work a lot. The best attribute about Monahan at draft time last year was his ability to know his limitations and work on them. I also feel that the defensive side of his game (including faceoffs, which I know a lot of people think mean nothing) will get a lot better this year, while his offence tapers off a little bit (less goals, more assists). In short, I'm right there with you, Monahan's going to be a player for a long time, but although it's hard we all shouldn't get ahead of ourselves - it's unfair to us and to Monahan. All that said, it will be extremely fun watching him grow over the next few years.

Flames, draft a good centre this year - create a 1/2 punch that will be the envy of all!

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#4 ChinookArch
June 27 2014, 08:26AM
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Of course, he's #1.

And even with the relative success in the NHL last year, I wish the Flames had the option to put him in the AHL. I still believe it would have been the best place for him last year.

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#5 redhot1
June 27 2014, 08:36AM
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I agree with all of this. This guy needs to learn how to play defense at the NHL level. But 20 goals as a 19 year old is pretty impressive. I think some of us, myself included, may have been (intentionally) blind to his defensive liabilities based on his goals and his Shootout success (which is also a good sign). However, he is big, has a good work ethic, and has a decent set of hands and a nose for the net. If his development progresses half decently, I could see him as a David Legwand like player.

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#6 TheoForever
June 27 2014, 08:48AM
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JA wrote: "...Some speculate that’s due to the fact that he missed an extended amount of time with injury. That’s fine, but struggles like that only last two, three games as a player gets back into game shape. Of course, I’m assuming that Monahan was fully healthy when he came back. Why would a team allow a player who’s supposed to be the future to come back and potentially damage himself in a year that means nothing?...."

Monahan came back not healthy. It was discussed on Fan960, and he played a lot of games at less than 100%. He has said so himself as well.

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#7 Sincity1976
June 27 2014, 08:49AM
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To things.

1) Third? Really? Really really? Than you try and blame a coin! 2) Are you guys posting the summary of all picks at some point.

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#11 TheoForever
June 27 2014, 08:59AM
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@Justin Azevedo

I'm just reporting.

If you recall he was playing and walking in a special boot for a while, couple of other Flame players did the same if memory serves right.

If you look at Cammy and his concussion, he looked lost on the ice for about 10 games after coming back.

Could be systemic, those things happen all over NHL too.

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#13 the-wolf
June 27 2014, 09:01AM
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Justin Azevedo wrote:

because he's under 23, which is the only qualification and it will continue to be the only qualification. expect to see him in the top 5 the next 2 or 3 years.

Unaware of that, thank you.

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#14 TheoForever
June 27 2014, 09:05AM
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Justin Azevedo wrote:

oh I know. but the difference is that monahan is 19 and still has a lot of development to do and last year was a lost season. other guys have been pros for years, don't have much development to do and generally wait until they're healthy to come back.

Can't argue it was the right thing to do. :)

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#15 TheRealPoc
June 27 2014, 09:07AM
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Not entirely similar, because he wasn't sheltered nearly as much (if at all, 43% ZS vs. average competition), but I recall Ryan O'Reilly having his fair share of struggles as a true 18-year old in his rookie season with Colorado. Similar situations - young pivot on a bad team, being asked to apprentice for a 200-foot game. Spent a whole lotta time hemmed in his own zone, posted -13.7 CorsiOn and -3.6 CorsiRel over 81 GP. He also enjoyed a PDO of 1009...so, much like the rest of that ridiculous '09-'10 Avs team, he probably looked a lot better than he really was.

Fast forward to now and O'Reilly is one of the best possession-driving pivots in the game; he'll probably be one of the most sought-after UFA's in two years time after his club-elected arb contract runs out. And even with the benefit of hindsight, I think the experience helped him.

I don't think it's the physicality or size disparities between pro and junior that provide the biggest hurdles for young players to overcome. I think the hardest thing to adjust to is the speed at which the pro game is played. Still remember Ferraro's comment on draft day last year, where he said Monahan's biggest problem in Ottawa was playing the game at too slow of a pace; I'm not sure how much that would've changed with another year for the abhorrent 67's, where he would've been on an island yet again but still crushing a fair share of kids.

Perhaps there's also value in getting acclimated to the pro routine, but as someone who never earned a paycheque for playing puck, I'm not comfortable making that assertion. I do believe, however, that the taste of the pro game was a positive. The burden of expectation will be much heavier next year, after such a red-hot run of positive variance this year, but I hope this is where his vaunted level of maturity shines through when he faces his inevitable adversity.

