By traditional numbers, Melker Karlsson improved in 2016-17. He scored 11 goals, matched his career-high in assists, and all while getting the lowest ice time of his career.
But Karlsson’s box score success masked some troubling signs for the forward. For the second consecutive season, his individual even strength shot (5.5 iSF60) and shot attempt (10.5 iCF/60) rates dropped, and was masked by a team-leading and career-high 15% shooting percentage in all situations.
Part of that, of course, may be because Karlsson once again played with lower-quality teammates than the previous season. His most-common linemates were still Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton, but Karlsson spent far more time with a wider variety of teammates.
And even though Karlsson shot at a career-high percentage on a career-low amount of shots, it was the third straight season in which he’s scored on greater than 10% of his shots. He’s demonstrated that he’s a capable finisher over the last three seasons, which helps to mitigate his declining shot rates.
That is not a reliable strategy going forward, especially if Karlsson spends less time with Pavelski and Thornton. Even if he plays with the Joes, Pavelski is now 32, and the 37-year-old Thornton will be coming off of two torn knee ligaments.
Karlsson’s still a capable bottom six forward, but needs to shoot the puck more if he’s going to continue to be a reliable scorer for San Jose. He may not ever match his shot totals with the top line away from Pavelski and Thornton, and the Sharks shouldn’t expect him to match those scoring totals, either.
2016-17 Sharks 5v5 Usage Chart (via Corsica Hockey)
ZSR: Zone Start Ratio; The percentage of non-neutral zone starts that are offensive zone starts (OZS/(OZS + DZS))
TOI.QoT: Time On Ice Quality of Teammates; The weighted average TOI% of a player’s teammates
Rel.CF%: Individual corsi-for percentage subtracted by the team’s overall corsi-for percentage.
Melker Karlsson Rolling 25-game score, zone, and venue-adjusted average CF% (via Corsica Hockey)
Melker Karlsson Hero Chart (via Own The Puck)
Karlsson capped off San Jose’s Game 1 comeback against Edmonton with a blistering overtime winner. The “Melk Man” was the Sharks’ third-worst possession player in the postseason (42.52 5v5 score, venue, and zone-adjusted CF%), and his game-winning goal was his only point of the playoffs.
But, he delivered in Game 1.
What comes next?
Karlsson re-signed with San Jose last week for three years, $6 million ($2 million AAV). Unlike Joonas Donskoi, who also re-signed, Karlsson is not exempt from the Sharks’ protection list for the expansion draft.
Should San Jose decide to protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goaltender, it’s likely that Karlsson will be protected. If they protect eight skaters, Karlsson could very well be exposed in the expansion draft.
The Sharks will have options that intrigue Vegas more, however, so Karlsson will be back in teal in all likelihood next season. His contract provides good value for a player that can move up and down the lineup, depending on the Sharks’ needs, and San Jose will need him to be a solid contributor over the duration of his contract.