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Colton Sissons and His Future In Nashville

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Colton Sissons played the game of his life in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. How might this affect his future in Nashville?

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Anaheim Ducks at Nashville Predators Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s note: It’s been a crazy last few weeks over here at On The Forecheck. As the Predators have been making this incredible run to the SCF, we’ve been trying to bring you the best content possible. Speaking candidly, I think we have some of the best hockey writers in the world at this site. And I know we have the best commenters.

Which brings me to this post. Recently, I reached out to several of our more prolific commenters about contributing some writing to the site. Kate is a frequent commenter and I reached out to her to put together a piece on Colton Sissons. I think it turned out very, very well, so I thought it best to share it with you all.

Do you think you have what it takes to contribute to this community? You are in luck! Soon after the end of the season, we will be posting a want ad for staff writers, part-time or full-time. These positions will be asked to help contribute real, unfiltered analysis on the Predators, but also help out with some of the other tasks associated with the site: daily links, game previews and recaps, etc.

Details on how to submit your name into the pool of applicants will be forthcoming. In the meantime, enjoy Kate’s work!


The​ Nashville Predators ​are​ ​going​ ​to​ ​the​ ​Stanley Cup Final for​ ​the​ ​first​ ​time​ ​in​ ​franchise​ ​history​ ​on​ ​a series-winning​ ​hat​ ​trick​ ​by​ Colton Sissons. This is a guy who went from a healthy​ ​scratch​ ​a​ ​few​ ​months​ ​ago to​ ​filling​ ​in​ ​as​ ​the​ ​first-line​ ​center​ after​ ​injuries​ ​to​ Ryan Johansen ​and​ ​Mike Fisher.

It’s​ ​dizzying.

This​ ​time​ ​last​ ​year​ ​we​ ​were​ ​​hoping​ ​that​ ​Peter Laviolette​ ​might​ ​be​ ​willing​ ​to​ ​use​ ​Sissons​ ​as​ ​the​ ​4C over​ ​Paul Gaustad. Now? With​ ​that​ ​hat​ ​trick​ ​Sissons​ ​has​ ​more​ ​goals​ ​this​ ​postseason​ ​(5)​ ​than​ ​Johansen​ ​(3).​

Sissons​ ​also has five​ ​assists​ ​(all​ ​primary)​ ​to​ ​Johansen’s​ ​ten,​ ​but​ ​he’s had significantly less ice-time.​ ​His​ ​1.31​ ​primary​ ​assists per sixty minutes​ ​(at​ ​all strengths)​ ​this​ ​postseason​ ​would​ ​put​ ​him​ ​in​ ​fairly​ ​elite​ ​company​ ​among​ ​forwards​ ​this​ ​season; his​ ​1.19​ ​primary​ ​assists per sixty minutes at ​5v5​ ​puts him right​ ​between​ Evgeni Malkin and​ Johnny Gaudreau.​ ​When​ ​Colton​ ​Sissons​ ​steps​ ​on​ ​the​ ​ice,​ ​we’re​ ​seeing​ ​him​ ​make​ ​very​ ​good​ ​things happen​ ​for​ ​the​ ​people​ ​around​ ​him,​ ​and​ ​we’re​ ​seeing​ ​it​ ​often.

The​ ​question​ ​isn’t​ ​whether​ ​we​ ​can​ ​call​ ​this​ ​Sissons’s​ ​postseason​ ​debut​ ​(we​ ​can)​ ​or​ ​whether​ ​it’s a​ ​good​ ​one​ ​(conference​ ​final.​ ​clinching.​ ​hat​ ​trick).​ ​The​ ​question​ ​is​ ​what​ ​this​ ​means​ ​going forward,​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​what​ ​it​ ​should​ ​mean.

