Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Washington Capitals 2014-2015 Previews -- Forwards: Troy Brouwer

Troy Brouwer

“There are no second acts in American lives.”
-- F. Scott Fitzgerald

OK, so Troy Brouwer was born in Vancouver.  But the point is that Brouwer has quite an act upon which to follow up.  You might remember that in our 2013-2014 preview of Brouwer, the theme was a quote from the movie, “Field of Dreams:”

“There comes a time when all the cosmic tumblers have clicked into place, and the universe opens itself for a few seconds, to show you what is possible…”

Well, things clicked for Brouwer last season.  Following up on his production at a career-best pace in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season, he played in all 82 games for the second time in his career in 2013-2014.  He set a career high in goals scored (25).  He set a career high in points (43).  He nearly doubled his previous career best in power play goals (from 7 to 12).  He tied a career high in power play assists (9).  He set a career high in ice time per game (18:51) and shots on goal (161).

Brouwer became a fixture on the power play.  It was not so much his ice time – he averaged 3:25 a game compared to 3:22 a game in 2012-2013) – as much as production.  Those five extra goals he scored over his 2012-2013 output accounted for the five point increase from year to year.  He was a top-20 point producer on the power play among forwards, a fixture on the power play almost as much as Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom.

Fearless’ Take…

Over the past two seasons only six players have scored more power play goals than Troy Brouwer:  James Neal, Zach Parise, Wayne Simmonds, Joe Pavelski, Chris Kunitz, and Alex Ovechkin.  It is more than Patrick Kane, more than Thomas Vanek, more than John Tavares.  He seems as well suited to playing in the middle of the 1-3-1 Capitals power play as Ovechkin is as the trigger man on the left wing or Backstrom as the creator on the right wing.

Overall, Brouwer has scored at a 28 goals per 82 games pace over the past two seasons.  That goal-scoring rate is second on the club only to Alex Ovechkin over the past two seasons.  He ranks in the top 40 in goals per game over the last two seasons among skaters playing in at least 50 games.

Then there are the situational aspects of his goal scoring.  Last season 19 of his 25 goals were scored when the Caps trailed by one goal (4), tied (11), or ahead by one goal (4).  His goals were not of the stat-padding sort.

He is also an efficient shooter.  Over his three seasons with Washington, Brouwer ranks 19th in shooting percentage (15.3 percent) among all NHL forwards having played in 50 or more games and having recorded 50 or more shots.

Cheerless’ Take…

117 forwards scored more even strength goals than Troy Brouwer last season.  Compare that to 37 forwards having more even strength goals in 2002-2013.  There was also the odd penalty profile.  Last season was the first in Brouwer’s career in which he averaged more than a penalty minute per game (1.12).  Included among his 92 penalty minutes were four fighting majors and two misconducts, the 40 minutes being almost half his total.

We wonder, too, about Brouwer as a penalty killer.  He was second on the team in shorthanded ice time per game (2:06), but he was also the team leader in goals scored against (19) while on ice in shorthanded situations.

The Big Question… Is Troy Brouwer a one-note wonder?

Troy Brouwer had a fine year on the man advantage, like a number of Capitals.  His even strength production was a bit less impressive.  He finished fourth on the team in even strength goals, eighth in even strength points.  It might have been part of a broader second line production problem, but a problem it was nevertheless.  Last season he had barely as many even strength points (22) as power play points (21), a departure from his first two seasons with the Caps (43 even strength points, 21 power play points).  The improvement in power play production is welcome, but for the Caps to be successful it would seem likely that his even strength point production as the second line right wing will have to improve this season.

In the end…

In his own way, Troy Brouwer was a reliable indicator of outcomes for the Caps last season.  Washington was 19-1-4 in games in which he scored a goal, 19-29-10 in games he did not light the lamp.  Not that everything has been unicorns and accordions.  Brouwer has been a minus player in each of his three seasons in Washington (minus-26 overall).  It does argue that the Caps need improved performance from Brouwer at even strength (as they do from a lot of players). 

Depending on how head coach Barry Trotz chooses to deploy Alex Ovechkin, on the right side or the left, there might be an opening on the top line for a right winger.  Troy Brouwer might get a look at that spot.  While his power play performance has been impressive, his even strength performance does not argue for his being installed in that spot.

Then there is the matter of the whole career year thing.  At age 29, Brouwer is in his chronological prime.  He might be expected to sustain his overall level of production for a few years.  The fact that he has sustained his overall level of production at a career high level over the past two seasons (a 28-20-48 pace per 82 games) lends support to that view.

However, can that level of performance be sustained on disproportionate dependence on power play results?  That is going to be the question hanging over Troy Brouwer as the 2014-2015 season unfolds.  The answer to it will reveal whether there is a second act – or a second career year – in Troy Brouwer in 2014-2015.

Projection: 80 games, 20-17-37, even

Photo: Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images