The Oilers made a minor league move on trade deadline day, moving out their top AHL scorer Taylor Beck to the Rangers for winger Justin Fontaine. The talk around Fontaine is that he’s a good skater, more likely to play in the NHL compared to Beck, so I figured it’d be a good time to dig into what exactly he’s done since breaking into the league in 2013/14 season and what value he could potentially bring to the Oilers.
First some background. Fontaine completed four years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA, scoring 164 points in 159 games over that stretch, and was part of the championship team in 2011. At age 24, he signed a two year, $1.19 million entry-level deal with the Minnesota Wild in April 2011 and played the full two seasons in the AHL, scoring 111 points in 137 games with the Houston Aeros. He was second on his team in points in his first year, and led the Aeros in points in his second year. Fontaine was also suspended in his first season by the team for two games for using a gay slur (Source). As an RFA following the completion of his entry-level deal in July 2013, the Wild extended him for one season at $600,000 and played him at the NHL level for 66 regular season games and 9 playoff games. As a UFA at the end of the 2013/14 season, at the age of 27, the Wild signed Fontaine to a one-way contract for two years worth $2 million. Over those two season, Fontaine played 131 regular season games and another 10 in the playoffs.
The Wild did not extend him at the end of his contract term, and in the 2016 off-season, Fontaine accepted a professional try-out deal with the Panthers. After failing to land a deal, Fontaine accepted a one year, two way deal with the Rangers who assigned him to their AHL team in Hartford for the 2016/17 season. At the time of the trade, Fontaine was tied for second on his AHL team in points with 30. At that point, younger players in the Rangers system had been the preferred call-ups to the NHL roster over Fontaine (Source: Blue Shirt Banter)
So what the Oilers have acquired is someone who had a pretty successful college career, made a smooth transition to the AHL, and then played 197 regular season games (and 19 playoff games) as more of a depth winger. A quick glance at his even-strength numbers indicates that as a member of the Wild, he put up a decent rate of points, but didn’t have the underlying shot numbers that would indicate long-term success.
Over the three seasons, Fontaine was a fairly productive player, playing predominantly in a secondary role. Fontaine’s points/60 ranked him just around the middle of the pack among forwards who played at least 50 minutes in his first season. In the second season, his 2.30 points/60 was the best on his team and in his third season, he was ranked 7th (just above average on the Wild). Really his best season was his second year (first year of the two-year deal he signed as an UFA), but his third season saw not only his points drop, but also the rate of his individual shots, which was one of the worst on the team.
Below I’ve graphed out the share of shot attempts, expected goals and goals when Fontaine was on the ice, relative to his team.
Here we see that in his first year, when Fontaine was on the ice, the team had a 46.03% share of all of the shot attempts that happened, for and against. When Fontaine was off the ice, the team fared much better, getting a 49.66% share (a difference of 3.63). The team also did better in terms of expected goals, or a measure of shot quality, without Fontaine on the ice, getting a share of 54.68%. When Fontaine was on the ice, the Wild had 47.20% of the expected goals.
But when it came to actual goals, the team always got more than a 50% share of the total goals for and against when Fontaine was on the ice. In his first two seasons, the team’s goal share was 58.97% and 61.29%, respectively. Worth noting that Fontaine’s PDO was one of the highest on his teams, hovering around 103 in his first two seasons, as the on-ice shooting percentage was much higher than the team average. When the PDO was back down to normal in the 2015/16 season, his on-ice goal-share aligned better with his shot-share numbers. I think the real Fontaine is reflected in the 2015/16 numbers, which weren’t terrible, but was probably enough for the Wild to move on from him and find replacements.
And here are the different line combinations Fontaine was a part of over his three seasons in Minnesota. You’ll notice he started off playing mostly with the dregs, but did move up and down the depth chart, getting opportunities with Parise, Coyle and Niedereitter. The issue for Fontaine was that he was mostly a drag on his linemates as most of the players did better in terms of shot share away from him.
|Brodziak & Cooke||352.00||46.61||49.13||52.38||102.15|
|Koivu & Parise||51.00||47.06||48.01||50.00||101.83|
|Coyle & Vanek||133.23||45.57||49.59||73.33||115.77|
|Coyle & Niederreiter||65.60||56.82||68.23||50.00||98.99|
|Brodziak & Cooke||64.50||38.24||39.83||20.00||92.09|
|Brodziak & Carter||58.95||46.67||57.24||50.00||
|Coyle & Vanek||154.21||46.15||52.98||63.64||104.89|
|Coyle & Niederreiter||93.43||57.05||65.63||71.43||104.26|
|Stoll & Carter||72.53||32.77||57.12||25.00||94.36|
|Haula & Niederreiter||68.97||50.00||54.17||66.67||110.32|
Only in two combinations over the three seasons was Fontaine on a line that posted a CF% above 50%. And in both cases, Niederrieter is with him to drive the offence.
Worth noting that in his three seasons, the team’s ability to generate shots always went down when Fontaine was on the ice. But the club did alright when it came to suppressing shots with him on the ice.
|Season||Rel Corsi For/60||Rel Corsi Against/60|
With the Oilers struggling this season on the penalty kill, I thought adding a right handed depth forward might be what the team was focusing on with this trade. I’ve read that Fontaine had played on the powerplay and penalty kill in Minnesota, but I wanted to see how the team actually did in terms of unblocked shots against and goals with him on the ice.
|Season||TOI||Rel.Fenwick For/60||Rel.Goals For/60|
Here we see that the Wild gave him plenty of opportunity in his first season on the powerplay, but clearly weren’t impressed. The rate of shots generated took a significant dive with him on the ice, and the team’s rate of goal-scoring slipped as well. Judging by the ice time, the Wild went in a different direction and transitioned Fontaine to the penalty kill, where things weren’t as bad for him.
|Season||TOI||Rel.Fenwick Against/60||Rel.Goals Against/60|
The numbers in the first season can be ignored. But in his second season, Fontaine spent some time on the penalty kill and the team was better suppressing shots with him on the ice. The team bumped his ice time the following season, and actually got burned because of it. The rate of goals against was fine, but the team allowed a lot more shots with him on the ice.
What these numbers tell me is that while Fontaine has experience playing on the powerplay and penalty kill, his results trended downward over time.
- Fontaine does add right wing depth to the Oilers and the cost to acquire him was next to nothing, considering Beck’s poor showing in the NHL.
- He does have experience playing with skilled forwards, but he tends to drag down his linemates ability to generate shots.
- The Wild did do alright in terms of suppressing shots when Fontaine was on the ice. This occurred across different line combinations, so I wouldn’t attribute his on-ice numbers to the performance of others.
- Fontaine is not an ideal candidate to play on the Oilers penalty kill, which is disappointing considering how bad it’s been.
- It would not surprise me if it was Fontaine’s on-ice goal-share that the Oilers were drawn to. Hopefully it’s recognized that he rode some high percentages, and that his on-ice shot shares paint a better picture of the player.
- In terms of recall options and ice time, I hope the Oilers give priority to Slepyshev, who has played well this season.