FlamesNation Player Evaluations: Sean Monahan

Sean Monahan had an extremely quick path to the NHL. A centre with both size and skill, he earned his way onto the Flames beyond his initial nine-game tryout. As a rookie, he scored 22 goals. As a sophomore, he went up to 62 points.

His third season would see him maintain those lofty totals, and continue to establish him as a key part of the Flames’ future.

Season summary

Despite his stellar offensive numbers from the get-go, there was some reason to be wary of Monahan. He scored 22, and then 31 goals – but on shooting percentages of 15.7, and 16.2. The good news, though, was that he was at least putting a lot of pucks on net: 140 as a rookie, and then 191 as a sophomore, which led the Flames.

That trend continued in his third season. Monahan put the puck on net 197 times, increasing his previous season’s output by six shots in the same number of games (though this time around, he was third on the team in shots, behind Johnny Gaudreau and Mark Giordano, with Dougie Hamilton nipping at his heels). He didn’t reach the 30 goal mark again, though – topping out at 27, with a shooting percentage of 13.7. Not as high as his previous years – if it had been, he’d have scored 32 goals – but more than enough to firmly establish Monahan as a guy this team can count on to score.

In addition to 27 goals, he also had 36 assists, giving him a new career high in points: 63, beating out the previous season by one. He played 81 games, and had there not been some Superbowl-y shenanigans, he likely would have played all 82. Aside from his fractured foot back in his rookie season, Monahan has maintained a healthy career in the NHL.

Averaging 19:10 minutes a game, Monahan was the Flames’ second-most used forward, behind Gaudreau by 45 seconds. He played first line minutes, and in all situations. His 262:07 was second most on the Flames in powerplay time (again behind Gaudreau), and his 20 powerplay points also gave him that distinction. He also played 65:01 on the penalty kill: 11th on the Flames, and the sixth most-used forward, behind Mikael Backlund, Matt Stajan, Michael Frolik, Josh Jooris, and Lance Bouma.

Monahan now leads the entire 2013 draft class in points, with 159 – six more than Nathan MacKinnon, albeit in 19 more games played. He’s a clear offensive force – though, considering how his linemate, Gaudreau, scored 15 more points than him over the year, he’s not the most formidable the Flames have, though he’s still someone opposing teams have to plan around.

Impact on team

Top left has players in most difficult circumstances: more defensive zone starts and tougher competition. Bottom right has players in easiest circumstances: a lot of offensive zone starts and weak competition. The bigger a player’s circle, the more he plays. The bluer, the greater his possession relative to his teammates; the redder, the worse. Click on image for full-sized chart from Corsica.

monahan usage

Monahan was one of the most sheltered players on the Flames in terms of zone starts, but his job is to score, and score he did, so that’s fine. He also faced off against top competition on other teams, and still had his second 60-point season in a row, so there are no worries here.

The real worry to be found is how he played nearly identical circumstances to Gaudreau, and how much weaker his corsi is. Monahan’s 5v5 CF of 48.10% was 12th on the Flames. For context, Gaudreau’s was 49.55% – nearly breaking even – and Joe Colborne, ahead of Monahan but with significantly weaker zone starts, was 48.12%. 

That’s some cause for concern: while Colborne can’t necessarily be expected to replicate his season offensively, and he definitely doesn’t have the offensive talent Monahan does, the fact that he can post roughly the same corsi stats despite being used in a much more defensive role – even if he did have the Backlund Bump – does point to some questions around Monahan.

monahan wowy

Very few players who frequently played with Monahan saw their numbers go down within his presence; David Jones and Deryk Engelland appear to be the only ones, but their ice time with him was relatively minor. A couple of players – Kris Russell and Giordano – were unaffected by him, but Monahan was better away from Russell, and worse away from Giordano. Hamilton appears to have been slightly better away from him.

Then, there are the players Monahan’s presence benefited: Dennis Wideman, Jiri Hudler, Gaudreau, Micheal Ferland, and T.J. Brodie. He and Hudler greatly benefited one another in particular.

The key player to focus on here, of course, is Gaudreau. Monahan and Gaudreau didn’t spend much time apart – but when they did, Monahan’s corsi plummeted. Combine that with the fact that Gaudreau scored so much more than him despite the two having nearly identical usage, and a question forms: is Gaudreau the one driving the line?

What comes next?

Monahan should, in all likelihood, have another 60 point season next year, and we might just be able to expect 60 point seasons from him from here on out. If he doesn’t reach 30 goals again next season, he should at least come close to it.

There are two main concerns here. Monahan didn’t start putting up 60 point seasons until Gaudreau joined the Flames. This isn’t entirely on him – his rookie season saw him playing sheltered minutes on a bad team, and he was, you know, a rookie – but considering how much Gaudreau seems to have risen above him, and how the two need new contracts, it does call into question if they should really get matching deals. And if they do, hopefully they’re more reflective of Monahan’s talent, because as it stands right now, he doesn’t quite deserve the contract Gaudreau does.

The other concern? Despite being heralded as an excellent two-way player coming out of juniors, Monahan has yet to show that particular talent in the NHL. This is where it will be extremely interesting to see how his new coach, whoever he may end up being, uses him – and how well Monahan responds. If better coaching sees him play a stronger two-way game, great; if that’s not who Monahan is, then that’s fine, too, because he’s still a big 60+ point centre.

