How many goals will Jordan Eberle score next season?

Jonathan Willis
July 16 2012 09:27AM

Jordan Eberle had a great 2011-12 season. However, his goal-scoring was largely shooting percentage-based – does that mean it’s going to drop off, or is Eberle one of the league’s rare high-percentage shooters?

To try and answer that question, I decided to look at a group of 15 players since the mid-1990’s who had posted shooting percentage totals similar to Jordan Eberle over their first two seasons. The list is as follows, with the group average compared to Eberle’s totals over his first two seasons at the bottom:

Rk Player From To GP G A PTS S S%
1 Mark Parrish 1999 2000 154 50 31 81 281 17.8
2 Jonathan Toews 2008 2009 146 58 65 123 339 17.1
3 Paul Stastny 2007 2008 148 52 97 149 323 16.1
4 Alexander Radulov 2007 2008 145 44 51 95 279 15.8
5 Evgeni Malkin 2007 2008 160 80 111 191 514 15.6
6 Steven Stamkos 2009 2010 161 74 67 141 478 15.5
7 Lee Stempniak 2006 2007 139 41 38 79 266 15.4
8 Thomas Vanek 2006 2007 163 68 64 132 441 15.4
9 Ilya Kovalchuk 2002 2003 146 67 51 118 441 15.2
10 Ryan Malone 2004 2006 158 44 43 87 292 15.1
11 Dany Heatley 2002 2003 159 67 89 156 454 14.8
12 Martin Havlat 2001 2002 145 41 51 92 278 14.7
13 Alexander Semin 2004 2007 129 48 47 95 335 14.3
14 Sidney Crosby 2006 2007 160 75 147 222 528 14.2
15 Jonathan Cheechoo 2003 2004 147 37 26 63 269 13.8
  Average     151 56 65 121 368 15.3
* Jordan Eberle 2011 2012 147 52 67 119 338 15.4

As we can see, the averages compare very well to Eberle’s two-year totals, so this would seem to be a comparable group. How did they do in their third NHL season?

To answer that question, I’ve nixed Alexander Radulov (he left for Russia after his second NHL season) and gathered the numbers for this group’s third year:

Player GP G SH SH%
Mark Parrish 70 17 123 13.8%
Jonathan Toews 76 25 202 12.4%
Paul Stastny 45 11 118 9.3%
Evgeni Malkin 82 35 290 12.1%
Steven Stamkos 82 45 272 16.5%
Lee Stempniak 80 13 162 8.0%
Thomas Vanek 82 36 240 15.0%
Ilya Kovalchuk 81 41 341 12.0%
Ryan Malone 64 16 125 12.8%
Dany Heatley 31 13 83 15.7%
Martin Havlat 67 24 179 13.4%
Alexander Semin 63 26 185 14.1%
Sidney Crosby 53 24 173 13.9%
Jonathan Cheechoo 82 56 317 17.7%
Total 958 382 2810 13.6%
Average 68 27 201 13.6%

The games played total is lower, but I wouldn’t read too much into that – it’s really a function of three players (Stastny, Heatley and Crosby) missing time in their third seasons. Overall, shooting percentage fell significantly – Stamkos and Cheechoo were the significant exceptions, though Cheechoo would fall off the map over the next two seasons – but an increase in shot rates made up the vast majority of the difference.

Based on this group, we would expect Jordan Eberle to see a jump in total shots, a slight dip in shooting percentage, and maintain similar goal-scoring numbers next season. Or would we?

The Other Way of Looking At It

In our initial look at this problem, we considered the first and second years of these players as one sample, not bothering to split up those two seasons to see how much progress each player made. If we do that, how does Eberle compare to the average?

Player 1GP 1G 1S 1SH% 2GP 2G 2S 2SH%
Mark Parrish 73 24 129 18.6% 81 26 152 17.1%
Jonathan Toews 64 24 144 16.7% 82 34 195 17.4%
Paul Stastny 82 28 185 15.1% 66 24 138 17.4%
Evgeni Malkin 78 33 242 13.6% 82 47 272 17.3%
Steven Stamkos 79 23 181 12.7% 82 51 297 17.2%
Lee Stempniak 57 14 100 14.0% 82 27 166 16.3%
Thomas Vanek 81 25 204 12.3% 82 43 237 18.1%
Ilya Kovalchuk 65 29 184 15.8% 81 38 257 14.8%
Ryan Malone 81 22 139 15.8% 77 22 153 14.4%
Dany Heatley 82 26 202 12.9% 77 41 252 16.3%
Martin Havlat 73 19 133 14.3% 72 22 145 15.2%
Alexander Semin 52 10 92 10.9% 77 38 243 15.6%
Sidney Crosby 81 39 278 14.0% 79 36 250 14.4%
Jonathan Cheechoo 66 9 94 9.6% 81 28 175 16.0%
Average 72 23 160 14.3% 79 34 208 16.1%
Jordan Eberle 69 18 158 11.4% 78 34 180 18.9%

In the first year, things look very comparable – Eberle’s shooting percentage (and consequently his goal-scoring) is a bit lower than the group average, but overall he’s in the range. The group managed 2.22 shots/game, on average; Eberle managed 2.30.

In year two, things change dramatically – because while our average group enjoys a modest bump in shooting percentage and a big bump in shots-per-game (they go from 2.22 shots/game up to 2.63 shots/game), Eberle sees no increase in shots-per-game and a massive increase in shooting percentage. Eberle literally goes from firing 2.30 shots per game in his rookie season to 2.31 as a sophomore.

The fact that Eberle’s increase – unlike our group average – is based on shooting percentage and not an increase in shots is troubling, because it raises doubts that his shot totals will increase in the same manner that the group as a whole did. We also know, barely short of a certainty, that his shooting percentage is going to fall from his second year totals.

Knowing what we do, there are three individuals on the chart above worth looking at in more detail: Paul Stastny, Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Cheechoo. What makes those three interesting?

Stastny and Crosby are of interest because they’re the only two players from our sample to see their shot totals in their second season either decrease or show zero growth. Every other player saw their shot totals improve significantly. In both cases, the players went on to show negligible growth over the rest of their careers to date. Stastny fired 2.26 shots/game as a rookie, while on his career he’s fired 2.37 shots/game; Crosby fired 3.43 shots/game as a rookie and his career average currently sits at 3.39 shots/game.

Cheechoo is of interest because he’s the only player on this list with a similar improvement in shooting percentage. Like Eberle – and like nobody else on this list – his shooting percentage jumped ~160 percent from year one to year two. In Cheechoo’s case, he was able to ride the shooting percentage wave for one more season before a long, slow, slide pushed him into the AHL. In his last NHL season (with Ottawa in 2009-10) he scored five goals on 117 shots (4.27 SH%) and he’s now been an ~11% shooter over two AHL seasons.

What are you saying!?!?

It’s important not to draw too firm a conclusion from the players we’ve looked at above – this is a small group and it gets smaller when we look at three individuals who relate to Eberle in some way. However, based on this data, if I had to project how Eberle fares next season I’d go with the following:

  • A small increase in shots/game
  • A large decrease in shooting percentage
  • A significant decrease in goals scored

If I’m forced to pick a number? Over a full season I’d guess Eberle fires the puck ~190 times and scores ~26 goals. There’s any number of ways that could be wrong – particularly if Eberle finds a way to increase the number of shots he takes this season in a significant way – but if I were drawing a line in the sand that’s where I’d put it. I do not expect him to match 2011-12's totals in 2012-13.

THIS WEEK BY JONATHAN WILLIS

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including the Edmonton Journal, Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.