2019-20 Predators Player Report Cards: Nick Bonino
Bones’s Smashville swan song was his best year in a Preds uniform.
Nick Bonino finally found his niche in Music City, just in time to be promptly traded somewhere else.
Say what you will about the deal that sent Bonino to the Minnesota Wild (personally, I think it made sense considering David Poile’s approach to the next couple of seasons). But boy howdy—his last season in Nashville was certainly one to remember. Bonino was the center-piece on the Predators’ most consistent line, and combined with his regained scoring touch and gritty defensive prowess, you could argue he was the Preds’ most critically valuable forward this past season.
Bones (or “Bone Zone,” as one OTFer tried and failed to dub him this season) finished with 18 goals and 17 assists for 35 points, a direct inverse from 2018-19 statline (17 goals and 18 assists). What’s impressive is that he hit that total in 14 fewer games. Had the league not stopped due to COVID-19 concerns, Bonino would have come close to setting his career-high mark in goals, 22, and likely would have topped 40 points for just the second time in his career, and the first since the 2013-2014 season.
The numbers are good enough, but Bonino’s overall offensive game is what stood out (in a good way) this seaon. Together with Craig Smith and Rocco Grimaldi, the trio combined to be the Preds’ most consistently offensively-efficient forward line.
There’s one big difference between the 2018-19 season and this past season. Take a look at the graphic below. The chart on the left is the shot map from Bonino’s ‘18-’19 season, while the one on the right is from this season.
A lot of Bonino’s shot attempts came from the wings or just above the circle in prior years. But this season, we saw a higher emphasis on offense generated from the slot, right around the net. Those aren’t just high-danger wristers, those are tips, deflections, and rebounds, exactly the type of grind-it-out goals you’d expect your third line to chip in.
Overall, there really wasn’t a whole lot Bonino didn’t do well this past season. He did well in the face-off circle (second in face-off win percentage to Johansen among Preds full-time centers.) He was the best penalty-killing forward, an area he did exceptionally well at despite the Preds’ short-handed struggles. Even shot blocking, a stat that has lost its luster among the stats community in the past few years, is another aspect where Bonino excelled.
If there is a downside to Bonino’s game, it’s the fact that—as my colleague Bryan Bastin put it—he’s not a microstats guy. What he meant by that is that in some advanced stats, like zone entries and exits, Bonino didn’t do particularly well. That third line didn’t do a great job of carrying the puck through the neutral zone and setting up offense. But again, that’s not a huge knock on that line...it’s just a product of their different styles.
Look, I’m nit-picking here. Again, there really wasn’t anything that stood out as an obvious drawback to Bonino’s game. He’s someone who did a lot of things well.
There was also this...
In what turned out to be one of the most one-sided 3-0 games in NHL history, Nick Bonino scored all three goals in the Preds’ win over the Chicago Blackhawks back at the end of October.
As mentioned earlier, Bonino will have a new team whenever the NHL season finally resumes. It’ll be curious to see where he falls in the Wild’s lineup. With the departure of Eric Staal and Luke Kunin (whom the Preds got in return for Bonino), Minnesota is extremely thin at center. It’s not far-fetched to think Bonino could have a top-six role with the Wild.
The Final Grade
Your turn, Preds fans. What grade would you give Bonino for his 2019-20 season?
What grade would you give Nick Bonino for the 2019-20 season?