12Sean Monahan
Photo Credit: Candice Ward / USA Today Sports

FlamesNation Player Evaluation: Sean Monahan

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.

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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:

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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.

On-ice impact

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.

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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):

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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):

Year CF% CF60 CA60 GF% xGF% Rel.CF%
 2015-16  48.10%  54.06  58.33  51.38%  48.4% -0.09
 2016-17  50.32%  58.74  57.99  51.72%  48.08% -0.43

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.

What’s next?

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

  • everton fc

    My evaluation of Monahan:

    One of the best young centres in the NHL. We are fortunate to have him, and I cant’ wait to watch Bennett silence all his doubters with a “break-out” season in 2017-18.

    • thprop

      I couldn’t agree more he is just going to get better…and for those of you who want more nasty in his game…be patient he is never going to be Kesler (thank God) but as he grows into his “man strength” he will get more push back in his game.

  • Newbietwo

    Monohan is only starting to physically become comfortable in the league.. in future he will be better at generating play and using his body better.. it’s coming just need to be patient.. same goes for Bennett.. the thing is when you start bulking it changes your stride so it takes a while to get your skating speed back.. not your top end but the speed at which you get there..

  • Vinnsanity12

    I find the disrespect (unintended?) towards Ferland maddening. It’s no coincidence that Mony and Johnny really started to find their groove once he joined them. Ferland’s skill set is crazy for a big man and his hands are like velvet. He makes a lot of subtle plays that go unnoticed. I’m probably alone, but I feel that he offers everything Tkachuk does if not more, but he just needs a prolonged opportunity. I can only imagine where his point totals would be if he’d been given the PP time that Chiasson and Brouwer were. Mony will continue to develop into a top NHL centerman. I know the league is getting younger, but we keep forgetting that he is still a baby!! It is actually the ultimate compliment to him that we expect so much from him at such a young age, because he has done so well so soon in his career.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      I thinkMonny’s early season struggles had more to do with his injury than his contract. His back injury really slowed him down and when speedos not your forte it becomes really noticeable. Like MT he needs to work on his explosiveness while adding lean muscle mass.

      As for Ferland, he has a sneaky good skill set. He can play with skilled players but he seems to struggle along the boards. He does not knock down pucks as well as his linemates which hurts him as a net front presence.

      He seems to have a lot of skills like Simmonds except for the ability to track loose pucks in the crease. I think he realizes he has a great opportunity to play on the top line and will work hard in the off season.

      It makes you wonder, if Ferland plays on the top line and has some success if people will just chalk it up to his linemates or will he get the respect he deserves.

    • I totally agree! Ferland has really surprised me the last couple years. He actually can keep up with those two. Especially Gaudreau who thinks fast. I even think that Monahan may be the “slowest” in keeping up mentally which is a great thing! I think he was a bit snake bitten which luck. I think he can turn into a scorer.

  • smatic10

    I’m not sure what clicked in the playoffs for him but I saw a compete level I’ve never seen from him. He took charge and led by example. If he plays like that in the regular season he’s going to put up career highs.

  • Franko J

    Skating will never be his forte.
    However, he can really snipe the puck.
    With his continued growth I hope his play along the boards and one-on-one battles keep improving.

  • cjc

    I wonder if the the strategy of having all of the play drivers (Backlund, Frolik, Tkachuk) on one line is the best?Particularly on the road, since it is more difficult to match lines.

  • Alberta Ice

    There is a reason the sports broadcasters nickname Sean- ‘Money Hands’. He began the year working through an injury and came on strong at the end of the year. He’s been playing the against the best from most teams. And one never knows how the pressure of a huge contract and increased expectation may have affected the start of this past season. He reminds me of a young Joe Nieuwendyk when Joe was in his early Flames years. So glad to have him on this team and signed for a few years to come.