Jason Pominville recently played his 1,000th career game, making him one of only 300-plus players to reach that plateau.
Pretty surprising given that most NHL fans probably couldn’t pick him out of a lineup, but it’s also easy to forget that this guy was once really, really good.
Hell, between the two most recent lockouts — it’s fun to think about the NHL that way, for sure! — Pominville scored 0.8 points per game, tied for 40th in the league, right in the same neighborhood as Patrice Bergeron (0.78), Shane Doan (0.79), and Corey Perry (0.81).
But the reason this guy is grabbing headlines lately is that after some early-season experimentation, he was the throw-in right winger on Buffalo’s top line, mostly for lack of better options on that side of the ice. And he has been fantastic in that role. After a slow start on other lines, he’s got 14 points from his last nine games because playing with Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner gives you the opportunity to be on the ice for plenty of goals for. Altogether, he’s averaging almost a point a night for the season but seems poised to keep surging past that number because of how things have gone since Oct. 20.
This guy, who turns 36 at the end of the month, could be en route to the best season of his career, or at least his best since he was in his mid-20s. But it’s worth noting how he got here: Even last season at age 35, he scored 16-18-34 with relatively power play time on a horrendous Buffalo team, and while I don’t think anyone believes this guy is going to keep shooting 21 percent with Eichel and Skinner, the fact is that for as much as he’s along for the ride with those two, he’s going to keep producing points.
They’ve played almost 108 minutes together at 5-on-5 so far this season and their numbers are off the charts: 60 percent of the attempts, 63 percent of the shots on goal, 62 percent of the scoring chances, 69 percent of the high-danger looks, and more than 76 percent of the goals.
Obviously they’re not going to keep outscoring opponents at a more than 3-to-1 clip; they’re both shooting almost 16.5 percent and until the last two games were getting .930-plus goaltending behind them. But this is a line that can’t be called a bargain-basement Bergeron line, because all those numbers are all about as good as what the Best Line In Hockey has done for much of the past two seasons. It’s only 108 minutes, like I said, but there’s little reason to believe these guys aren’t going to keep it up for at least the foreseeable future.
Among all lines with more than 100 minutes together in all situations, Skinner-Eichel-Pominville scores more goals per hour than anyone in the league, and it’s a pretty wide margin. They check in at a tick over eight goals per hour, while the next-closest trio (Gourde-Point-Johnson in Tampa) is at about 6.7. The top lines in Winnipeg, Colorado, and Boston — all legit contenders for Best In The League — all score about six goals an hour. And by the way, six an hour is insane.
And you say, okay well, it’s unsustainable. And that’s true to an extent. They’re outperforming their expected-goals number by about 2.9 an hour. But even so, they still have the second-highest expected-goals per 60 in the league behind only Giroux-Couturier-Voracek, so there’s no reason to think they won’t keep scoring at a slightly-lower-but-still-quite-high clip for some time.
The thing with Buffalo adding Skinner this summer was that he was the exact kind of player Eichel needed to play with: One who could finish at a near-elite level. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest Eichel brings up the quality of chances for all his linemates over the course of his career. So one who, like Skinner, could put the puck in the net consistently when playing with, like, Derek Ryan was always going to produce a fruitful partnership.
Not that Pominville is on Skinner or certainly Eichel’s level, skill-wise, but if he could hang with Mikael Granlund (two straight seasons of almost 70 points) when he was still in Minnesota, giving him this chance in Buffalo was never going to be a drag for the other two guys on that top line.
In fact, everyone else who auditioned to play alongside Eichel and Skinner — Kyle Okposo, Conor Sheary, Vladimir Sobotka, Zemgus Girgensons, Sam Reinhart all god at least a couple minutes — got outshot with them. Small samples, sure, but collectively when Skinner and Eichel were together without Pominville, they only got off like 37 percent of the attempts at 5-on-5.
Moreover, both Skinner and Eichel’s individual all-situations points-per-60 numbers explode with Pominville, rising 4.5 and 3.0, respectively.
Pominville won’t score like this — about a point and a half a night — forever. But as with mediocre teams starting out hot, it would appear the opportunity for a career-long low-first/high-second liner with strong relative underlyings to bank a bunch of points with two guys who have complementary elite skills is paying off for all involved.
Who would have thought?
All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.
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