After an impressive three-year career in the QMJHL with the Gatineau Olympiques—compiling 74 goals and 195 points in 169 regular season games—Yakov Trenin debuted for the Milwaukee Admirals at the end of the 2016-17 season, scoring three points in five games. Expected to have an impressive full rookie season in 2017-18, Trenin fell victim to a scary hit that left him limited to 44 games and only 16 points as he bounced around the bottom-six upon return from rehabbing his collarbone.
There were reports of a return to Russia early last summer (which were not completely groundless), and there was much consensus that Nashville had burned another early draft pick in an era where they didn’t have many.
But, after a 74-game season in Milwaukee, Yakov Trenin is in a very different place. He finished eighth on the team in scoring with 33 points (sixth among forwards in the same category) and fifth in goals with 14 (just one behind first-round selection Eeli Tolvanen). Only two of those goals were not at even strength, and 28 of his 33 points were primary ones.
So, what should we make of Trenin’s 2018-19 campaign?
Last January, I did a dive into the rise of Trenin, Anthony Richard, and Pavel Koltygin in the Nashville system and provided some context to their production by analyzing their QMJHL peers. At the time, I defined peers as players drafted out of the QMJHL in the first or second round between 2013 and 2015. Here is what I found:
You can see Trenin ran with the pack fairly well despite shooting considerably less in 2017-18 and missing so much development time with his injury. Below, I’ll re-evaluate these numbers one year later and analyze some game tape from this season to highlight his strengths and weaknesses heading into next season.
When I conducted this analysis last year, I limited my search to players drafted from the QMJHL between 2013 and 2015. This time, I have expanded it to include 2016, too. There were 26 forwards drafted in the first or second round out of the QMJHL in this four-year span, but seven of them either didn’t play in the AHL or didn’t play an AHL season of 20+ games (MacKinnon, Drouin, Paquin-Boudreau, Ehlers, Beauvillier, Dubois, and Laberge), so I excluded them. Four of the rest have only played one AHL season (Sorensen, Karabacek, Meier, and Sprong), so I excluded them, too. That leaves us with 15 forwards, including Trenin, drafted in this span. Of these 15, eight of them played four seasons in the QMJHL (not just three).
The charts below will measure goals per game and points per game each season from the player’s first full QMJHL season through their second AHL campaign. The players are ordered by overall selection in the NHL Entry Draft.
As you can see in the chart above, Trenin (data shown on the bold yellow line) was an above-average goal scorer relative to his peers in the QMJHL—impressive among elite talent like Evgeni Svechnikov and Anthony Mantha . He obviously is significantly below the pack in AHL scoring and only had the 10th biggest jump in goals-per-game among this group from Year 1 to Year 2. I anticipated that ranking would be a bit higher, but I surmise rating scoring per 60 minutes would provide Trenin with a boost given his mostly third-line minutes this season. Trenin also had the fourth lowest goals-per-game retention rate of this group from a player’s final season in the QMJHL to their second season in the AHL - 28.6% (better than Svechnikov, Frederik Gauthier, and Marco Roy). But, that doesn’t paint the entire picture considering two of those players are NHL regulars now.
If you thought analyzing points-per-game for Trenin among his peers would move the needle much, it sadly, does not. His production, despite a healthy season, still leaves much to be desired. We certainly can’t quantify how much his leg and collarbone injuries derailed his offensive development, but they don’t help. Despite a season of just mild offensive production, Trenin still ranked 37th of nearly 200 U22 forwards in the AHL this season in scoring while shooting less per game than he did in 2017-18 and he was a monster of possession posting the third best goals-against per 60 minutes rate of all forwards this season (1.147 GA/60) and an absurd relative goals-for rate of 22.44% - a top-five mark league-wide.
So, what exactly has changed? It’s pretty simply actually. Trenin, quietly but effectively, overhauled his style of play this season.
Throughout his QMJHL career, Trenin was a bruising body who shot the puck a ton and, over three years, grew quite adept at scoring goals from a compacting spot in between the faceoff dots. But he’s shooting the puck less now, with better offensive numbers. In fact, out of this group of 15, Trenin has the second-lowest (next to Svechnikov) shots per game retention rate from a player’s final season of juniors to their second season in the AHL—37.8%. Below, I’ll use some film to highlight where Trenin has shifted his game.
The goal above is representative of Trenin’s best asset in the QMJHL: he skated into the defense instead of around it, shot a ton, and shot very close to the net. And it worked pretty well. His size is still a valuable asset, but he’s really grown intelligence in new parts of the offensive zone.
Imagine the space below the goal line to the side of the net and up the wall around the face-off circle as a big ‘J’. I think Trenin really developed a niche in that ‘J’ this season, and the clip above is an excellent highlight of that. He’s not an elite skater but beats out three defenders in a race to the puck, cycles the puck with a crisp pass, and heads straight to open ice in the slot.
Above is another excellent example of Trenin focusing on the forecheck of the puck away from the Royal Road area. His simple puck-support positioning leads to two high-danger chances and a goal.
Here is another example—on the power play—of Trenin’s newly developed skills. He’s become an impressively crisp cycle player, which can be a real asset. Again, these are complex strategies; Trenin has just learned to be more effective with and without the puck.
All of this doesn’t mean that Trenin ceased being an effective net-front player. In fact, we saw more of that as he was paired with Joe Pendenza—another incredibly good possession player this season—in the final months of the season, like on the set face-off play above.
And we still saw flashes of vintage Yakov Trenin, and it’s something to behold. Such an impressive play above.
There is no doubt that 2019-20 will be a consequential year for Yakov Trenin. He could stand to shoot more, and I think his and Pendenza’s possession dominance will regress some. But the tools are all there. He’s maintained his status as an excellent north-south player, but this season, he expanded his wheelhouse in the offensive zone and took better advantage of open space, noticed the advantage a crisp cycle can give you, and bettered his lateral puck movement across the middle of the zone.
With increased ice time, I anticipate Trenin could hit or nearly hit the 50-point mark next season. It’s possible he’s an AHL-lifer, but there are several assets to his play that are close to taking a big leap forward.