One of the best stories of the early part of last season was how a young fourth round pick burst into training camp and made an argument for a roster spot. That fourth rounder wasn’t expected to make the team, but sometimes the draft pedigree of prospects obfuscates expectations. Mathieu Joseph did just that when he secured a roster spot after training camp and preseason last year. His speed and tenacity on the forecheck endeared him to the fanbase, turning him into a new fan favorite rather quickly.
He wasn’t in the lineup for every game, but playing 70 games in your rookie season is still impressive. Tallying 26 points (13 G & A) isn’t game-breaking, but for what was expected of Joseph, it’s a pleasant surprise. Add in the fact that he was effective while on the ice in all three zones and there’s a good possibility that Joseph could be another mid-round gem uncovered by Al Murray and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The first thing that jumped out to everyone was Joseph’s speed—he has a ton of it. Arguably, a bit too much. Joseph is able to fly past defenders and create chances with his speed but as the season progressed, he became predictable with how he attacked from the wing. He rarely cut toward the middle of the ice when he had the puck and would stop down near the goal line to see if he had a passing option.
Teams keyed in on this and simply let Joseph go deep into the zone only to cut off his passing options. Luckily, Joseph rarely stopped moving after establishing control in the offensive zone and was able to keep plays alive by either curling back up the zone or going behind the net to find passing options.
Another minor criticism of Joseph is how he only has “one speed” and doesn’t deviate from it often. As great as it is to be fast in the NHL, a player has to be able to keep defenders on their toes by changing speeds to keep them honest in coverage. Joseph struggled with that at times last year.
Here’s a perfect example of Joseph’s speed creating, and finishing, a scoring chance.
That’s Drew Doughty who he embarrassed by the way.
The second thing that stuck out about Joseph was how relentless he was on the forecheck. Combining his speed with a ferocious forecheck made him a nightmare for teams to handle. He was arguably one of the Lightning’s best forwards at disrupting opposing teams from properly breaking out of their zones (personally, I think Yanni Gourde is slightly better at this) and just generally wreaking havoc on teams.
Here’s an example of Joseph’s forechecking (via his speed) creating a scoring chance.
Jeez, this kid is fast.
A look at the advanced metrics showcases a player that moves the needle in the right direction. Joseph controlled 55% of the even strength shots while on the ice and generated an expected goal share of 53%. Add in a good shooting percentage at 5v5 (10%) and favorable zone usage (55% of his shifts started in the offensive zone), and Joseph looks like a great middle six winger for the Lightning. If we dive into WAR and GAR, Joseph finishes 12th in both categories on the Lightning with a GAR of 5.6 and a WAR of 1. In laymen terms, Joseph provided five more goals and one more win than a replacement level player would.
The best part about Joseph? He’s only 22 and he’s going to improve. Now, we shouldn’t get carried away and think Joseph will turn into a perennial 20 or 25 goal scorer. He does have his flaws, but with a bit more ice-time (he averaged just 11 minutes a game) it’s entirely possible Joseph consistently produces 30-40 points a season. Another facet to take into account for Joseph is special teams. Last season, he saw spot play on both the power-play (13 minutes) and penalty kill (48 minutes), so an expanded role on one of those units (more than likely the penalty kill) is likely.
Now, it’s time for the votes.
The real interesting thing with Joseph is how he’s ranked in the same exact spot as last season—seventh. I ranked him eighth this year. I love what Joseph brings in the middle of the lineup in terms of speed and forechecking capability, but I’d like to see him vary up his attack in the offensive zone. If Joseph can add another element to how he attacks with the puck in the offensive zone, then he should be able to use his quick shot to terrify opposing goaltenders.
I’d also like to see him on the penalty kill more often next season. His speed and ability to quickly close gaps should be useful in those situations. There should be some competition for a spot there with Ryan Callahan no longer being on the team.
As for power-play time, I felt he was misused on the second power-play unit. Joseph is dangerous when he has the puck and can distribute it, if he’s not doing that, or assisting with it, then he’s mnot as impactful. That said, he does read the ice well and more than a few of his goals were due to his ability to find a seam to receive a pass. So, maybe he’s utilized as a decoy or a secondary trigger man for the second power-play unit.
Regardless, the Lightning have another mid-round gem in Joseph who looks to be a solid addition to the middle portion of the lineup moving forward.
Now, enjoy some highlights.
The beauty of a player’s first NHL goal. Just brings a tear to my eye.
Remember how I mentioned tenacious on the forecheck? Check out this play that eventually led to Cirelli scoring.
Go to the front of the net, get rewarded.
Any goal against the Boston Bruins is a good goal, but when you deftly slide through Tuukka Rask’s five-hole it just makes it that much more enjoyable to watch.
He outraced everyone for this one and completely caught the goaltender off guard with this goal.