Player: Sam Lafferty
Born: March 6, 1995 (25 years old, but played most of the regular season as a 24 year old)
Height: 6’ 1”
Weight: 195 pounds
Birthplace: Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania
Draft: 2014 Pittsburgh Penguins, 4th round, 113th overall
2019-20 Statistics: 50 games played, 6 goals, 7 assists, 13 points
Contract Status: Last season was the second year of a two-year entry level deal that Lafferty signed back in 2018. The deal paid Lafferty an AAV of $925,000 a season at the NHL level but only resulted in a $767,500 hit against the salary cap. Lafferty is now set to become a restricted free agent this offseason and will need a new deal if the Penguins wish to bring him back.
This was Lafferty’s first season in the NHL, therefore this is his first appearance in the Pensburgh season review series.
Regular Season History & 2019-20 Stats
One of the best type of stories in sports is when a local kid has the opportunity to play for the team. Hailing from Hollidaysburg, Sam Lafferty lived that story this season with the Penguins. A strong 2018-19 season in the AHL put Lafferty on the potential call-up radar heading into 2019-20 and that call-up came to fruition on October 8th against the Winnipeg Jets.
After going pointless in this first two career games, Lafferty exploded in his next two, scoring his first career goal against the Minnesota Wild and recording two assists. On the very next night in Winnipeg Lafferty potted another two goals, including what turned out to be the game winner.
From that point on, Lafferty remained a consistent presence in the lineup though the scoring was never sustained. Luckily, Lafferty wasn’t asked to come to the NHL and be a point scoring machine, the Penguins just needed him to provide solid depth while they battled through injury after injury.
Overall, Lafferty accomplished most of that the Penguins asked from him and it should be enough to get him another contract to return to the team for next season.
For a player who begins a majority of his shifts in the defensive zone you would like to see these possession numbers be a little bit higher. According to Natural Stat Trick, Lafferty spend most of his playing time alongside either Teddy Blueger or Alex Galchenyuk.
On the season, Blueger was a positive possession player away from Lafferty, but dipped below 50% with Lafferty. Should Lafferty make a return to the Penguins next season and Blueger make the jump to 3C, then Lafferty will likely be looking at a new center partner if he plays on the fourth line like it seems the Penguins prefer.
Should that new center partner be a player like Zach-Aston Reese, then that could be very good news for Lafferty as the two combined for a CF% of 56.3 when on the ice together last season.
With Jared McCann struggling in a major way against the Canadiens in the qualifying round, Mike Sullivan replaced him in the lineup with Lafferty for Game 3. An impressive summer camp performance has many fans hopeful that Lafferty could provide the Penguins with a boost, but he was relatively unnoticeable in a 4-3 loss where he only saw 7:40 of ice time.
After being called up only two games into the season, Lafferty was a pretty consistent presence in the Penguins lineup except for January where he only appeared in five of the Penguins 12 games that month. Two of those games were due to illness while the others were a healthy scratch. Lafferty never returned to the AHL after his initial call up in October. From December through the end of the season, Lafferty went through a brutal scoring drought, recording only four points in that span.
Charts (via HockeyViz)
Overall Role & General Data
It can be hard to adjust to playing in the NHL when your typical line partners vary like they did for Lafferty this season. If he does rejoin the Penguins for 2020-21, let’s hope he can find more consistent linemates that he can form proper chemistry with.
Another area that Lafferty could work on to make himself more valuable to the team is his penalty killing. No one expect him to be running a power play, but for a depth player, becoming a quality penalty killer could up his value and make him a full-time player for the Penguins rather than having to worry about healthy scratches.
Even-Strength Unblocked Shot Locations
Not a lot of shot volume from Lafferty this season but that is to be expected given his role on the team. What we can see though is Lafferty is willing to let fly from just about anywhere in the offensive zone if given the chance.
With Lafferty on the ice at even strength, the Penguins expected goals against per 60 minutes dropped drastically. Seeing all that blue in the high danger area is a good sign and something the Penguins goalies certainly appreciate.
For a former fourth round draft pick, Lafferty simply making the NHL is an accomplishment in itself, let alone being a consistent presence in the Penguins for most of the 2019-20 season. As the Penguins battled injuries from the start, Lafferty stepped up and provided the Penguins with some much needed reinforcements throughout the season.
Being an injury call up meant Lafferty had to play with various different linemantes that prevented him from forming any real chemistry that could have helped him be more productive in terms of offense and possession. What he did give the Penguins was a body to eat up minutes while not getting caved in while on the ice.
Before we can map put the ideal 2020-21 season for Lafferty, we need to know whether or not he will be back in Pittsburgh. For that happen, he and the Penguins will need to come to an agreement on a on a new contract. Lafferty it set to become a restricted free agent and is arbitration eligible. Given what we saw from Lafferty this season, it’s easy to picture him coming back on a new one or two year “prove it” type deal.
Assuming he comes back to Pittsburgh, the ideal scenario for Lafferty is a bottom-six role that includes consistent playing time and consistent linemates. No one will be asking him to lead the team in scoring, but avoiding another drought like he had last season will be key. Should Blueger make the jump to 3C, Lafferty could be in the running to replace him on the fourth line.
Question to ponder
If the Penguins have an overall healthier season in 2020-21, can Lafferty do enough to prove he belongs in the everyday lineup and not just hanging around on the roster as a 13th forward?
Lafferty gave us plenty to evaluate from this past season, but it still leaves us with questions about his long term future in the NHL. For a call up, Lafferty gave the Penguins exactly what they needed as the injuries piled up, but what happens with the Penguins don’t have those roster spots to fill next season? With plenty of offseason moves left to come, we should have a better feel for Lafferty’s standing in the organization as the new season draws closer.
Grade Sam Lafferty’s 2019-20 performance:
This poll is closed