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Colin White: Year in Review

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Your father would like to have a word with you

NHL: MAR 07 Senators at Flames Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welcome back to our Year in Review feature at SilverSevenSens, where we re-visit the past season for key members of the Ottawa Senators. We’ve previously profiled the following players:

Drake Batherson

Erik Brännström

Connor Brown

Josh Brown

Thomas Chabot

Evgeni Dadonov (forever a Senator in my heart)

Alex Formenton

Victor Mete

Josh Norris

Nick Paul

Shane Pinto

Tim Stützle

Chris Tierney

Brady Tkachuk

Austin Watson

Today we wrap up our year in review coverage of Senators forwards with the heart of soul of this team: Colin White (total disclaimer, you won’t find a bigger CW36 apologist than me around these parts so brace yourselves for some hyperbole). Colin had a complicated season to say the least and I guess you might describe much of his career that way. With that in mind, let’s break it down again. Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.

By the Numbers

Through just 45 games (we’ll get to that) Colin had a modest ten goals and eight assists as the 20-goal, 50-point clip continues to elude the still-young forward. In true Ottawa Senator fashion, White did not have an especially good season on powerplay (second unit), and saw basically no time on the penalty kill. Despite seeing all situation minutes that would suggest third-line production (as the counting stats bore out), White ranked sixth among Sens forwards in total individual expected goals. As you’ll see throughout this article, while White didn’t have an especially outstanding season based on old school numbers he deserves a lot more credit than he gets based on some of the higher-hanging fruit — to coin a turn of phrase.

I like a lot of things about White’s game and I see a lot of things that should translate well into point-production with a bit more luck. By scratching a bit beneath the surface, we uncover that White generates offense primarily from the slot — and that lends to strong expected goals indicators. This year White had his personal best season to date in terms of individual expected goals per 60 in all situations (0.87) and his personal best all situation goals per 60 at 0.91, and while a personal high in shooting percentage (14.49) could raise some red flags, White also had a new high water mark in terms of shots per 60 (6.26) and his second best season in points per 60 at 1.63 (again in all situations).

Outside of shots and points, White continues to take slightly more penalties than he draws (-1 minor penalty differential in 2021) and had a poor takeaway to giveaway ratio at 37.5% (he cleaned this up significantly in the last two months of the season breaking even in his last 16 games most notably). In his quest to solidify his role as a second- or third-line centre in Ottawa, many doubters will point to White’s struggles at the faceoff dot as a cause for concern and this season he still finished under 50%; the skepticism isn’t totally unwarranted. While some folks question the importance of faceoff wins in the data era, head coach DJ Smith seems like the type of guy who values faceoff prowess and I can imagine White received some instruction to rectify this issue sooner rather than later.

To focus again on the positive however, White had his personal best season in terms of five-on-five Corsi-for (52) and Fenwick-for (52.4) percentages although he regressed somewhat in expected goals percentage (49.5). For those wondering why White might have failed the eye-test despite those numbers, he had his worst season yet in terms of five-on-five PDO at (97.9). For reference, Ottawa as a team had a five-on-five PDO of 98.7 (combined on-ice save- and shooting-percentage).

So in terms of puck-luck, White fared worse than the average Senator and yet he led regulars Sens forwards (over 300 minutes at five-on-five) in Corsi-for percentage, Fenwick-for percentage, and ranked fifth in expected goals percentage. The four players above him included the big line of Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, and White’s line-mate Evgeni Dadonov. While the big line produced more expected goals at five-on-five, White and Dadonov allowed slightly less and played a more low-event style (contrary to Dadonov’s advertised skillset). White also had a more pronounced defensive deployment than those four players ranked above him (44.7% of shifts starting in the offensive zone) and somehow still ranked third on the team in five-on-five individual expected goals per 60 at 0.70.

About his line-mates: White played most often with Dadonov and Nick Paul, two players who could not have more dissimilar skill sets and reputations. Daddy has a reputation based on goal-scoring prowess while Paul has earned the status of shut-down forward. As indicated in the chart below, White and Dadonov had good chemistry, and Paul played better with White. Did the trio succeed because each possesses a unique and complementary skillset? Tim Stützle took Paul’s place on that line down the stretch to less flattering results as you can again see in this chart courtesy of hockeyviz:

Story of the Season

If I had to explain the divide between Colin White’s better nerd numbers and his overall underwhelming results per the eye test, I might submit that when White does things well, you don’t see them and when he does things wrong you can’t miss them. A lot of players fly under the radar while putting up decent nerd stats while occasionally showing up on the wrong side of the highlight reel, and White has become that kind of player in Ottawa. I apply that same philosophy when I think of coach Smith healthy-scratching White early in the 2021 season. When you turn the puck over and lose faceoffs, the coach will take notice regardless of good Corsi or expected goals rates. As a result, perhaps, of this perception in the eyes of the coaching staff, White’s all situation ice time declined in Ottawa for the second consecutive season.

Forever the optimist, though, I noticed a lot of promising developments later in the season. White did receive his most pronounced defensive deployment of his career to date and Smith trusted White more often in the defensive zone, if not on the penalty kill and only at five-on-five. When I see that White corrected his issues with turnovers later in the season, I get the impression he and Smith started getting more-or-less on the same page, and White remained a second-line fixture. White really found his groove in February and had a streak of five goals in seven games from February 25th to March 7th (seven points in nine games from February 23rd to March 8th). And as a demonstration of White’s increased value to the team, the Sens went 1-4 when White missed time due to injury in late March and early April.

Future Outlook

At just 24-years-old, the centre slash right-winger still has time to take another developmental step both in terms of generating offence and playing sound defensively. While he likely won’t match the output of Batherson or perform defensively at the same level as Connor Brown, White belongs in the mix for Ottawa’s top-three spots on right wing (with Egor Sokolov and Tyler Boucher breathing down his neck in the years to come). If White can demonstrate his value as a centre to the coaching staff then he probably still falls behind Norris in the depth chart likely competing with Shane Pinto in the second or third spot depending how much of a defensive specialist Pinto becomes (with centres like Logan Brown and Ridly Greig keeping things interesting in the big, organizational picture).

While I and a vocal minority still like the idea of having White signed for four more years at $4.75M, I can appreciate that other fans want to see a bit more individual point production to justify the terms of that contract. Based on the details above, I still see White scoring 20-25 goals over a healthy, 82-game season with second line minutes even if he doesn’t get a lot of looks on the powerplay. I also wonder if the coaching staff can tap into some surplus value by giving White a look on the penalty kill. If the Senators part ways with veteran centre Chris Tierney this season then that opens up opportunities for White at five-on-five at and short-handed, and it should help to alleviate some salary cap concerns. On the subject of cap management, Dadonov’s departure leaves White the only Sens forward currently making over $4M (check back in a couple weeks though).

Beyond the financials, I worry a bit about how White performs without Dadonov and I look forward to seeing who White lines up with at camp and whether he can find regular season chemistry with someone like Stützle , Pinto, or Alex Formenton as they continue to carve out their roles among the forward corps. As a former first-rounder and with a decent cap hit, fans have always had strong opinions about Colin White (and rightfully so!) and I don’t think anyone wants White to have a breakout season more than White himself does. Thanks as always for your continued readership and here’s to a better season ahead for #36.

As always, data courtesy of naturalstattrick and hockeyviz