Who is the best fit to centre Jonathan Huberdeau?

Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Munnich
6 months ago
One topic of conversation that has persisted since Jonathan Huberdeau arrived in Calgary is what centre he was going to play with.
Well, we are 102 games into his time with the Flames, and we still don’t have a definitive answer to that question.
Let’s do a deep dive into Huberdeau’s numbers at 5-on-5 with all of Elias Lindholm, Nazem Kadri, and Mikael Backlund from this and last season and mix in a little eye test to see who he has had the best results with.
We will look at the 5-on-5 results with both Huberdeau and his centre on the ice at the same time. We will also look at Huberdeau’s results without each centre, and each centre’s results without Huberdeau.
All stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, and excluding the Flames’ game on Thursday with Dallas. (W/O = Without)

Elias Lindholm 

The eye test and the numbers indicate that Huberdeau and Lindholm lack chemistry. On paper, these two are a match made in heaven. We all thought that Huberdeau could help recreate the connection Johnny Gaudreau and Lindholm had for such a long time. But it hasn’t worked. And I don’t think anyone truly knows why.
They don’t connect at 5-on-5. They don’t connect on the power play. Ryan Huska should put this experiment to bed for good.

Nazem Kadri

Kadri and Huberdeau have some pretty decent results together. The Flames score a lot of goals when they’re on the ice together. But they also let in a lot of goals. But we do have to keep in mind that Kadri and Huberdeau played a lot of minutes with Milan Lucic on their wing. That is going to hurt their results.
They take a lot of shots when on the ice and they are able to create high danger chances at a decent rate.
An interesting note is Kadri has a better HDCF% and HDCF/60 without Huberdeau than with him.

Mikael Backlund 

These are the most interesting results. Huberdeau has had the most success when playing with Backlund. They’ve outscored their opposition 21-11 and have the highest expected goals for percentage out of any of the duo’s in this article.
It’s a different story for Backlund. His underlying numbers are quite a bit worse with Huberdeau than without. His expected goals percentage drops more than 6%, his HDCF% drops nearly 9%, and his HDCF/60 drops over 4 when playing with Huberdeau. That’s a big drop off in results.
We all know Backlund makes his linemates better players. And that continues to be the case with Huberdeau on his wing.
But Huberdeau is actually making Backlund a worse player when paired together. Fortunately for the Flames, Backlund is a high end 5-on-5 player regardless of who he plays with.
I think the current line configurations are working well for the time being. Huberdeau and Backlund are fine together. They’re certainly not a perfect match. But Backlund does seem to be helping Huberdeau simplify his game.
However, there will come a time when Huska breaks up those two. When that happens, I’d like to see the head coach put Huberdeau and Kadri back together. This time with a more talented linemate than Lucic. The duo of Kadri and Huberdeau have produced a decent number of goals at 5-on-5. I’d like to see them get a look together again.
What centre do you think Huberdeau works best with? Let us know in the comments section!

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