After grading Andreas Nodl's 2009-2010 season with the Flyers, a reader remarked that Nodl is an easily replaceable player. While that is certainly a fair opinion and one that is difficult to disagree with, it was the claim that Nodl has already been given a shot at making the NHL and failed that got me thinking: is that true?
The Flyers selected Nodl in the second-round in 2006 after he put up 59 points in 58 games in the United States Hockey League. After that, he went to St. Cloud State where he scored 90 points in 80 games. Basically, before turning pro, Nodl was a scorer, averaging more than a point per game for three straight years. Once his sophomore year of college was over, he played in three games for the Phantoms, scoring one goal.
Entering the 2008-09 season, Nodl was expected to play a fairly large role on the Phantoms. With guys like Jared Ross, Jon Matsumoto, Patrick Maroon, David Laliberte, and Claude Giroux entering the year on their roster, Nodl was expected to battle them for playing time. Using Gabe Desjardins' NHL Equivalencies, Nodl would have been expected to score 20 goals and add 29 assists over an 82-game season in the AHL. That still would have placed him behind all those players, which shows just how difficult it is to jump from the NCAA to the pros.
Rather than make the transition to the pro game in the AHL, Nodl only played 5 games for the Phantoms - scoring 3 points - before being called up to the Flyers. Then, this is how his season went: 22 games with the Flyers; 2 games with the Phantoms; 1 game with the Flyers; 5 games with the Phantoms; 4 games with the Flyers; 18 games with the Phantoms; 2 games with the Flyers; 9 games with the Phantoms; and 7 games with the Flyers.
Yes, Nodl never got more than 18 consecutive games in the AHL. His entire season was spent shuttling back and forth between the AHL and the NHL, switching leagues ten times throughout the year. Only once after December 6th - his 19th NHL game and 27th professional game - did Nodl receive more than eleven and a half minutes of ice time in the NHL.
This is what constitutes a player's shot to make the NHL? I strongly disagree. Instead, this is but one of many reasons Nodl is better than his NHL numbers suggest.
Reason #1: He spent his entire rookie year bouncing between the AHL and NHL.
This is what we just covered. Ten times over the course of the year, Nodl changed teams. His longest stretch with the same team was in October, when he was called up to the NHL with only eight AHL games played. By constantly being sent down and called up, Nodl was unable to gain any chemistry with his linemates or work through the growing pains of becoming a professional hockey player. He was called up and expected to produce, and when he didn't - which we'll get to later - he was sent down. Stability goes a long way for young players, something Nodl didn't have. This is even more important since...
Reason #2: He wasn't prepared for the professional game, let alone the NHL.
As if things weren't tough enough for a player in their first professional year, Nodl was coming out of college - having only played 40 games the year before - after his sophomore season. For perspective, James van Riemsdyk just did the same thing. As a #2 overall draft pick, it's safe to say expectations were a lot different with van Riemsdyk, but when he had only two points in a 21-game stretch from the end of November into January, he wasn't sent down. On top of that, van Riemsdyk earned his NHL job in training camp. Nodl didn't earn a spot, but was rather thrown into the NHL.
While this isn't meant to bash college hockey - since it is also difficult to jump from Major Juniors to the NHL - when looking at van Riemsdyk in comparison to his draft peers, we see that those who played college hockey were less prepared for the NHL than those who played in Major Juniors. The reason for this isn't exactly clear, but I'm willing to bet the increased workload (~40 games in NCAA, ~70 games in Major Juniors) has something to do with it. So when Nodl goes from playing 40 games against Colorado College and Denver University to playing 82 games against the Penguins and Capitals, one understands why he might be a bit overwhelmed. And yet he wasn't helped out by his teammates because...
Reason #3: Despite having good teammates, they were slumping at the same time.
Now, it is true that Nodl spent nearly 25% of his even-strength ice time with Jeff Carter and Scott Hartnell that year, more than any other duo. In fact, nearly 40% of Nodl's ice time came with Jeff Carter also on the ice. One would think this was an excellent opportunity to produce for Nodl, but when Jeff Carter isn't scoring, that opportunity doesn't look as good.
When Nodl and Carter were on the ice together, the Flyers recorded 98 shots on goal. Only one of them went in. That's good for a 1.02% shooting percentage. For a frame of reference, that same year, 9.5% of the shots fired when Carter was on the ice went in. So, Nodl played 29 games with Jeff Carter, and the duo only scored one goal on 98 shots. That is a ratio that could not possibly be sustained over the course of a year, yet this is a big reason why people think Nodl failed in his NHL opportunity. Instead...
Reason #4: He was simply unlucky.
Adding to the previous reason - one goal on 98 shots is pretty unlucky - is the fact that Nodl fell victim to poor luck over a short stretch. Every athlete goes through a cold streak, whether it be van Riemsdyk, Ryan Howard, or Cole Hamels. It happens. The important thing to remember is that these stretches are identifiable and reversible.
So how does this apply to Nodl? Well, in college, Nodl had a 16.5% shooting percentage over 80 games. In the AHL during the 2008-09 season, he had a 10.5% shooting percentage. This past year, he had a 17.9% shooting percentage for the Phantoms. But in the NHL, his shooting percentage is under 3.0%. Simply put, Andreas Nodl is a much better shooter than his NHL numbers suggest. But he won't be able to prove that because...
Reason #5: After an unlucky 38 games, Nodl was forced to change his style of play.
After being given a chance to play with Carter in 08-09 with moderate success - they outshot their opposition and ended their shifts in the offensive zone more often than they started in it - Nodl has been asked to completely change his style of play. He is no longer being asked to score, whether it be for the Flyers or Phantoms. Instead, the organization is now asking for him to focus on his defense and board play.
Maybe that's a smart move - it allows him to be an injury call-up with lowered expectations - but it's this decision that indicates the team is giving up on Nodl's scoring touch. With the acquisition of Stefan Legein and the emergence of David Laliberte, Nodl doesn't have to be the scorer in the AHL. But that doesn't mean he can't be a scorer. If Nodl had taken the same amount of shots this past year as the year before and maintained his shooting percentage from the year, he would have scored 17 goals in 65 games. Clearly, the ability to score is there. Compare that to Laliberte's 18 goals in 66 games and you see that Nodl wasn't given a reduced role due to performance. Instead, he's producing at the same rate despite not being given the opportunity to excel in that role.
Andreas Nodl is the victim of circumstance, bad luck, and opportunity. He was called up too early, wasn't given a chance to gain confidence due to being moved around far too much, and was incredibly unlucky in terms of shooting percentages. Then the team decided he isn't a scorer and asked him to change his game.
The good news is that he has proven himself in the new role. Should the Flyers need a penalty-killing specialist this year, Nodl is that guy. The bad news is that he could have been a solid scoring winger in the NHL. Maybe he still will be, but he's unlikely to find that opportunity in Philadelphia since his contract is up after this season.