Viktor Arvidsson’s ​season-saving​ ​OT​ ​goal​ ​last​ ​year​ ​was​ ​a​ ​fantastic​ ​story​ ​because​ ​he​ ​was​ ​finally, dramatically,​ ​getting​ ​rewarded​ ​for​ ​the​ ​work​ ​he​ ​was​ ​doing.​ ​The​ ​great​ ​thing​ ​about​ ​Arvidsson​ ​is that​ ​he​ ​puts​ ​shots​ ​on​ ​goal​ ​with​ ​the​ ​best​ ​in​ ​the​ ​league.​ ​That’s​ ​under​ ​his​ ​control​ ​in​ ​a​ ​way​ ​that​ ​his production​ ​isn’t​.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​due​ ​for​ ​a​ ​breakout​, not​ ​because​ ​he​ ​works​ ​hard​ ​in​ ​a​ ​nebulous, character-like​ ​sense​, but​ ​because​ ​he​ ​works​ ​hard​ ​in​ ​a​ ​specific​ ​sense​ ​very​ ​directly​ ​linked​ ​to scoring​ ​goals—a​ ​thing​ ​he​ ​was​ ​already​ ​doing​ ​in​ ​his​ ​rookie​ ​season before​ ​he​ ​started scoring.​ ​Arvidsson​ ​was​ ​the​ ​surest​ ​bet​ ​among​ all the young​ ​players​ ​going into this season,​ ​assuming​ ​he​ ​could​ ​keep​ ​up​ ​that​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​shot​ ​generation.​ ​He​ did.

It’s​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​harder​ ​to​ ​predict​ ​whether​ ​someone​ ​has​ ​the​ ​ability​ ​to​ ​consistently​ ​be​ ​a​ ​top-nine​ ​center from​ ​individual​ ​stats​ ​than​ ​it​ ​is​ ​to​ ​predict​ ​whether​ ​someone​ ​will​ ​be​ ​a​ ​consistent​ ​goal scorer. Sissons​ ​is​ ​producing,​ ​but​ ​that only ​tell​s ​us​ ​what’s​ ​happening,​ ​not​ ​how​ ​or​ ​why.

Is​ ​he​ ​actually​ ​the​ ​2C​ ​or​ ​3C​ ​this​ ​franchise​ ​needs?​ ​Do​ ​we​ ​need​ ​to​ ​worry​ ​about​ ​losing​ ​him​ ​in​ ​the expansion​ ​draft?

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Anaheim Ducks at Nashville Predators
Sissons: future Vegas Golden Knight?
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

First​ ​off:​ ​even​ ​if​ ​he​ ​is​ ​the​ ​1C​ ​that​ ​Vegas​ ​needs,​ ​he’s​ ​not​ ​the​ ​1C​ ​Vegas​ ​is​ ​going​ ​to​ ​take.​ ​Sissons has​ ​played​ ​109​ ​career​ ​regular-season​ ​NHL​ ​games​ ​and​ ​has​ ​20​ ​career​ ​regular-season​ ​NHL points.​ ​That’s​ ​not​ ​very productive. NHL​ ​GMs​ ​in​ ​general​ ​are​ ​notoriously​ ​risk-averse​ ​and​ ​have​ ​a​ ​tendency​ ​to award​ ​contracts​ ​based​ ​on​ ​past​ ​performance​ ​instead​ ​of​ ​future​ ​potential.​ ​McPhee​ likely ​won’t take that risk.​ ​For​ ​Poile,​ ​seeing​ ​what​ ​happens​ ​with​ ​Sissons​ ​costs​ ​nothing;​ ​for​ ​McPhee,​ ​seeing what​ ​happens​ ​with​ ​Sissons​ ​means​ ​passing​ ​on​ ​a​ ​known​ ​quantity.​​ ​