Besides, I want to believe, dammit. It's been way too long since we've been excited about anyone or anything, and it's starting to take its toll. I don't want to suck anymore.

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#16 Baalzamon
June 27 2014, 09:10AM
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I'd be happy with another 34 point season from Moneyhands next year.. with better underlyings, of course. Something like 12 goals and 22 assists.

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#17 Kevin R
June 27 2014, 09:11AM
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Right on most of this Kent but let's face it, years of prospect neglect put Flames in a position where they had to roll the dice to speed up this rebuild. Your view from a Hockey perspective is right but from a business point of view & Murray Edwards, they took a chance they knew would be embraced by most fans & got lucky. Now that he played the year, there will be absolutely no question he plays with the Flames next year. You can criticize the decision on solid hockey fact but thank the Lord it worked out. This kid is worthy of being our #1 prospect, his first year ELC isnt wasted, in fact I look at it from a different point of view, what Money learnt this year, his development just got accelerated & we are going to get a kid in his prime for a lot longer. With Gaudreau in the fold this year & I see Sven cutting his NHL teeth on a permanent basis this year as well, Flames can probably take a little more patient approach to the very nice prospects we are starting to accumulate. It's easy for me to say this now, but sometimes you gotta take a few calculated gambles when your're backed into a corner like the Flames were.

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#18 Kent Wilson
June 27 2014, 09:14AM
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The other thing that hampered Monahan's underlying numbers is he didn't get to play with Backlund, Gio or Brodie all that much. Those were the 3 engine drivers on the club.

I think he's a kid who can take a big step forward over the next 2 years. He should be driving the play on his own by the time his ELC is up.

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#19 TheRealPoc
June 27 2014, 09:22AM
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Although, in fairness, we shouldn't expect him to play with Backlund moving forward, either. But we know that.

I think all of this just illustrates, once again, how ridiculously hard it is to play in this league when you're a teenager. Again - fair warning - this is a very qualitative assessment, but the fact that he seemingly handled this season so well gives me a lot of hope for the future.

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#21 Burnward
June 27 2014, 09:27AM
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I think Monahan is one of those dudes that average shooting percentage doesn't apply to. Guy is a cold blooded sniper.

He's good for 25-35 for the next 15 years.

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#22 Lordmork
June 27 2014, 10:07AM
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I can't help but agree that Monahan should have stayed in the OHL. He did great this year, but I hope fans will temper their expectations for him for next season.

Still, with him and Backlund done the middle, and with Gaudreau and Baertschi on the LW, I feel like the Flames have the potential to have two excellent top lines for a long time. We just need to find some RW's to play with them. I hear Bennet sometimes plays wing, and Poirier can play RW.

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#23 Jeff In Lethbridge
June 27 2014, 10:20AM
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@Lordmork

our RW lineup:

Wolf

McGratton

Wesgarth

Van Brabant

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#24 Lordmork
June 27 2014, 10:32AM
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@Jeff In Lethbridge

I understand it's easier to convert a centre to wing than to go the other way. Hartley seems to have converted Colborne to RW with some success, and Hudler seems able to play there. Also I guess Jones is a RW. None are a long-term solution but the RW depth isn't as bad as your list.

The Flames clearly need to either trade for some promising RW's, draft some, or convert existing players. Given our strength at LW, I'd be surprised if some of that didn't happen this season.

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#25 Jeff In Lethbridge
June 27 2014, 10:38AM
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@Lordmork

actually, all joking aside, I'm curious to see what happens with Wolf... is he a 3rd/4th liner Agitator/face-puncher PIM guy who can still put up 20-30 pts? or does he go to the baby-flames and fill in on the odd call-up if at all?

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#26 mattyc
June 27 2014, 10:46AM
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Yeah agree with TheRealPoc. Justin, it kind of feels like you're using numbers to support your opinion (instead of the other way around). I agree that Monahan's SH% is a little bonkers, and his CF% poopy, but it wasn't like he fell flat.

He was managing a good shot volume, and only had an 8,5 on-ice SH%. He also played with Colborne Russell and Butler a lot.

There's no question he isn't yet a true possession driver yet, but he's only had one season and played part of it injured, and still showed a lot of good signs.

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#28 KingQuong
June 27 2014, 11:03AM
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No Corban Knight? Do you guys have an age limit I've missed somewhere?

