When the Nashville Predators signed Marcel Goc as a free agent last August (for the bargain sum of $550,000), they knew they were getting a speedy and skilled defensive specialist and faceoff man. Over the last two months, however, Goc has stepped into a larger role on the team, centering a 3rd line with the likes of Patric Hornqvist, Martin Erat, and J.P. Dumont as wingers.
He's already tied his career best for goals in a season (8), and is well on his way to doing so in points as well, that mark being 22 in 2005-6 with San Jose. But how much of this production is the result of opportunity, and how much is based on real improvement in Goc's play?
Simply put, is Marcel Goc the 3rd-line center that the Nashville Predators need to compete in the 2nd half of the season, and make progress in the playoffs? Follow after the jump as we dig into that question.
Let's take a look at selected Behind the Net 5-on-5 data from the last 3 seasons on Goc:
Interestingly, Goc's increased role (he was typically a 4th-line guy for the Sharks) has not led to increased 5-on-5 ice time, but he is playing with better linemates (the QUALTEAM column) and is facing softer opposition (the QUALCOMP column).
That said, he's making the most of the opportunity - his Points Per 60 Minutes have doubled, to a respectable 2.03 (in the same ballpark as Jason Arnott, Minnesota's Mikko Koivu and Vancouver's Ryan Kesler). A good part of that jump is directly tied to his goal-scoring, boosted by a shooting percentage of 11.6 this season, nearly double his 6.2 career rate.
Does that mean that we're seeing a fluke here? Not necessarily. Last season, Goc scored just 2 goals on 104 shots, an absurdly low figure for a forward, which drags down that career figure considerably. Given the chances that are generated by his linemates (Dumont in particular is probably the best setup man on the team), it's no surprise to see Goc scoring more often, and a shooting percentage of 11.6 isn't outlandish; it's certainly sustainable the rest of the way.
So the question then becomes, is this enough production out of someone who is basically centering what amounts to the 2nd scoring line for the Preds? After all, David Legwand has been paired with Joel Ward and Jerred Smithson on what has been an effective checking line, which is still capable of contributing offensively.
Is a 16 goal, 16 assist pace enough from a guy centering wingers like Hornqvist, Erat & Dumont? I'm not so sure.
In my mind, the open question here is tied to Nashville's power play. It is in dire need of a boost, and among the Predators forwards who get regular duty there, only Martin Erat boasts a decent Points/60 Minutes rate (there are nearly 100 other NHL forwards with at least 20 games played and 0.5 minutes of PP time per game with higher scoring rates).
Since Goc only sees 13 seconds per game with the man advantage, should he get some work there to see if he can produce? Since he hasn't talled a power play point since the 2005-6 season, I can't say that he's a proven solution, but it may be worth a look.
Perhaps what makes sense is to give Goc some PP ice time (and shift some of Legwand's away), to see if a spark can be generated. If not, the Predators need to look at serious options on the trade market. Nashville's goal-scoring in 5-on-4 play is worst in the NHL, after ranking 3rd-worst last season and 8th-worst in 2007-8. An already bad PP is getting worse, not better, and it's time to look for some novel solutions.
If Goc can't help the Predators power play, let's find a rental player on the trade market who can. Colin Wilson may be the future of the organization, but we certainly can't rely upon him to fill that role at this time, and we all know how important it is for this team to make strides in the upcoming playoffs, strides that they've failed to make so far.