Ryan Garbutt has had a long road to get to the NHL. First there was college hockey at Brown University. Undrafted, he then went to the Corpus Christi IceRays of the Central Hockey League. After one season in the CHL, he moved to the ECHL, playing ten games before being loaned to the Chicago Wolves in the AHL.
Prior to the 2011-2012 season, Garbutt signed a two-way contract with the Dallas Stars. He spent the majority of the season in Cedar Park, but did suit up for 20 games in Dallas. The lock-out shortened 2012-2013 season was Garbutt's first as a NHL roster player. He played in 36 games averaging around nine minutes a game. Before last season, Garbutt had played in 56 NHL games, roughly 2/3 of a complete season.
The 13-14 season was a first for Garbutt in many ways. First full NHL season, first that he was relied upon to be more than a depth player,and first under new head coach Lindy Ruff. Garbutt responded valiantly. He scored 17 goals and had 15 helpers while playing roughly 13 minutes a night. Along with the production, he brought an edge to his game. He was suspended five games in October for charging Dustin Penner. In the playoffs, he was fined for spearing Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks.
The off-season acquisition of Jason Spezza was to allow Garbutt and his linemates, Antoine Roussel and Cody Eakin to slide down to the third line into a checking/scoring line where they would be asked to shutdown top competition, but also chip in offensively. After all he was close to a 20-goal scorer last year.
The edge in his game returned. He was suspended in November for kneeing Taylor Hall, and suspended again in December for slew footing Dustin Byfuglien. The biggest thing missing in Garbutt's game this year is the point production, specifically, the goals. He has 21 points on the season, but only seven of those are goals.
Why such low goal totals? In order to see, we must first look at last year's numbers to see what he did and compare it to this season.
Graph taken from War on Ice
Ignore the chart on the right for now. We're going to focus on the left side and come back to the right. This chart shows Garbutt's shooting percentages last year in different areas of the ice. All the light green hexagons illustrate exactly what you would expect, a low shooting percentage, from low quality scoring areas. The flip side of that is the dark green hexagons in the slot area. Do notice that it isn't in the low slot in the "dirty" areas, but just outside of that area. Garbutt shot roughly around 18% in this area.
That's a high number, but how high? That's where the chart on the right comes into play. This chart shows Garbutt's shooting percentage in those same areas relative to the rest of the league. Using the scale on the right, it appears Garbutt shot slightly above average in comparison to the league. Garbutt's shooting percentage for last year in 5v5 play was 9.40% which placed him 154th out of 346 forwards with over 500 minutes of ice time.
Now that we know how he performed last year, let's take a look at this years' charts for comparison.
Graph taken from War on Ice
Again, ignore the chart on the right and let's focus on the chart on the left. It appears he is still shooting from the same areas, but he simply isn't getting the same results. Last year, Garbutt shot around 18% and this year he is shooting around 6%, quite the difference. Comparing that to the league average on the right, it's evident that's exactly what Garbutt has been this year, average. His shooting percentage at 5v5 play this year, 3.70%. That's good for 295th of 309 players with more than 500 minutes of ice time.
Garbutt shot 9.4% last year and is shooting 3.70% this year. Unfortunately, shooting percentage is a stat that a player has very little control over. As the above chart shows, Garbutt has still been shooting from the same areas, and is on a similar shot pace as last season. He took 165 shots in 75 games last year, and has 133 shots in 59 games this year. So if he is shooting near the same rate and from the same areas, why isn't the goal production there? Simply put, it's a bit of being unlucky. Players get hot and players get cold. PDO is one way of looking at how hot or cold a player is over the course of a season.
PDO Is the sum of a players shooting percentage and save percentage. Since every shot on net is either a goal or a save, the combined (or average) for every player is 100.
Looking at Garbutt's PDO, he was above the norm last year, and has fallen well below the norm this year. Last year, he shot above average, but also got solid goaltending, both of which affect his PDO. This year, not only is his shooting percentage well below average, Kari's save percentage is also below average. It's pretty likely that Garbutt will rebound offensively next year closer to the average. Will he reach the 2013-2014 season's totals? That is to be determined, but it's likely he will score more than seven goals.
Jim Nill has many questions to answer over the off-season, what to do with Ryan Garbutt may or may not be one of them. He is signed to a cheap $1.8 million contract through the 2016-2017 season. If Nill thinks Garbutt can return to the 15+ goal scoring category, it makes holding onto Garbutt a much easier decision. If he can't, it's possible that the negatives of Garbutt's game become too much, forcing Jim Nill to consider moving on from the winger.
Hard work and an edge got Ryan Garbutt to the NHL, it's going to take both with some goal-scoring sprinkled in to keep him in the NHL.