  • Greatsave

    “Is Gaudreau the one driving the line?”

    I think this remains a fair question. Luckily, Their corsi together is better than either one apart (though obviously Gaudreau is not as severely affected), which at least suggests that they are complementary to each other.

    • Baalzamon

      Part of that, though, is Gaudreau got to play with either Bennett or Backlund when he was away from Monahan. Who did Monahan play with away from Gaudreau? Jones and Colborne?

      • Greatsave

        And that’s a fair point also. Dug into some wowy numbers on puckalytics/hockeyanalysis, and here’s what I found for 2015/16:

        Gaudreau w/o Monahan: 34.8% GF, 48.7% CF

        Monahan w/o Gaudreau: 31.8% GF, 39.0% CF

        You’re suggesting that Gaudreau got to play with Backs and Bennett, so let’s see:

        Gaudreau w/o Monahan, w/ Backs OR Bennett: 140 mins, 54.5% GF, 54.9% CF

        Gaudreau w/o Monahan, Backs, and Bennett: 88 mins, 16.7% GF, 38.4% CF

        Monahan w/o Gaudreau, Backs, and Bennett: 147 mins, 33.3% GF, 40.6% CF

        So, was Gaudreau better with Backlund/Bennett than without them? Sure. But I would caution two things about Gaudreau’s horrific numbers without any of 23, 11, and 93: 1) Sample size getting terribly small, and 2) You run into the same problem that Monahan had: poor quality of linemates. You are, afterall, essentially saying “Gaudreau is terrible away from the team’s top 3 centers” and “who’s he playing with, Stajan and Jooris?”

        • Baalzamon

          You are, afterall, essentially saying “Gaudreau is terrible away from the team’s top 3 centers” and “who’s he playing with, Stajan and Jooris?”

          I’m not saying anything of the kind. All I’m saying is, when Monahan was away from Gaudreau he was pretty much shafted for linemates, whereas Gaudreau still spent time with relative play drivers like Bennett and Backlund (and Frolik). Ergo, a straight up Monahan with Gaudreau vs Monahan without Gaudreau vs Gaudreau without Monahan comparison is slightly misleading. Monahan comes off worse than he probably deserves.

          • Greatsave

            Sorry I didn’t make myself clear. I wasn’t implying that *you* were saying it; I was pointing out that “if you want to look at Gaudreau without the team’s top 3 centers (because Backs and Bennett are better drivers than the other wingers Monahan played with), you essentially run into the same situation as Monahan playing with Jones and Colborne.”

            And maybe you have a point there, that a straight up comparison ignores the quality of other linemates. These numbers, therefore, may be more reflective of a lack of wing-depth than the genuine difference in quality between Gaudreau and Monahan.

    • Stan

      Hmmmm, I honestly disagree. I think that it is fairly obvious that Gaudreau is driving the line. He is the heartbeat of the Flames offence and is going to be the driver of any line that he is on – he is that good. I honestly still cannot believe that he finished 6th in NHL scoring at age 22. That is absolutely insane. You have to go all the way down to 22nd on the NHL top scoring list to find a player the same age as Johnny Hockey. Interestingly enough, that player is Nikita Kucherov who the Flames had also target in the same draft in which they got Johnny.

      That is not to say that Monahan is a passenger on the line – as others (and this article) have stated, they complement each other very well. I just think that to say that someone other then Johnny drives his line is borderline heresy 😛

  • The Last Big Bear

    But realistically, as I’ve been saying all along, Monahan is more like a Ryan Smith than a Joe Niewyndyk Neiwendyk Niewindik Thornton.

    He’s a guy with 2nd line talent, but with a nose for the net that sees him post 1st liner goal production. Hes young enough to eventually become something more, but I think he mostly is what he is.

    But at the end of the day, I’ll take a big-bodied 30 goal centre every day of the week, whether he’s stirring the drink or not.

    • Stan

      Ummm, what? Monahan isa 21 year old center. 21!!!! And you are saying that he is what he is? I’m sorry but that is just plain wrong. Forwards usually do not hit there peaks until they are in their mid-late 20’s. Monahan still has A TONNE of developing to do before you can make that statement. 5-8 years of development to be precise. He has made improvements in his game every year, and I expect the following years to be no different, especially as the team improves around him.

  • Brodano12

    Monahan has been improving his possession numbers every year he’s been in the league. He’s been a top line centre for the past 2 years, playing against the likes of Toews, Getzlaf, Kopitar, Pavelski, Sedin, etc while still only being 20-21 years old. His possession numbers haven’t been great because of this, but like I said, he’s been improving every year despite playing in a perpetual bottom 10 possession system.

    However, the eye test clearly shows that he is strong defensively. Also, on the point about how he may be a ‘passenger’ on Gaudreau’s line – he was actually on pace for ~35 goals and ~55 points in 2014/2015 even before he was put on Gaudreau’s line – and back then, he was playing with GlenX and Jones (and it’s a 30+ game sample size, so it’s significant). While it would be foolish to say he isn’t boosted by playing with Gaudreau (which player isn’t?), to say he isn’t a first line centre in his own right isn’t true. And he’s still only 21 – Gaudreau entered the league at 21 for pete’s sake!!!