The​ ​question​ ​of​ ​what​ ​Sissons​ ​can​ ​do​ ​for​ ​the​ ​Predators​ ​going​ ​forward​ ​is​ ​a​ ​trickier​ ​one.​ ​Although 23​ ​isn’t​ ​young​ ​for​ ​a​ ​professional​ ​hockey​ ​player,​ ​we’ve​ ​seen​ ​very​ ​little​ ​of​ ​Sissons​ ​in​ ​the​ ​NHL,​ ​and even​ ​less​ ​of​ ​him​ ​getting​ ​to​ ​play​ ​on​ ​anything​ ​other​ ​than​ ​a​ ​grinding​ ​line.​ ​It’s​ ​a​ ​tense​ ​time​ ​to​ ​be considering​ ​centers​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Predators’​ ​system.​ ​The​ ​knowledge​ ​that​ ​we​ ​will​ ​lose​ ​at​ ​least​ ​one​ ​asset in​ ​the​ ​expansion​ ​draft​ ​adds​ ​a​ ​sense​ ​of​ ​urgency.​ ​The​ ​fact​ ​that​ ​team​ ​captain​ ​Mike​ ​Fisher,​ ​who was​ ​playing​ ​third-line​ ​center​ ​minutes​ ​before​ ​his​ ​injury,​ ​is​ ​a​ ​UFA​ ​this​ ​summer​ ​adds​ ​some complications.

Fisher​ ​is​ ​a​ ​bit​ ​of​ ​an​ ​enigma​ ​at​ ​this​ ​point​ ​in​ ​his​ ​career.​ ​He​ ​plays​ ​a​ ​good​ ​defensive​ ​game​ ​and​ ​a surprisingly​ ​strong​ ​offensive​ ​one.​ ​On​ ​the​ ​other​ ​hand,​ ​he​ ​is​ ​36.​ ​His​ ​possession​ ​numbers​ ​dropped this​ ​year​ ​to​ ​the​ ​extent​ ​that​ ​the​ ​Predators​ ​were​ ​unambiguously​ ​worse​ ​at​ ​puck​ ​possession​ ​with him​ ​on​ ​the​ ​ice​ ​than​ ​without​ ​him,​ ​which​ ​hasn’t​ ​been​ ​usual​ ​for​ ​him.​ ​It​ ​may​ ​​be​ ​his​ ​age. It may also be his unflinchingly​ ​physical​ ​style​ ​of​ ​play beginning​ ​to​ ​catch​ ​up to​ ​him.​ ​In​ ​2015-2016​, ​it​ ​was​ ​his​ ​production,​ ​not​ ​his​ ​puck​ ​possession,​ ​that​ ​dropped—that rebounded​ ​this​ ​year.​ ​It’s​ ​certainly​ ​not​ ​impossible​ ​that​ ​Fisher​ ​will​ ​recover​ ​again​ ​next​ ​season,​ ​but he​ ​will​ ​be​ ​37.​ ​Limiting​ ​his​ ​ice-time​ ​and​ ​giving​ ​him​ ​favorable​ ​usage​ ​(less​ ​time​ ​on​ ​the​ ​penalty​ ​kill, for​ ​example)​ ​is​ ​the​ ​best​ ​way​ ​to​ ​extend​ ​an​ ​aging​ ​player’s​ ​utility;​ ​giving​ ​a​ ​bottom-six​ ​role​ ​to​ ​a player​ ​as​ ​capable​ ​of​ ​performing​ ​well​ ​with​ ​good​ ​linemates​ ​as​ ​Fisher​ ​still​ ​is​ ​a​ ​questionable move.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Anaheim Ducks at Nashville Predators
Mike Fisher ain’t getting any younger.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

I​ ​don’t​ ​imagine​ ​Sissons’s​ ​performance​ ​this​ ​postseason​ ​pushes​ ​Fisher​ ​out​ ​of​ ​a​ ​middle-six​ ​role yet,​ ​but​ ​if​ ​Sissons​ ​can​ ​sustain​ ​it​ ​into​ ​next​ ​season​ ​that​ ​might​ ​begin​ ​to​ ​put​ ​Fisher​ ​in​ ​an​ ​awkward position,​ ​especially​ ​if​ ​he​ ​is​ ​beginning​ ​to​ ​decline.

Might​ ​Sissons​ ​be​ ​able​ ​to​ ​fill​ ​in​ ​for​ ​Fisher,​ ​or​ ​as​ ​an​ ​effective​ ​middle-six​ ​center,​ ​in​ ​the​ ​long​ ​term?

