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Analysis: Ryan Getzlaf is shooting the puck more than ever

After years of criticism of not shooting the puck as much as he should, the Ducks captain is assuredly pulling the trigger.

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San Jose Sharks v Anaheim Ducks Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Ryan Getzlaf has been an elite player for the majority of his career, especially so with regards to the top playmakers in the league. The former 2003 19th overall draft pick has been the primary driver of the Ducks’ offense for years utilizing his unique combination of size, vision, smarts, and puck movement skills.

There is one criticism of his game, however, that has been leveled at the Ducks captain since his junior hockey days with the Calgary Hitmen: that he doesn’t shoot the puck enough.

He even talked about it in 2015, noting that he didn’t have to shoot the puck more often because he was usually surrounded by finishers. With guys on his wing like Corey Perry and Rickard Rakell, this has certainly been the case. While Getzlaf has always had a very good and underrated shot, as evidenced by his above average 11.7 shooting percentage, he historically has not had to break it out as a primary weapon.

Now, with Corey Perry playing for the Dallas Stars and Rickard Rakell finding plenty of chemistry with Adam Henrique and Jakob Silfverberg, Getzlaf finds himself at a crossroads. For the first time in a long time, he no longer has at least one proven finisher tied to his hip on the ice.

This season Getzlaf has seen the most ice time with Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie on either wing. Both of these skaters are excellent playdrivers, but neither have shown the kind of consistent finishing ability that allows Getzlaf to focus on his passing and generate scoring chances for others. Additionally, it’s not like Kase and Ritchie have spent the entire season next to him either. Other players, like Troy Terry and Max Jones, have also gotten time next to their captain.

If there’s one thing that’s been consistent for Getzlaf over the past couple of years, it’s that his wingers have been inconsistent.

The captain talked with The Athletic’s Eric Stephens ahead of his 1,000th career NHL game a few weeks ago noting that his role is evolving on a team trying to transition into the future with a dearth of young players finding their footing under the bright lights of NHL arenas. He expressed a willingness to “simplify, shoot the puck a bit more, play wherever they need me to play right now — we’ll direct that for whatever’s best for the group.”

It seems as though Getzlaf realizes that, without proven finishers on his wing anymore, shooting the puck is what’s best for the group. Twenty-two games into the season, it appears that Getzlaf has indeed begun shooting the puck more. Not only that, but he’s doing it at the highest level of his career.

As seen above, Getzlaf is shooting at puck at a level not seen since his career best 2008-09 season. These numbers back up the eye test suspicions of many fans who have watched him carry the puck into the slot and put it towards the net as opposed to dishing it to one of his teammates. The significant uptick is one of the few bright spots in an anemic Ducks offense this season.

As I mentioned in my article last week breaking down some common advanced stats and why they’re important, shot attempts do a better job at predicting future goals than actual goals scored. It’s a simple equation: the more a player shoots, the more chances he has to score goals. And with a good enough shot over a period of time, a player with a historically better-than-league-average shooting percentage (~9.5%) almost always translates to more goals.

Getzlaf’s shooting percentage is up from last year as well, which naturally translates to more goals scored in addition to his increase in shot attempt.

Not only are his overall attempts up, but he’s getting more of those puck on net as well, currently generating more shots on goal per 60 minutes of ice time than at any point in his career since 2007-08. Keep in mind this is all situations, which includes his time on a Ducks power play that has had the eighth-least amount of time with the man advantage in the league.

If Anaheim is able to draw more penalties as the season moves along, it’s extremely probable that the rate at which Getzlaf shoots will go up even further. That’s a pretty big if, though.

At the end of the day, however, shots aren’t what wins games: goals are the sole measure. Obviously without shots, goals don’t happen. But translating those shots into actual scoring is what will determine if this season is a success for Getzlaf.

The good news is that this jump in shooting combined with the jump in shooting percentage has Getzlaf second on the team in goals and puts him on-pace to score 29 goals this season, which would be the second-highest total of his career. In 2013-14, he potted a career-best 31 goals en route to a runner-up finish for the Hart Trophy.

But here’s the kicker: this goal-scoring pace has the potential to get even better.

On four separate occasions, Getzlaf has has an individual expected goals (which uses the locations of his shots on the ice and other factors to determine how likely a shot will result in a goal) per 60 rate above his career average. After three seasons of less shots than usual from dangerous areas on the ice, he has bounced back to his career average.

There are a host of factors that contribute to a player working his way into the most dangerous areas of the ice to shoot, but Getzlaf has proven on multiple occasions that he is capable of finding the soft spots in prime shooting areas. If he can work on getting to these areas more while maintaining his high volume of shot attempts, we could actually see his goal scoring pace go up. Indeed, this might be a realistic scenario with a renewed Max Jones on his wing now bullying his way to the front of the net to create space.

Make no mistake: Getzlaf has not suddenly turned into a 40+ goal pure sniper; he’s still firmly a playmaker first and foremost. But he is at a point in his career where he seems to realize that, without his usual 30 goal partners alongside him for 15 minutes per night, the slack on getting the puck towards the net needs to be picked up.

These kinds of developments are very good news for Ducks fans. It means that Getzlaf has the ability to adapt his game and remain effective as he continues his steady march towards the twilight of his career. The San Jose SharksJoe Thornton is the classic modern example of aging gracefully, and that longevity has all but guaranteed him a first-ballot Hockey Hall Of Fame election.

I wrote before the season started about the possibility of Getzlaf bouncing back from a career-worst year in 2018-19, and it seems as though the underlying numbers that indicated he was far from finished as a high-end/borderline elite player have helped propel him back into the player that has so often been the lifeblood of the offense.

It’s a bright spot in an otherwise frustrating year for the Ducks as a team. As the kids transition into every day players, the 34-year-old center has given Bob Murray and Co. some relief in knowing that their long-time leader can still give them plenty of production now and into the future on his steady march towards the Hockey Hall Of Fame and his status as the Ducks best player ever.