Last season 22 year old center, Drew Shore became an unexpected fixture on the Florida Panthers. He was called up early in the season due to the Panthers rash of injuries and after making his debut on January 22nd against the Montreal Canadiens he did not look back. At the time of his debut, it was expected that Shore would play sparingly and when the Panthers got healthy, he would return to the Panthers’ AHL affiliate the San Antonio Rampage. Two things happened to debunk those expectations, first, the Panthers never really got healthy which meant Shore did not have a hard time finding room on the roster, and second, Shore played so well from the jump that he made it impossible for the Panthers to send him back to the AHL.
Based of his strong play last season, it would make sense that Shore would have a spot on Panthers’ roster with his name on it in bold letters. This is not the case. In an effort to get stronger up the middle, the Panthers drafted center Aleksander Barkov and signed veteran center Scott Gomez. These additions give the Panthers six players that could conceivably be lining up to take face offs this season. Suddenly Drew Shore does not seem like such a shoo-in to make the roster out of training camp. Here is the case for why Drew Shore should be playing center for the Panthers from day one:
First lets look at who the Panthers have at center. The following six centers are who I think are the top contestants to make the Panthers: Shawn Matthias, Aleksander Barkov, Marcel Goc, Scott Gomez, Drew Shore and Nick Bjugstad. Matthias and Goc have roster spots locked down which leaves only two center spots for four players. Barkov is a bit of an unknown, if he is healthy and all the buzz surrounding him is true then he will most likely get one of the two remaining spots. That leaves us Shore, Gomez and Bjugstad. I think Nick Bjugstad will be a top candidate to start the year in the AHL as he looked like he could probably use more seasoning during his eleven games with the Panthers at the end of last season. So the choice for the last center position comes down to Drew Shore and Scott Gomez. Let’s compare the two:
Shore’s basic stats do not jump off the page. Last season he finished 9th on the Panthersin scoring with 13 points (3 goals, 10 assists) in 43 games. Playing for the San Jose Sharks, Scott Gomez finished last season with 15 points (2 goals, 13 assists) in 39 games. A closer look at Shore’s numbers reveals a lot of positives that seem to indicate his immense value to the Panthers.
Shore ranked second on the Panthers in total face-offs taken (443) and while he only won 47.9% of those draws, the mere fact that he took so many indicates the faith Kevin Dineen has in his face-off ability. As he gets more experience taking NHL face-offs it is reasonable to expect his face-off percentage to easily eclipse 50%. Scott Gomez on the other hand won 55.9% of the 324 face-offs he took. So far Gomez is coming out on top.
Where Shore really starts to separate himself is in the advanced metrics. Specifically his Corsi numbers. Drew Shore’s On Ice Corsi last season was 13.01 (advanced statistics courtesy of Behind The Net) by far the best on the Panthers. This number means that when Shore was on the ice, the Panthers generated 13.01 more attempted shots per game than their opponent. Of Panther players with 30 or more games last season, Shore’s 13.01 CorsiOn almost double the next best player, Brian Campbell ranks second with 6.98. Even more astounding his Shore’s relative Corsi which measures his on ice Corsi minus the Panther’s Corsi when Shore is on the bench. Shore’s relative Corsi last season was 17.6 which means, when Drew Shore was on the ice, the Panthers averaged 17.6 more attempted shots per 60 minutes than their opponents.
These numbers indicate that Shore had a huge positive impact on the Panthers last year, and impact that should not be ignored. It should be noted that Shore faced a below average level of competition and he started the majority of his shifts in the offensive zone. This indicates that part of the reason his Corsi numbers are so high is because he had a lot of offensive zone shifts against his opponents weaker lines. (Player usage data courtesy of Hockey Abstract)
Taking a look at Scott Gomez’s Corsi numbers reveals a large disparity between Shore and Gomez. Playing for the Sharks last year, Gomez had a relative Corsi of 1.7 meaning that when Gomez was on the ice, the Sharks only averaged 1.7 more attempted shots per 60 minutes than their opponents. A look at Gomez’s player usage reveals that he faced an even lower quality of competition than Shore although he did start more of his shifts in the defensive zone.
Scott Gomez was a tiny bit more productive points-wise than Drew Shore last season and he was also better in the face-off circle. Shore on the other hand gave his team a huge attempted shot advantage while Gomez’s contributions were more modest. Shore’s relative Corsi of 17.6 ranked 21st in the league out of players who played in at least 30 games. On top of that he had a minuscule 3.1 shooting percentage a number that is bound to go up next year.
At 22 years of age and only 42 games into his NHL career, Drew Shore is definitely trending upward. The 33 year old Gomez is trending downwards. Shore already gives his team a much larger possession advantage compared to Scott Gomez and if the Panthers are truly going to go with their youth next season, they should absolutely choose Shore over Scott Gomez for their final center spot.
What do you think? Do you think Shore will make the team? Would you rather see Florida go with the more experienced Gomez? Share your thoughts below.