Tyler Steenbergen and Jon Martin (photo by Darwin Knelsen for scbroncos.com)
The Swift Current Broncos seemed to play a different kind of game in the second half of the WHL season. Thanks to some progress made by some players and deals to add to their forward depth they seemed to be able to light the lamp more consistently. That got me curious. How would the team’s scoring numbers look if you took each player’s second half numbers and then used those numbers to project their stats over a whole season at that different scoring rate?
This is an imperfect science of course. Half a season is still a small sample size and it doesn’t account for any injuries. That said there are some interesting numbers.
Schmiemann 8-8-16 (only 9 game sample size)
Tristen Elder 0-5-5
Kaden Elder 2-2-4
Again this doesn’t take many factors into account like ice time, injuries, linemates, etc. It is I’m sure somewhat encouraging from a Swift Current perspective to see that the guys who are expected to lead the way offensively next season all did exactly that in the second half.
It would also be encouraging that the top three defencemen offensively all took big leaps in their level of production in the second half of the season.
As a team the Broncos scored 110 of their goals in the 38 games after Christmas versus only 79 in the 34 before Christmas. The after Christmas number was still negatively influenced by some injuries (Gawdin and Lajoie both missed extended time) but it did indicate a healthier and deeper lineup in the second half.
Assuming similar injury rates over a whole season they would have scored 210 goals over a whole season at their second half pace instead of the 189 they did score. If they had a completely healthy lineup (which isn’t realistic of course) you’re looking at a 235 goal pace based on the level of individual production these numbers would project. That’s a lot closer to middle of the pack than they were.
71 of those goals would have come from guys who are now graduated so there is still a lot of offense to replace. How many players can make another big push forward? Can Steenbergen and Pederson build on their second half this year and actually score at 30 goal type pace? Does Gawdin have it in him to become an elite level offensive player after producing at a point-per-game pace in his 18-year-old season?
Calvin Spencer scored at a 12 goal pace while playing mostly third line minutes. Can he get to 20 goals in a top six role after a good summer? Do any of the other young forwards have it in them to get to the teens? After injury stole two years from him can Cole Johnson stay healthy and be as productive as his bantam and midget career would project?
There was some obvious improvement in the production from the blue line in the second half. Lajoie’s production went from 13 points in 34 games to 24 in his final 28 games. If he can play at that pace all of next season that would put him comfortably in the top ten of defencemen in the league. Minulin and Sissons also both made huge leaps offensively in that second half and they’ll be 18 next season with a year under their belt. Khaira, Gordon and Jensen all had better a better second half offensively and Schmiemann has shown some signs in his brief stint… there is no reason to believe there should be anything but significant improvement to the production from defencemen next season.
This all leads to I think what most of us understand about next season’s Broncos. You can probably rely on the top three returning forwards to lead the way offensively and count on a significant improvement to production (and overall play) from a now more experienced group on defence. There are some questions in there like how much more can we expect from those top guys if one of them really breaks out or how will their numbers be impacted if the team can’t find additional top six scoring. However, the biggest questions seem to be where will that scoring depth come from.
There are a few possibilities there from internal options discovering their scoring at the WHL level, rookies that make a quick transition, a high import draft pick or adding more overage forwards and hoping for another Martin-like windfall. I think all of those are going to play a part in how management addresses scoring depth. The overage additions might be harder in a season where that age group isn’t quite as deep as usual.
Another potential option if those other possibilities don’t fully pan out is a trade from a position of strength. Swift Current has a couple returning goaltenders who have shown they can play at this level in Burman and Child with a few guys in their system that could be ready for backup duty. They also return six defencemen next season with Schmiemann a lock to make the team and several other talented young prospects ready to knock at the door like Noah King, Matthew Stanley, Sol Seibel, Ethan Martini, etc. Could they potentially move one of their quality returning defencemen or goaltenders (or both) in an effort to boost their top six forwards?
There’s lots to think about for the Broncos this off season. The good news is according to my numbers the second half proved they have a pretty solid base to start from.