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#30 The Last Big Bear
June 27 2014, 11:42AM
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Sending Monahan back to junior may have been a bit better for his development. But it would also have the equivalent of posting a sign in the dressing room at the Dome that says:

"Dear Call-Up,

No matter how well you perform, or how much you deliver the goods during your call-up, we have already made up our minds about you. Even if you come in and massively outperform not only all expectations, but also other players at your position. Heck, you can LEAD THE FREAKING TEAM IN SCORING, it is just not possible to play your way into a full-time role on the Flames. You will be replaced by Blair Jones. Even if you are 10x better than Blair Jones.

But remember, every shift counts!

Sincerely, management."

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#31 mattyc
June 27 2014, 12:12PM
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@Justin Azevedo

I respect the work you do, and do enjoy the data/your articles, but I think sometimes a tone of absolutism creeps in - which is all I was commenting on.

There's facts, but then there's the discussion of those facts. I felt, on the whole, your discussion of the facts focused more on the negative aspects (unsustainable SH%, poor possession) rather than the positive ones (contextual reasons for poor possession numbers, teammates not burying any chances).

Just my opinion, respectfully.

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#32 Kenta
June 27 2014, 12:19PM
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Me thinks you protest too much. He struggled last year and still scored 22 goals. He has a year of NHL experience which is invaluable. Who cares about his ELC as we will likely struggle to reach a rising cap floor for the next few years. He is a stud who will have his ups and downs but I think he deserves more credit than you gave him in your article.

Your 23 year old cut off needs a re- think. Once a player makes the big club they should graduate from this list as you are comparing apples to oranges.

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#35 Kenta
June 27 2014, 01:05PM
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Justin Azevedo wrote:

I bet that isn't true. look at chicago: if you expect monahan to be a first liner and poirier to be a first liner, you're going to have cap troubles like they did in 2008.

yeah, they might not have any cap troubles at all! but the flames didn't have any troubles when they acquired jokinen and dressed 17 skaters for a game. i'm not saying it's going to happen, i'm saying it's not the best idea to willingly let yourself get into poor financial situations.

I don't believe it's comparing apples to oranges, considering monahan technically had the worst season of anyone on this list and he was ranked first?

Monahan has likely played more NHL games in one season than players 2 to 15 on your list combined. Apples to oranges.

If he had the worst season on the list why did everyone else on the panel rank him first and you rank him third?

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#36 seve927
June 27 2014, 01:26PM
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@Justin Azevedo

if you expect monahan to be a first liner and poirier to be a first liner, you're going to have cap troubles like they did in 2008.

Not sure what you're trying to say here. If it's Monahan should have been sent down, then what does that have to do with Poirier? He will be on an ELC in 2016/17, and the problem would come in 17/18, where it would have anyway. I would have a higher expectation of this year's first being a first liner, and he will be on an ELC in the year in question as well.

The only solution would be to not draft players you expect to be first liners.

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#37 dotfras
June 27 2014, 01:58PM
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Glad Monahan stayed with the team last year. I don't think playing another year on a horrible team in the OHL would have helped him any. Instead, he played on a pretty bad team in the NHL, at a higher place, against better players, and managed to put up some points. I don't think it hurt his development at all.

He's coming into camp with a full year of NHL experience. More than Granlund, Knight & Reinhart combined (they have 32 total).

My guess is he spends this year playing 3C sheltered minutes and getting PP time.

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#39 EugeneV
June 28 2014, 03:48AM
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Everyone please stop debating with Justin.

He is smarter than you, he is in University

He is always right.

Just ask him.

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#40 JoshH
July 08 2014, 01:54PM
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While I agree with the general opinion stated in this article...

"The following are facts and are not up for debate:

Sean Monahan produced pretty good counting numbers for a 19-year-old in the toughest league in the world last season. Sean Monahan produced horrible underlying numbers as a 19-year-old with easy circumstances. Sean Monahan was personally lucky on his way to scoring 22 goals."

...I'm hoping you do realize that every single one of these is an opinion and not a fact, right? They may be informed opinions, but a fact is fact. Each one of these items could be debated. Your opinion that they are not up for debate is yet another opinion. Especially; lucky is a "fact". Yikes.

Anyhow, my opinion is also that Money-Hands could certainly have used some dev time in the AHL, but the situation is what it is. We'll have to see how far he comes this year before rendering more judgement.

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