Expect Colin White to Bounce Back in the 2020-21 Season

Despite an underwhelming 2019-20 season, there’s still plenty to like about the two-way forward’s game.

If you look through the collection of young talent the Ottawa Senators have amassed over the years, you might be drawn to guys like Tim Stützle, Drake Batherson, Alex Formenton and Josh Norris. All four are players who have little to no NHL experience, which gives them something of an intriguing, mysterious quality.

Now contrast that to someone like Colin White, who’s played over 150 games in the NHL. He’s a known quantity, a defensively sound third-line forward who still has a bit of room to keep developing. He’s turned out relatively well given where he was drafted, but he hasn’t established himself as a key player in the Senators’ rebuild. The 2019-20 season didn’t help his case, as his production took a nosedive from his previous totals.

However, if you’re looking at White as more of a role player going forward, he may surprise you. The fact is, his body of work thus far in the NHL should have fans feeling better than they currently are about his chances of being a bona fide top-six forward.

Let’s backtrack to the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, in which the Senators selected White 21st overall. The Boston, MA native was described as a smart, hardworking, three-zone player that needed to improve his offensive consistency. You may remember that White refused to shake hands with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

White spent the next two years in Boston College, putting up 43-and-35-point seasons, before joining the Senators for a short stint. His third game? Game 6 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Final. No pressure, kid. No pressure.

He played most of the next season with Belleville in the AHL, putting up 27 points in 47 games, and also scored 6 points in 21 NHL games with Ottawa, including his first NHL goal.

The 2018-19 season was White’s first full season in the NHL, and he was frequently deployed on a line with Brady Tkachuk and Mark Stone. This line was Ottawa’s most effective by far last season, generating over 59 percent of the expected goals at 5v5 while they were on the ice. White contributed 14 goals and 27 assists in 71 games, decent second-line production.

My favourite play of White’s from that year was this individual effort against the Panthers, which showed off both his speed and hockey sense. He builds up speed from his own end, then right after he enters the offensive zone, he creates some extra space by knocking away Aaron Ekblad’s stick, before beating Roberto Luongo high-glove.

The Senators were confident that White was blossoming into a second-line forward, so in the offseason, they jumped at the chance to sign him to a six-year deal worth $4.75M per year. It’s always a risk to sign a young player to a deal like this, but having a top-six forward locked up at that price tag is ideal for a budget team.

The next season however, White regressed in a big way, scoring only 7 goals and 16 assists in 61 games. The loss of Mark Stone was a major factor towards this dip in production, but additionally, White’s individual ability to drive offence fell off this season. By tracking his Goals Above Replacement (GAR) over the last three seasons, we see that while White has been a solid defensive player over his short career, he provided much less offence than in previous seasons. The data is provided in percentile form, i.e. in 2019-20 he ranked in the 21st percentile offensively (poor), and the 62nd percentile defensively (good).

These timelines are one of many visualizations created by Jack Fraser (@JFresh), who uses Evolving Hockey’s data and converts it into easy-to-read formats like the one above.

So, what exactly happened to Colin White last season? Notably, he suffered a hip flexor injury in a game against the Dallas Stars on October 21st, 2019. He returned on November 9th and tallied one assist against the Carolina Hurricanes. Overall however, White continued to struggle throughout the season, by February 18th, he only had 15 points in 52 games. Perhaps he hadn’t fully recovered from that injury, and it was having a negative effect on his play.

What’s encouraging is how White performed after the trade deadline. Playing primarily with Tkachuk and Bobby Ryan, he scored eight points in his final nine games, while posting a 61.37 5v5 xGF% in that same stretch. Not that we should expect him to score at that pace next season, but it’s a sign that his game was turning around before the Senators’ season ended prematurely. The player who earned that six-year deal in the offseason was slowly beginning to re-emerge.

Now healthy, White looks poised for a bounce-back season. He definitely has had a positive impact on the team’s play in the past, and we’ve seen top-six production from him during his short career. And seeing as he’s still only 23, there’s plenty of room to keep improving.

Perhaps he’ll be Tim Stützle’s centre this year, maybe for even longer. Alternatively, if Stützle eventually moves to centre himself, White could slide over to the right side, as the Senators are still underwhelming on the right wing, aside from Drake Batherson and potentially the newly-drafted Egor Sokolov.

He may not have the same novelty of prospects such as Stützle, Norris, and Formenton, but Colin White is still very much a part of the Senators’ youth movement, and is still capable of becoming an extremely important player and leader in Ottawa for years to come.

Will Colin White become a perennial 50-point player in the NHL?


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