This year will mark Lauri Korpikoski's sixth season as a member of the Arizona Coyotes. Acquired from the New York Rangers for forward Enver Lisin in July of 2009, the Finnish born No. 28 has been a key component for the Coyotes for more than half a decade. Currently in the second season of a four-year, $10 million contract, 2014-15 may be the most important campaign of the Korpedo's career.
The former first round pick did not set the world on fire upon arriving in the desert, spending the majority of his first year in a Coyote sweater on the fourth line and on the penalty kill. Things would turn around in the following year, as Korpikoski would set career highs in almost every statistical category. That 2010-11 season saw him score 19 goals, 21 assists and 40 points while skating to a plus 17.
In the followingyear, Korpikoski would produce similar results, tallying 17 goals, 21 assists and 38 points while playing in all 82 games and setting career best numbers in shots on goal (149), total minutes played (1405) and average time on ice (17:08). He also would tie for fourth in the NHL in short handed markers that season with three.
Since those two peak seasons of 2010 and 2011, Korpikoski has struggled to impact the game statistically. In the last two seasons, he has totaled only 15 goals and 21 assists in 100 games played. He has also gone from being a positive player, plus 20, in those two years, to a decidedly negative player, minus 10, in that time. There are other negative trends that have emerged in those two seasons aside from his production going down.
In his peak seasons, Korpi took 259 shots in 161 games (1.55 shots per game). He also had a 13.9 shooting percentage in those seasons. Since that time, Korpikoski's shots per game has actually gone up to 1.92, but his shooting percentage has dropped precipitously, falling to 7.8. In short, he is shooting almost twice as much now but his accuracy has cut in half.
The advanced stats also show that the increase in shots taken for Korpikoski aren't necessarily translating into improved play. While he's consistently been a negative possession player since donning Sedona Red, the numbers have only improved slightly with more shots.
|Season||Corsi On%*||Corsi Relative%*|
(*: editor's note - all numbers courtesy of behindthenet.ca.)
For those not familiar with the advanced metrics, Corsi on% represents how many total shots (shots on goal and attempted shots) a player sees while on the ice with a positive number meaning more directed on opposing goal while a negative number means more shots coming on your own. So, in 2010-11, 11.12% more shots were directed toward the Coyotes' goal while Korpikoski was on the ice than were directed toward the opponents' goal. Corsi relative% compares a player's Corsi on% to the rest of his team with a positive number meaning the team is better with him on the ice than average and a negative meaning the team is worse. Again, in 2010-11, the Coyotes' Corsi on numbers were 15 percent better without Korpikoski on the ice.
Seeing the table, Korpikoski struggles in possession and the team usually possesses the puck better without him on the ice, and even nearly doubling the number of shots on goal per game for the last two years hasn't enabled him to perform better. Part of this is Korpikoski's assignments, as he is asked to play a more defensive game. He also tends to draw tougher zone starts, with most of shifts not starting in the offensive zone. Those responsibilities do not explain the drop in the Korpedo's production though, and no point illustrates this more than the last Olympics.
The Turku native was a member of Team Finland for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi. Once again playing a third/fourth line role in Russia with his national team, Korpikoski played at a very high level. In six games, he scored two goals and two assists. In the bronze medal game against the United States, Korpikoski actually was moved up to a more offensive role, lining up along side Teemu Selanne and Mikael Granlund. It may have been a small sample size, but Lauri looked more than capable of handling the expectations of playing with talented linemates and stepping up his game as Finland rolled the US 5-0.
So what does all of this mean? Simply put, the Coyotes are going to struggle offensively with a relatively shallow pool of scoring talent on the NHL roster at the moment. Korpikoski is going to need to step up his level of play to something much closer to what he did in 2010 and 2011 than what fans have seen from him the last two years. The Olympics showed that he still can provide that level of play, and for the Coyotes to contend in an extremely difficult Western Conference, they will need a big year from No. 28.