Sean Monahan, for all the right and wrong reasons, is a polarizing player in many fans’ eyes, from having misnomers applied to him as a Toews-lite to being regarded as a significant liability while on the ice. Somewhere in the middle of those extremes is the truth: a young centre, with a knack for scoring, and who made some strides this year to round out his game a little more.
A lot of points of discussion regarding Monahan’s development were validated this year. If you shelter him and work with what his existing skill set is, you’ll find some growth. Like others this past season, Monahan had some growing pains initially under Glen Gulutzan but by the end of the year we saw a more refined perspective of his game so far.
2016-17 season summary
It would be fair to say the first quarter of the season may have been the worst hockey of Monahan’s career, dating back to his rookie campaign. With just eight points in his first 20 games, there were some calling for him to be dealt or pinned to the fourth line. Part of that came from some noticeable issues with adapting to Gulutzan’s system, the right wing position being in flux with a variety linemates at times, and some real honest lulls in his game.
These were growing pains, though – some of which may induce nausea – which capped off the absolute doldrums of his season at that point:
I can't figure out why Monahan didn't support the puck battle there. Skates by, out of position when the Flames lose the puck battle: pic.twitter.com/8qdmJmqu4X
— AOL KEYWORD: Mike (@mikeFAIL) November 22, 2016
Monahan failing to get the puck out of the zone allowed Evander Kane to get the entry which led to the 5-on-3.
— AOL KEYWORD: Mike (@mikeFAIL) November 22, 2016
Fortunately, by mid-way through the season we started seeing the regular, boring ol’ Monahan again. One of the key elements in helping transition him into a slightly different role was the aspect of Gulutzan using the 3M line to take a bulk of the defensive zone starts. This gave Monahan’s line more opportunity to play in some more sheltered situations and put their various strengths into incrementally more beneficial circumstances.
One of the most under discussed elements of Monahan this past season wasn’t so much his production, but it was the way he engaged in play away from the puck. The addition of Micheal Ferland and noticeable individual growth brought out other sides of his game. He was engaging on the forecheck, he was starting to play a bit more efficiently in the neutral zone, and he was quickly finding himself improving in his shot metrics.
Despite the slow start he finished with 27 goals and 58 points total in the regular season, which included his 5v5 SH% dropping from 14.18% in 2015-16 to 10.37% in 2016-17. And in the playoffs there was no denying Monahan on the power play despite the sweep. He scored four goals, all on the power play.
This is where the two sides of Monahan take real shape. The aforementioned elements of growth are important, as it is with any young player that’s part of the core. The big dilemma facing Monahan is, by all accounts, the impact he has in his own zone (via HockeyViz.com):
On the left, we see the impact of Monahan in his own zone in terms of unblocked shots against relative to league average. It’s not pretty and that’s being polite, whereas when he’s off the ice we see the team isn’t giving up as much relative to league average.
We can also see elements of his on-ice impact in shot generation for the team as well:
The one obvious thing about Monahan is his propensity for shooting in the home plate area. By all accounts that’s his wheelhouse and it’s imperative to his long-term success to continue to get to those positions to score. Part of that comes with systems, part of that comes from his various inputs, and another critical part of that comes from his linemates helping him get there. We know so far in his career that Monahan isn’t a definite driver of play yet.
It may come or it may not, so finding him and Gaudreau an adequate winger that can assist in this department is a vital focus moving forward. That said, most – if not all – of the team this year saw some improvements in terms of their shot metrics under Gulutzan at 5v5 (via Corsica):
Part of this comes from the aforementioned sheltering, but a lot of it came from how the team – as a whole – adjusted overall. It’s fantastic to see this, as we’ve seen historically Monahan hasn’t had the easiest ride. It’s a positive feeling to see some aspects of his outputs improve, particularly in regards to his raw CF% and CF60. Other areas remained close to the same or static, but Rome wasn’t built in a day (5v5 data via Corsica):
Most common linemates
Despite some of the scoring woes striking the team when together, Alex Chiasson alongside Monahan and Gaudreau wasn’t incredibly awful. He just didn’t have the necessary finishing talent to play with them. The addition of Ferland helped improve their GF%, which is nice, but they broke just above 50% in shot shares. The drag of Troy Brouwer, which has been well documented, shows the need for top end talent to be acquired to play on that line.
It’s a matter of building appropriately on what transpired in 2016-17 for Sean Monahan. On one hand, he managed to score 27 goals despite his shooting percentage cratering a bit. Within that is a huge need for growth among the team in areas to assist him and his cohorts, though. The key to success for him next season is being played similarly to this past year: in a sheltered role. The team has the luxury of the 3M line – for the time being – to take a lot of difficult things off the Monahan line’s plate.
If the team along with Monahan can continue to make strides in generating shots and creating more offense then this team is in a good spot. Down year or not, Gulutzan managed to get more out of Monahan than I had expected. Point totals be damned, the Monahan we saw at the end of this season is the kind of Monahan I want to see moving forward.
|#1 – Brian Elliott||#5 – Mark Giordano|
|#6 – Dennis Wideman||#7 – T.J. Brodie|
|#10 – Kris Versteeg||#11 – Mikael Backlund|
|#13 – Johnny Gaudreau||#17 – Lance Bouma|
|#18 – Matt Stajan||#19 – Matthew Tkachuk|