Things​ ​like​ ​possession​ ​stats​ ​don’t​ ​always​ ​predict​ ​someone’s​ ​ability​ ​to​ ​be​ ​the​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​forward​ ​who drives​ ​play​ ​himself;​ ​individual​ ​shot​ ​attempts​ ​might​ ​predict​ ​goal scoring,​ ​but​ ​not​ ​anything​ ​else. What​ ​we​ ​need​ ​is​ ​the​ ​ability​ ​to​ ​look​ ​at​ ​what​ ​Sissons​ ​has​ ​been​ ​doing​ ​at​ ​the​ ​NHL​ ​level​ ​and compare​ ​it​ ​to​ ​what​ ​other​ ​people​ ​are​ ​doing​ ​at​ ​the​ ​NHL​ ​level.​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​mean​ ​his​ ​production:​ ​scoring a​ ​goal​ ​is​ ​dependent​ ​on​ ​the​ ​opponent​ ​goalie​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​on​ ​the​ ​player;​ ​getting​ ​an​ ​assist​ ​is dependent​ ​on​ ​the​ ​player’s​ ​teammate​ ​and​ ​the​ ​opponent​ ​goalie​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​on​ ​the​ ​player.​ ​

Thankfully,​ ​this data is​ ​already​ ​being​ ​tracked.​ ​Hockey​ ​Graphs​ ​has an​ ​article​ ​​determining​ ​player​ ​“types”​ ​using​ ​data​ ​from​ ​the​ ​Passing​ ​Project, but​ ​instead​ ​of​ ​lingering​ ​on​ ​the​ ​Preds’​ ​roster​ ​as​ ​a​ ​whole,​ ​I’ll​ ​cut​ ​to​ ​the​ ​chase:

Colton Sissons hasn’t consistently played well. He’s barely above the 50th percentile in one category, primary shot assists. He’s below average in everything else.

This​ ​isn’t​ ​because​ ​he’s​ ​been​ ​the​ ​best​ ​person​ ​on​ ​his​ ​line​ ​and​ ​his​ ​linemates​ ​are​ ​preventing​ ​him from​ ​being​ ​effective,​ ​either.​ ​The​ ​forward​ ​he’s​ ​spent​ ​the​ ​most​ ​5v5​ ​time​ ​with​ ​over​ ​the​ ​last​ ​two years​ ​(the​ ​time​ ​covered​ ​in​ ​the​ ​data​ ​collected​ ​for​ ​this​ ​graph)​ ​has​ ​been​ ​Austin​ ​Watson,​ ​distantly followed​ ​by​ ​Calle​ ​Järnkrok.

The​ ​only​ ​area​ ​in​ ​which​ ​Sissons​ ​has​ ​a​ ​history​ ​of​ ​outperforming​ ​either​ ​of​ ​them​ ​is​ ​in​ ​passes​ ​that directly​ ​lead​ ​to​ ​a​ ​shot,​ ​and​ ​even​ ​then​ ​Järnkrok​ ​is​ ​close.

Since​ ​Sissons​ ​is​ ​frequently​ ​compared​ ​to​ ​Fisher,​ ​here’s​ ​how​ ​their​ ​offensive​ ​play​ ​over​ ​the last​ ​two​ ​seasons​ ​compares​ ​as​ ​well:

The​ ​difference​ ​in​ ​their​ ​transition​ ​and​ ​build-up​ ​games​ ​is​ ​particularly​ ​striking—Fisher​ ​has​ ​top-line quality​ ​of​ ​play​ ​there,​ ​while​ ​Sissons​ ​emphatically​ ​does​ ​not.​ ​My​ ​instinct​ ​is​ ​that​ ​those​ ​are​ ​the​ ​two metrics​ ​most​ ​likely​ ​to​ ​be​ ​affected​ ​by​ ​linemates,​ ​though,​ ​and​ ​Fisher​ ​has​ ​been​ ​working​ ​on​ ​a​ ​much more​ ​solid​ ​line​ ​than​ ​Sissons,​ ​so​ ​it​ ​may​ ​not​ ​be​ ​as​ ​dire​ ​as​ ​it​ ​looks.

