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How a Defensive Forward Turns Into a Scoring Threat

A look at how Jakob Silfverberg turned into a scoring machine after signing his contract extension.

St Louis Blues v Anaheim Ducks Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

On March 2nd, the Anaheim Ducks and Jakob Silfverberg finalized a five-year contract extension worth $5.25 million per season. Up until that point, the 28-year-old winger was sixth on the team in points with 24, but leading in goals with 16.

With the season two-thirds of the way gone, a two-way forward who had not before broken 23 goals in a season sitting at the top of the team scoring leaderboard was a damning indictment of just how ineffective Anaheim had been all season at generating offense. This fueled controversy among the Ducks fan base.

Some believed this was the right move, as Silfverberg is the kind of player all 31 teams would love to have in their lineup every night. Others believed that he didn’t fit into the Ducks’ ongoing transition into a younger, speedier, and more offensive team. Many of us here at Anaheim Calling fell into this bucket.

At the end of the day, however, the extension was signed, and now Silfverberg will be a member of the Anaheim Ducks for the foreseeable future. General Manager Bob Murray repeatedly told media throughout his tenure as interim head coach as well as season ticket holders in an exclusive Q&A session that the Swede was one of the players who most exemplified his desired qualities of consistency and a high compete-level.

Silfverberg immediately made Murray feel good about his praise and check-writing abilities. While putting up a career-high 24 goals and 43 points for his season total, Silfverberg unleashed 19 points (8G, 11A) in the final 17 games. That was good for a 91 point and 39 goal pace if you extrapolated those numbers out over a full season.

Before signing his extension, the Ducks controlled 46.83% of the shot attempts and 47.63% of the scoring chances with him on the ice at 5-on-5. After putting the pen to the paper, those numbers went to 48.45% in shot attempts and an even 50% on scoring chances. An improvement, but not a significant one.

So what then sparked the winger’s scoring rampage?

Colorado Avalanche v Anaheim Ducks Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images

The main reason was his shooting percentage. Up until the extension, Silfverberg was shooting 12.6% on the season, above his career average of 9.5%. However, instead of regressing as expected, that shooting percentage exploded to 22.22%, despite the fact that the team was only getting off an extra couple shot attempts per game with him on the ice.

It could have been because he was no longer hampered by a hobbled Ryan Kesler. It could have been that he formed a formidable Swedish tandem with Rickard Rakell, who began to rebound to his career norms in terms of shot metrics at the same time. Or maybe he was just so excited to finally be free of the Carlyle-shutdown line shackles and to deployed in an offensive role for the first time in his Ducks career.

It was probably a combination of all three.

Regardless of the mental reasoning, there’s no denying that Silfverberg showed a scoring side that many had suspected was there, but had never appeared for an extended period of time during his Ducks tenure.

Unfortunately, a 39 goal, 91 point pace is not something that should be expected out of Silfverberg going forward, even if the new Ducks coach told him to just straddle the opposing team’s blue line and wait for the outlet pass. No one can sustain a 22% shooting percentage, not even the king of the itchy trigger finger, Alex Ovechkin, who sports a career 12.6% mark. That number will regress, and the scoring pace will decrease.

But there is some hope that Silfverberg can at least make a run at a 30 goal season and become part of the secondary scoring solution the Ducks have been lacking in recent years. His newfound chemistry with Rickard Rakell gives Murray and the new coach an intriguing option in the potential top six lineup combinations. If those two are deployed in an offensive capacity similar to their final 17 games of the season, Silfverberg would theoretically have more opportunities to shoot the puck. More shots = more chances for goals.

Rakell is a good example of how a player can sustain scoring success by increasing shot rate. In Rakell’s first 30 goal campaign, he shot 18.6%. His second campaign a year later saw him score one more goal, but with a more manageable 14.8%, indicating that he put the puck on net more often to maintain his success.

Silfverberg could certainly do the same. Granted, a 28-year-old in his 7th NHL season is much less likely to have significant changes in development than a 24-year-old in his 3rd full season. But the potential groundwork is there. It’s up to the new regime to see if they can make use of it.

Is Silfverberg a late-blooming offensive threat? Or is he still the same, safe, two-way player he’s been for most of his career? Players like Brad Marchand and Joe Pavelski were considered to be good, but not great players for several years before developing into legitimate scoring threats later in their development path. The precedent exists, but it’s not incredibly common. Silfverberg would have to buck the trend, and 17 games is much too small a sample size to draw any conclusions about a potential transition to a true scoring threat.

But he’s shown that he has the shooting talent to increase his career scoring pace beyond that of a traditional defensive forward. He also demonstrated a knack for getting into the soft areas of the ice for prime scoring chances alongside Rakell, all while retaining his knack for responsible defensive play.

With his contract extension kicking in next season, Murray and co. will be looking toward Silfverberg to help lead the next wave of Ducks players in 2020 and beyond; hopefully as the same end-of-season scoring threat at the end of the 2018-2019 season.

Numbers courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and Hockey-Reference.