For what it's worth: Mikkel Boedker

Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE

Mikkel Boedker is having a career season in 2014. Is it the breakout season we've been waiting for or is it simply an example of a player maturing with his age?

If there is one place where the current Coyotes' roster is lacking, it is in dynamic, young forward talent. That's why this was an important year for the development of Mikkel Boedker. The Coyotes were hesitant to sign him to a long-term deal this offseason, which was wise given his actual NHL production versus his draft position. In the end, Boedker and the team agreed to a two-year "prove it" deal worth $5.1 million. Boedker responded with a career year in only 54 games in 2013-14, setting new highs in goals, power play goals, assists and points. The big question about this production increase is: can it be sustained or is it a fluke?

To start, let's examine the actual numbers of the season so far against his career marks.

Goals
Assists
Points
Power play points
Shots
Shooting %
ATOI
Career (before 13-14) 34 61 95 8 331 10.3 14:49
2013 (lockout, 48 games) 7 19 26 3 83 8.4 18:29
2013-14 (54 games) 15 22 37 9 110 13.6 17:17

The thing that jumps out the most on the table is the shooting percentage number. It's higher than his career average and quite a bit higher than his lockout shortened 2013 number. Does it make a huge difference? Well, if you promote his career and last season numbers to that percentage you end up with something like this:

Goals (normal)
Goals (adjusted shooting %)
Career (before 13-14) 34 45
2013 7 11
2013-14 15 15

There is a difference, but it's not a huge break from what the numbers look like now. So why has he been so much more successful in this season than in his career? Let's take a look at the shot numbers a little more closely.

Shots
Shooting %
Shots per game
Goals
Career before 13-14 331 10.3 1.29 34
2013 83 8.4 1.73 7
2013-14 110 13.6 2.03 15

It's easy to see where the improvement is coming from, simply on a per game basis. Boedker is shooting more often this year than at anytime in his career, and it's paying off in production. During a roundtable discussion from November 7th, I wrote this in regards to Boedker's performance up to that point in the year:

He has the speed and the shot to be a 30-goal guy, but only taking 1.31 shots per game (his career average is 1.29, so there has been little improvement) won't get him there. He ranks 12th on the team in total shots, behind such dangerous players like David Moss, Rob Klinkhammer and Zbynek Michalek.. As long as Boedker is shy about shooting, I don't think he'll live up to expectations which justifies the Coyotes nervousness about giving him a long term deal.

Does that analysis hold water? To find out, I broke down Boedker's season so far into chunks and crunched the numbers further.

Goals
Assists
Shots
Shots per game
Shooting %
Games playing over 18 minutes
First 20 games 4 9 29 1.45 13.8 6
Second 20 games 7 5 51 2.55 13.7 8
Third 20 games (14) 4 8 30 2.14 13.3 7

As you can see, Boedker's individual play ramped up quite a bit after the opening 20 games of the season, which is the block that the above quote fell squarely into. Boedker has been getting better as the season as been progressing, playing especially well in that second 20 game block when the team was without Shane Doan for a while. Another example of Boedker playing better is that in the opening 20 games of the season, Boedker went without a shot in seven of those games. In the following 34 games, he's been shotless in only one game. He's becoming more aggressive offensively, and it's paying off in his production.

The impressive part of Boedker's improvement this season is that it's not purely about offense. The advanced stats (note: all advanced stats provided via extraskater.com) show that Boedker is actually playing a more complete game this season than ever before. He's starting 31.8% of his shifts in the offensive zone this season as opposed to 37.1% last year and his percentage of offensive zone starts to defensive zone starts is almost even this season, whereas last year, it was weighted heavily in favor of offensive zone starts. Amazingly, this comes with Boedker seeing a sharp decline in his penalty kill time. Last year, Boedker saw 19.2% of his minutes come shorthanded, but this season it's only 6.3%.

Boedker's performance has been impactful in another way as it's helped produce a career year from Antoine Vermette. The two forwards have spent the majority of the season playing together, which is another point in Boedker's favor for continuing to produce like this moving forward. Most people predicted a breakout year for Mikkel by playing with Mike Ribeiro. While Ribeiro is Mikkel's third most partnered with forward, most of that has come on the power play and not at even strength.

The most important thing the advanced stats bear out is his performance is not a fluke. His PDO (shooting percentage plus save percentage) so far this year is 100.1. That's important because PDO is created to average out at 100, so it means that Boedker is not particularly lucky or unlucky with his goals this year. He's performing about as close to baseline as a player could hope for and his production has never been higher. That's a great sign for him moving forward.

Mikkel has had his best season of his young career in 2013-14, a year where he's been challenged to do so by the organization. Considering Boedker is only 24 and still reaching his prime, the Coyotes wager to challenge Bods appears to be a wise move. Especially since they are paying him similarly to what players like Curtis Glencross, Brandon Prust and Eric Nystrom are making, the Coyotes are getting a ton of bang for their buck. Boedker will more than likely earn a raise for his performance if he keeps doing what he is doing, but with the cap projected to be rising and new ownership in the fold, the Coyotes will gladly pay him to perform.

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