On August 4, in one of the league’s biggest arbitration steals, Mike Hoffman of the Ottawa Senators was awarded a one-year, $2 million dollar contract.
Based on his boxcar stats alone, this is a steal, as 27-goal-scorers aren’t exactly easy to come by. Factor in Hoffman’s assists, and it’s possible that he puts up 50 points in 2015-2016, all at the low, low price of $2 million.
Let’s disregard the contract, however, and just focus on how skilled Hoffman was at putting the puck in the back of the net last season.
His standard counting stats put him in the top ten percent of the league when it comes to goal scoring. Twenty-seven goals was good for 27th in the league, which would be impressive alone by itself.
When looking at rate statistics to eliminate slight biases caused by time on ice, Hoffman looks even more impressive.
Out of all skaters with at least 250 minutes played at 5-on-5, Hoffman was third in the league at goals per 60 minutes of ice time. Only Rick Nash and Jason Zucker scored goals at a higher rate during the 2014-2015 campaign, while players such as Corey Perry, Vladimir Tarasenko, Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Patrick Kane all finished behind Mike Hoffman in G/60.
That is only 5-on-5 play, and several players (Alexander Ovechkin comes to mind) make a living by scoring tons of goals on the power play. When we factor in power play time as well, Hoffman still scored at the 11th highest rate last season. Figuring that there are 429 skaters who played at least 250 minutes last season, 11th is bordering on elite talent. Rate statistics have their own flaws, of course, but it’s not too much of a stretch to place Hoffman within the top 30 goal scorers in the league, based off of his goal statistics from 2014-2015.
Shooting percentages are usually highly volatile, however, and can fluctuate from year to year. With that in mind, it would be best to focus on underlying metrics to get a true grasp of how much offense Hoffman can generate.
His shot attempt rate at 5-on-5 last season was 18th in the league, so he definitely is getting a high volume of shots towards the opposing goaltender. That isn’t the third highest rate in the league, which is where Hoffman stood in goals, but it’s still impressive. More important than just the raw shot attempt numbers, however, is the quality of chances that Hoffman creates.
Hoffman has high-end skating abilities, and uses them to get close to the net before generating his shots. Looking at scoring chance data makes Hoffman look even more lethal than the shot attempt data does, as his individual scoring chances per 60 minutes of 5 on 5 ice time is fifth in the league.
Based on his scoring chance, shot attempt, and goal statistics, it’s safe to say that Hoffman was one of the ten best pure goal scorers in the league last year. Despite jumping around from line to line, and occasionally being relegated to the fourth line, the Kitchener native still managed to pot 27 goals during the regular season.
At the age of 25, Hoffman probably won’t develop any further from the player he is today, though it’s the steps he’s taken after being drafted in the fifth round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft that have put him in the position to be a key contributor for the Senators during the 2015-2016 NHL season.
Just by looking at his progression from the AHL to the NHL, we can see why Hoffman has “come out of nowhere” to become one of the NHL’s best goal scorers.
In his first AHL season with the Binghamton Senators, Hoffman scored 21 goals in 76 games (0.28 G/GP). He took 189 shots, and converted on 11.1% of those.
In his second year, he scored 13 goals in 41 games (0.32 G/GP). He took 126 shots, and converted on 10.3% of them.
His third AHL season is where he really took off, however, scoring 30 goals in 51 games (0.59 G/GP). He took 189 shots in those 51 games, and converted on 15.9% of them. Over the course of those three AHL seasons, Hoffman not only got better at creating shots for himself, but also at converting on these chances. Going back and looking at video shows that the increase in shooting percentage wasn’t exactly random, and had more to do with a unique shooting style that led to quick release and bullet-like shots.
In 2012-2013, most of Hoffman’s goals came from offensive awareness. By getting himself open in the right places he was able to slam home easy backdoor one-timers.
He also had a wicked shot, which looked conventional and could be used on goaltenders when the sniper had time and space.
Note how Hoffman has his stick separated from his body in the GIF above. Fast forward to 2013-2014, his most successful AHL season, and that shot looks a little different. Instead of having the stick extended, Hoffman has it pulled closer into his feet. He still has the quick release and the hard, accurate shot from before, but the change in angle means that the goaltender can’t pick up the shot as well. It becomes much harder for the goalie to react, and as a result, the puck has a higher chance of going in.
In the goal below, Hoffman again keeps the puck a little bit closer to his feet than most shooters would, but he also whips the puck on net as hard as he can. This results in that really high follow-through, as the stick goes way above his head and essentially launches the puck straight up into the top shelf of the net. This unconventional style (stick closer to the skates, high and exaggerated follow-through) is part of what fuels Hoffman’s high SH%, as goaltenders are either caught off guard by the change in angle, or are too slow reacting to the quick release.
That unique style of shooting carried over to the next level. In 2014-2015, Hoffman made mincemeat of goaltenders with this wrist shot, particularly from the top of the face-off circles.
The puck gets pulled slightly closer to the skates, and the whipping of the puck that results in that high follow-through puts enough speed on the shot to get it past Ben Scrivens.
Hoffman takes advantage of time and space in order to score this goal, but he still really whips the puck into the net, much more so than he “wrists” it on goal.
Perhaps the best example of Hoffman’s shooting style is his final goal of the regular season.
For sake of comparison, here’s some hockey eye candy that shows just how unique Hoffman’s shot is.
Nikita Kucherov keeps his stick firmly at his side, and flicks his wrist to get the shot off. The follow-through of the stick doesn’t end up above his head, and the puck sails perfectly into the top corner.
A search for a perfect camera angle of a Mike Hoffman shot came up empty, so we can’t directly compare the two, but we do know that Hoffman’s preferred release point is a bit closer to his body, and that he whips his stick forward in order to generate speed, which results in the high follow-through. This unique style of shot is what makes Hoffman such a successful goal-scorer, and explains why he was in the minors for so long; that signature wrister didn’t fully develop until recently.
When combined with all the other aspects of the 25-year-old’s offensive game, it results in a lethal package. Hoffman has the speed to create opportunities for himself on the rush, the hands to maneuver around defenseman, the offensive awareness to get open in high scoring areas, and the unique wrist shot that can score on goaltenders from a distance.
It’s taken six years since he was taken back in the fifth round of the 2009 NHL Draft, and it’s possible that the 2014-2015 season was just a fluke, but it really does look as though Mike Hoffman has developed into one of the best goal scorers in the NHL. An increased role, and a repeat of his impressive 2014-2015 rate statistics could see Mike Hoffman score 30+ goals, which would firmly entrench him among the best snipers in the NHL.