2019-20 Season Review: Alexander True has been a pleasant surprise

It was unexpected that True even got a chance this year, and what he did with it was impressive.

If Lean Bergmann’s 12 games and one assist aren’t much to go on, Alexander True’s 12 games and four assists also fail to provide a substantial display of his skills. But much like Bergmann, True has shown some upside in those limited NHL games.

The most noticeable improvement has been True’s skating, which has been an issue for much of the 22-year-old’s career to this point. His size is likely a factor — at 6-foot-5 and 201 pounds, he’s big, especially for a center. Maneuvering that large of a frame might have a bit of a learning curve.

And if that’s the case, True just might be hitting his stride, showing marked improvement with his skating this year. The Sharks’ season being what it was gave True a real chance to show off his improvement. At the start of the year, Doug Wilson made it clear he didn’t have much confidence in the Sharks’ youth; by the end of the year, Alex True was a signal that all hope was not lost.

Now, to be certain: True is not the next Timo Meier or Logan Couture or Joe Thornton. But he’s young and proving to be a capable depth player, which in turn will make older and worse depth players more expendable.

As much as I bagged on Pete DeBoer for his fourth-line construction, it seems more and more obvious to me that it’s an organizational belief. The fourth-line grinder is what the Sharks want. I think Alex True is someone who can grow into the best version of that role. If he can continue to learn different ways to use his body and maintain his offensive competency, I think there’s potential for him to become a bottom-six mainstay.

That all said, his offensive production did take a dip with the AHL San Jose Barracuda this year. His 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) over 40 games make True a .625 point per game player, down from .809 the previous season. In 2018-19, True led the Barracuda in points. In 2019-20, he dropped down to seventh. Scoring has been down overall on the ‘Cuda this season, and of the team’s top ten scorers, True played the second-fewest games (Evan Weinger, ranked tenth in points, played just 38 games).

RAPM Chart (via Evolving-Hockey)

The graphic above illustrates a player’s Regularized Adjusted Plus-Minus (RAPM), a measure created here by the twins behind Evolving-Hockey to attempt to “isolate a given player’s contribution while on the ice independent of all factors that we can account for.” For more on their process, see this explainer on Hockey Graphs.

I will be the first to remind you of the limited sample size, but I’ve got to say that if this were the profile of a non-rookie fourth-liner, I wouldn’t be mad. He shouldn’t have been getting power play time, but the Sharks were pretty limited with options by the point True was even in the line up, so it’s hard to fault him there.

Career Summary (via HockeyViz)

Again, due to the limited sample size, this is all we have from HockeyViz on True, but it paints a pretty decent picture. True’s defensive play could use some work, especially if he continues in a fourth line role, but his offense isn’t half-bad.

What Comes Next?

True has one year left on his three-year, entry-level contract, meaning he comes in cheap, at just an $800,000 average annual value. He will be waivers exempt (though with the 2019-20 and/or 2020-21 seasons shortened, I can’t say this won’t be subject to change) until 2021-22, so it’s likely he’ll see another year bouncing between the two clubs.

I’m not Doug Wilson, but I’d hope that there’s a bug in his ear somewhere whispering about giving True a shot on the fourth line next fall. It’d be a fairly low risk experiment, at least.