Fabian Zetterlund 2023 player review: Young RFA has room to grow

The young forward did not excel during his short time in San Jose, but it is way too early to give up.

Fabian Zetterlund 2023 player review: Young RFA has room to grow

When the San Jose Sharks traded star forward Timo Meier to the New Jersey Devils, fans knew they needed a big return to make the deal worth it. Never mind that it would be difficult for the team to sign Meier in the offseason, San Jose needed to get something massive back in return for one of the top power forwards in the league.

San Jose received a first-round pick in 2023, a conditional pick 1st/2nd round pick in 2024, a pair of prospects (Shakir Mukhamadullin and Nikita Okhotyuk) and a pair of NHL players in Andreas Johnsson and Fabian Zetterlund.

The book on Zetterlund was that if given the right opportunity to thrive, he would be an outstanding top-six player.

But when Zetterlund arrived in San Jose, he struggled.

Zetterlund's 2022-23 production

To truly understand Zetterlund's season, it needs to be broken down into two parts. The games he played with the Devils and the ones he played with the Sharks.

Games Played w/Devils G A P PIM +/- SOG Shooting %
45 6 14 20 6 +4 81 7.4%

Zetterlund played 45 games with the Devils and scored 20 points (6 G, 14 A). He helped drive the play offensively.

However, his play had slipped a bit toward the end of his time in New Jersey. There was no refresh when he arrived in San Jose.

Games Played w/Sharks G A P PIM +/- SOG Shooting %
22 0 3 3 8 -10 37 0%

Zetterlund has yet to score a goal for the Sharks. In fact, in his 22 games with the team, he registered just three points. It's a far cry from how his game was trending upward at the start of the season in New Jersey.

Zetterlund's RAPM

This story also plays out when you look at Zetterlund's RAPM – the plus/minus stat adjusted for factors outside the player's control, including zone starts, opponents, etc.

The site All About the Jersey looked at Zetterlund's RAPM in an article posted on Nov. 21, 2022.

The chart above shows how Zetterlund performed for New Jersey up until mid-November this past season. You can see that in nearly 161 minutes of even-strength ice team, Zetterlund had an impact on all aspects of the game. He was a net positive in expected goals for per 60 minutes (xGF/60) and his Corsi for per 60 minutes showed he was having a huge impact on his team's opportunities to score.

But something happened mid-season and it didn't get better when Zetterlund arrived in San Jose. When you look at Zetterlund's RAPM throughout the entire 2022-23 season, you can see he regressed immensely in the latter half of the season.

The above chart considers Zetterlund's time with both San Jose and New Jersey. While Zetterlund admittedly took a step back from his hot start in New Jersey while still with the Devils, coming to a team in lottery contention didn't help either.

Looking at Zetterlund's RAPM for the full season, you can see that Zetterlund finished around or just below league average in all areas.  

Zetterlund's opportunity to grow

Zetterlund only played 22 games for the Sharks this season. It's sometimes hard to predict how a player will do with a change of scenery. For some, that change does not impact their game. For others, it takes some time to adjust.

Since Fear the Fin only had a handful of games to watch Zetterlund play, we'll use All About the Jersey's evaluation of Zetterlund made in February 2023. This might give us a better idea of what to expect in the future.

"After impressing during a late-season audition last year, Zetterlund continued to build on that this season with 20 points in 45 games," wrote Jared Moore on Feb 26, 2023. "He has shown that he won’t look out of place when he was tasked with playing with Tomas Tatar and Nico Hischier earlier this year. After some midseason struggles and a stretch where he was healthy scratched, he has again shown promise playing on the Devils third and fourth line at times. Zetterlund won’t hit UFA for a few more seasons, but he’s a perfectly fine middle six winger for the Sharks going forward."

Zetterlund's future with the Sharks

Zetterlund's cap hit last season was $750,000. It was on a one-year, two-way contract worth slightly less than his entry-level contract.

Zetterlund is currently a restricted free agent (RFA), which means General Manager Mike Grier gets the first crack at locking him into an extension. According to Capfriendly, if the Sharks want to keep Zetterlund, his deal must be worth at least $787,500 annually.

Zetterlund is young. He's just 23 (he'll be 24 on Aug. 25). It would behoove Grier to sign the forward to a short, two-year deal. Ideally, in the $1 million range, though it may be slightly higher given the promise he showed at the start of the season in New Jersey.

There's no downside to signing Zetterlund to a two to three year deal. Zetterlund has shown just enough promise that Grier can't afford to let him walk away. On the flip side, the young forward has yet to prove himself enough to earn a longer-term deal at a higher number.

Editor's Note: Over the next few weeks, we will be rolling out the player reviews for the San Jose Sharks. We realize there were a lot of guys rotating into and out of the lineup and some of the key depth players were traded. As a result, Fear the Fin plans to focus on the players that are 1) still with the Sharks and 2) played 20 or more games for San Jose this season.