When San Jose shipped a third round pick off to Arizona for Maxim Letunov, the general consensus was that Doug Wilson had pulled off a solid deal to land a highly-touted young college player who was stuck behind the Coyotes’ glut of excellent forward prospects. Letunov had put up 40 (16-24-40) points in 36 games the previous season, led the UConn Huskies in scoring, and set the school’s freshmen goal, assist, and point-scoring records.
It’s fair to say that large things were expected of Letunov coming into this season, and on first glance, his 27 (7-20-27) points in 32 games can seem like a disappointing return. But when his play had been solidly received and lauded over the course of the season, it begs the question as to whether it was really that bad, and a deeper dive into the statistics shows that shooting percentage is largely to blame for the regression.
Letunov shot around 8 percent last year, which was down from a 21.1(!) percent rate in 2015-16. Given that his assist numbers stayed largely constant and his shot rate actually went up, the question is then whether this was an aberration or a regression to the mean. The answer, as always, lies somewhere in the middle.
Letunov will probably never shoot 21 percent again, but he’s got an elite wrist shot and has a great nose for goal. Shooting at a 14-15 percent clip would seem to be a reasonable estimate for him, and indeed that’s close to what his college shooting percentage actually is (it’s really 15). Had he hit that this year, he would have scored at a point per game clip, and while dealing in hypotheticals is always dangerous, it’s the best we can do at this point to predict future returns.
With that sorted, it’s easy to see that Letunov’s numbers over the last two years are fairly promising, and that’s backed up by a simple eye test. Letunov a solid scorer at the college level who shoots often, passes very well, and skates at a fairly fast clip. He’s got hands that are smoother than a Santana guitar solo and on-ice vision that borders on elite. In short, Letunov has been very good in college and has all the skill-based tools and the height needed to be a very good NHL player.
So what’s the problem, and why aren’t we going to see him up with the Sharks for another couple of years? Well, at 6’4” and 175 pounds, he’s skinnier than the poles on which stop signs are mounted. I’m not saying he’s two-dimensional (though he is decent on defense!) but if you turned him sideways, he might disappear. Roy Sommer alluded to this in an interview a while back, noting that while Letunov showed a great deal of promise, he was also one of the more raw prospects in the system.
Letunov’s height and slick hockey skills show great promise, though, and if he adds another twenty pounds, he’ll have the physical tools to back it up. Whisper it quietly, but out of all the center prospects the Sharks have, Maxim Letunov just might be one of the higher-ceiling players.
Name: Maxim Letunov
Age (as of 9/9/17): 21
Last Year’s Ranking: 17
2015-16 Team: UConn Huskies
Where he’ll (probably) be next year: UConn Huskies
What we like: Wrist shot, passing, on-ice vision
What to improve on: Weight. Bulk. Size. Seriously. If he played for Florida, they’d never let him go outside during hurricane season because the winds would knock him over.
Letunov matched his career-high with three assists in the season opener against Alabama-Huntsville last fall.