Brock Nelson has turned some heads to start this season – particularly those of the media who don’t know any non-Tavares Islanders. 4 goals in 3 games (now 4 in 4) demands some respect after all. But there’s a big number next to that 4 goal, 3 assist stat line that is a bit more alarming: Brock is shooting 80% in those 4 games.
Now anyone with 4 goals in 3-4 games is going to have a fluky high shooting % (unless your name is Steven Stamkos, apparently). That’s not the issue. The issue is this: if you’ve scored 4 goals, and have an 80% shooting %, that means you’ve only taken FIVE SHOTS ON GOAL. And two of Nelson’s goals have come basically on deflections (one in mid-air off his knee), so he arguably deserves to be credited with LESS shots!
This is a surprise. Coming into this season, there were two interesting questions when it came to shot totals. The first involved Mikhail Grabovski, whose shots and shot attempts per 60 tanked last year with the Caps. That question has been answered with a resounding positive so far: Grabovski leads the Isles with over 20 shot attempts per 60 at even strength (for comparison, the last 7 years he’s been at 13.4, and last year he was at 8.448).
The second involved Nelson, who was actually THIRD in shot attempts (corsi) per 60 last year for the Isles at 14.6 attempts per 60, but was only 7th with an average rate of SOG/60 since a high % of his shots were blocked last year. Research tends to support the idea that the % of shots of a player that are blocked is very random, meaning we would’ve expected Nelson to “take a leap” as more of his shots wound up on net. And it also seemed possible, with better linemates certain and his rookie year behind him, that Nelson would take an actual leap and increase his shot totals.
As I mentioned above, that hasn’t happened, and it’s a potential worry. Ignoring the power play (which should net Nelson extra shots, but hasn’t really yet), at even strength, only Josh Bailey, notorious for refusing to shoot, is taking less shots per 60 amongst Isles forwards – Nelson’s shot attempts per 60 through 4 games is only 10.16 – a 30% decrease from last year!
This is important because shot volume is the real key to goal scoring, not shooting %. Shooting %, as you should know, is incredibly fluky (leading to big hot and cold streaks), and your best shooters, barring the rare exception like Steven Stamkos, put up large #s by taking LOTS and LOTS of shots – see John Tavares for example. If Nelson is going to be a 20 goal scorer, year in and year out, he’d need probably to take around 200 shots on goal per year, or a rate of 2.43 shots per game. And that’s to be a TWENTY goal scorer, not exactly a high bar. Right now he’s achieving a rate at half that number, and that needs to change.
Now unlike a Josh Bailey, last year suggests pretty strongly that Nelson has the talent to do better than this. And Nelson’s line (especially when Grabbo comes back) will play well enough that even without scoring, he’s a good player. But by increasing his shooting, he could become truly great. And with Grabbo – a high volume shooter – now out, Nelson’s shot will become increasing important.
He needs to make use of it more. A lot more.