The Tampa Bay Lightning season is over. With a long summer ahead of us, we’re going to hand out grades to each player on the roster. You did your part submitting your grades via the reader survey, and they are presented along with our writers’ grades. All told, about 360 of you submitted grades, which is less than last season, but that’s understandable considering how the season went. Follow along with the series through the month of May and share your thoughts in the comments.
Entering the season, it was assumed that Anthony Cirelli would slot into the third center slot and be an effective player for the Tampa Bay Lightning. But after his first full season with the team, Cirelli wasn’t just an effective player, he was one of the more dominant defensive centers in the league. Offensively, it was a slow start for the young center, but he still ended up with a respectable 39 points (19G 20A) in 82 games.
Simply put, Tampa Bay controlled play far more effectively with Cirelli on the ice. Earlier in the season, I dove into Cirelli’s shot rate numbers compared to the rest of the Lightning roster and let’s just say the rookie was outperforming a lot of veterans. His numbers after a full season still sit atop most of the Lightning roster too. At 5v5, he controlled 54% of the shot attempts (second best on the team) while generating an expected goals rate of 56% (also second best).
If there is an area that Cirelli could improve on, it’s the volume of shots he puts on net. Cirelli only put 123 shots on net this season, but converted on 15% of those shots. The percentage he scores off of is fine, but 123 is only 1.5 shots per game, and that isn’t exactly impressive.
Only four Lightning players averaged more than two shots per game--Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Victor Hedman (Tyler Johnson averaged 1.98). Cirelli had the 10th most shots on net on the team and was behind three defensemen (Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, and Mikhail Sergachev). So, if Cirelli can up his overall shot volume and still maintain his shooting percentage, it’s entirely possible he breaks the 25-goal mark next season.
Here’s a chart using Evolving Hockey’s RAPMs showing every forward’s impact on expected goals at 5v5 and while shorthanded. Note, the bottom left area is the best place to be on this chart, so, negative is good in this instance.
Cirelli is already outperforming the vast majority of NHL players in terms of his defensive impact, and he’s only going to get better in all aspects moving forward. If there’s anything I’d like to see Jon Cooper do to help Cirelli out next season, it’d be adding a more effective scoring right wing to his line. Alex Killorn was great on his left side, but the rotating cast on the right wasn’t optimal. Whether it be J.T. Miller, Mathieu Joseph, Adam Erne, Yanni Gourde, or maybe a young gun from Syracuse, solidifying another wing on his line that can consistently score would boost Cirelli’s offensive production. Also, some more power-play time wouldn’t hurt either.
As for grades, I gave Cirelli a B+ while the consensus from all of you was an A-. Being off from each other by one spot isn’t bad, I just couldn’t justify an A given the offensive struggles he had during the season. Again, 39 points isn’t bad, especially for a rookie, but given how well he controlled the pace of play while on the ice, you’d like a bit more production. Regardless, I’m splitting hairs here.
Cirelli’s roster spot is effectively locked as the third center entering next season, but hopefully his offensive role will be expanded with some more power-play time and a higher volume of shots getting on net. There’s little else to ask Cirelli to improve upon aside from that. He surpassed every expectation one could have for a rookie third round pick and the fact that he’ll only get better is a tantalizing realization moving forward.