There​’s also the sample size issue.

The​ ​Passing​ ​Project​ ​as​ ​a​ ​whole​ ​currently​ ​still comes​ ​with​ ​a​ ​sample​ ​size​ ​alert. We’re​ ​looking​ ​at​ ​relatively​ ​little​ ​time​ ​for​ ​Sissons.​ ​The​ ​TOI​ ​is described​ ​as​ ​a​ ​“median,”​ ​not​ ​a​ ​sum,​ ​and​ ​I’m​ ​not​ ​sure​ ​what​ ​set​ ​it’s​ ​the​ ​median​ ​of,​ ​but​ ​Sissons has​ ​a​ ​third​ ​as​ ​much​ ​time​ ​as​ ​Järnkrok​ ​and​ ​a​ ​fifth​ ​as​ ​much​ ​time​ ​as​ ​Johansen—more​ ​data​ ​are involved​ ​for​ ​them​ ​than​ ​for​ ​him.

We should also consider that some​ ​players​ ​perform​ ​better​ ​with​ ​better​ ​players,​ ​not​ ​only​ ​in​ ​terms​ ​of complicated​ ​transition​ ​plays,​ ​but​ ​even​ ​in​ ​simpler​ ​things​ ​like​ ​receiving​ ​a​ ​pass​ ​and​ ​taking​ ​the​ ​shot. Sissons​ ​might​ ​be​ ​fine​ ​on​ ​a​ ​line​ ​with​ ​Forsberg​ ​and​ ​Åberg​ ​in​ ​a​ ​way​ ​that​ ​he​ ​isn’t​ ​with​ ​Järnkrok​ ​and Watson,​ ​because​ ​Forsberg’s​ ​play​ ​opens​ ​up​ ​more​ ​options.​

Still,​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​feel​ ​as​ ​confident​ ​in​ ​Sissons​ ​having​ ​a​ ​breakout​ ​2017-2018​ ​season​ ​as​ ​I​ ​did​ ​in Arvidsson​ ​having​ ​a​ ​breakout​ ​2016-2017.​ ​It​ ​gets​ ​worse​ ​when​ ​I​ ​look​ ​at​ ​where​ ​the​ ​Predators​ ​shoot from​ ​when​ ​Sissons​ ​is​ ​on​ ​the​ ​ice (courtesy of HockeyViz.com)

That​ ​would​ ​be​ ​great…if​ ​it​ ​were​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Predators’​ ​defensive​ ​zone,​ ​instead​ ​of​ ​the​ ​offensive​ ​zone. Again,​ ​his​ ​linemates​ ​could​ ​be​ ​playing​ ​a​ ​role​ ​in​ ​this,​ ​but​ ​it​ ​doesn’t​ ​inspire​ ​confidence.

None​ ​of​ ​this​ ​means​ ​that​ ​Sissons​ ​can’t​ ​continue​ ​to​ ​play​ ​well​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Cup Finals ​or​ ​even​ ​that​ ​he​ ​can’t play​ ​better​ ​going​ ​forward.​ ​The​ ​benefit​ ​of​ ​stats​ ​is​ ​that​ ​they​ ​can​ ​help​ ​predict​ ​future​ ​play, but they don’t guarantee it. Sissons hasn’t gotten enough of a chance yet for us to say this is all he has in the tank.​ ​He​ ​won’t​ ​be​ ​another​ ​Arvidsson,​ ​but​ ​who​ ​is?​ ​He​ ​could​ ​develop​ ​into​ ​a​ ​serviceable middle-six​ ​center​ ​for​ ​the​ ​Predators​ ​next​ ​year,​ ​and​ ​if​ ​he​ ​continues​ ​to​ ​play​ ​well​ ​this​ ​postseason​ ​I expect​ ​Laviolette​ ​to​ ​give​ ​him​ ​a​ ​chance​ ​to​ ​try.