Player: Sam Lafferty
Born: March 6, 1995
Weight: 195 lbs.
Hometown: Hollidaysburg, PA
Draft: 2014 Pittsburgh Penguins, 4th round, 113th overalll
2020-21 Statistics: 34 games played — 0 goals, 6 assists, 6 points
Contract Status: Signed for 2021-22 with a $750,00 cap hit, scheduled to be a unrestricted free agent next summer in 2022
2019-20 Pensburgh Season in Review (46% C Grade, 44% B Grade)
As the Pens got back to health, Lafferty was out of the lineup, playing no games in the postseason and only two after April 15th.
Story of the season
In just the third game of the season, back on January 17th against Washington, Lafferty turned a puck over in front of his own net that ended up a goal against and was basically benched, getting only 3:07 of ice time that game. It would unfortunately set a sour tone for the season.
Lafferty wouldn’t play again for almost two weeks, with coach Mike Sullivan saying, “he’s a good player. He can really skate. He brings good size and a physical dimension. I had a conversation with Sam yesterday about this. I think for Sam to be in the lineup every night, he just has to bring more consistency to his game.”
As the team tried to find a role for Lafferty, Sullivan held up the example of Brandon Tanev as a style they wanted to see Lafferty morph towards, but consistency was something lacking for Lafferty all season. He didn’t score a goal this season. It took nine games for him to record an assist. His decision making the defensive zone was at times lacking in noticeable ways.
March may have been Lafferty’s best month, due to injuries to the forward group the Pens had to rely on him more, including some on the third line at times. He also played left wing, center and right wing at different points in the month, showcasing some versatility. But he never found a way to break through and as the team got healthier, his role morphed back down to being just depth out of the lineup.
Regular season 5v5 advanced stats
data via Natural Stat Trick. Ranking is out of 16 forwards on the team who qualified by playing a minimum of 150 minutes
Corsi For%: 44.2% (16th)
Goals For%: 37.5% (16th)
xGF%: 43.5% (15th)
Scoring Chance %: 49.2% (10th)
High Danger Scoring Chance%: 40.8% (15th)
5v5 on-ice shooting%: 6.3% (16th)
On-ice save%: .912% (12th)
Goals/60: 0.0 (16th)
Assist/60: 1.1 (7th)
Points/60: 1.1 (16th)
—It’s not a pretty picture analytically for Lafferty. In the deep dive stats, he’s probably the least impressive all around regularly used forward on the team in 2020-21.
—The one bright spot is that Lafferty passed the puck well and gathered some assists in his limited time out there.
WAR did not smile upon Lafferty, as you might expect from the stats listed above. It was a struggle for him out there this year, and a let down from last year.
The Penguins, unfortunately, were just a worse team than the opponent overall with Lafferty on the ice in 2020-21.
One problem developing for Lafferty is a lack of ice time and multiple stops and starts to his game samples. You can see dating back to last year, he started strong with near 2 primary points/60 and was getting third line ice time. However, everything slumps down from there.
The on vs off splits in the bottom graphs are pretty jarring for how different the team has fared with and without Lafferty.
Given these struggles, Lafferty was placed in a limited, clean-up defensive type role, typically with players like Colton Sceviour and Mark Jankowski who aren’t really the caliber to help elevate others, and Lafferty also was unable to help.
Unfortunately, there’s not a ton to choose from. Lafferty was playing his best in an eight game stretch from late March to early April were he scored four assists in eight games. This pass for Evan Rodrigues against Buffalo on March 24th was a nice assist.
Jankowski ➡️ Lafferty ➡️ Rodrigues ➡️ Back of the net pic.twitter.com/4cDdPNurBU— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 25, 2021
A few nights later on March 27th, Lafferty led a 2-on-1 rush and setup Frederick Gaudreau for a goal to open the scoring in a win over the Islanders. Unfortunately for Lafferty personally, the emergency of Gaudreau late in the season was a positive for Pittsburgh that pretty much blocked Lafferty’s chances from dressing for the important games down the line.
Frederick Gaudreau's first goal as a member of the Penguins got things started tonight pic.twitter.com/Ssu0TtTHfR— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 27, 2021
Lafferty has long intrigued coaches, media members and fans alike with the speed he has and the ability he has in practices. However, it hasn’t yet translated under the lights of the game action. Lafferty was a replacement level player in 2019-20 that was covered up by a bit of production. In 2020-21, that production dried up. Having a one-way contract for next season buys him what could be one more chance, at least in the Pens organization.
Lafferty’s position probably depends on what happens with other roster moves, including impending free agent statuses of Rodrigues and Gaudreau (UFA’s) and Teddy Blueger and Zach Aston-Reese (RFA’s). If any of those players depart the Pens, the opportunity for Lafferty becomes more apparent. If not, he may be a reserve 13th or 14th forward (where he will also have competition from players like Anthony Angello) that will be waiting for an injury to get to play.
Lafferty will have to make the most of the limited minutes and chances he gets. Ideally for him if and when that chance comes, he shows some consistency and plays well enough to carve out a niche in the lineup.
Question to ponder
How many games will Lafferty get to dress next season? Will he look like 2019-20 or 2020-21 or even get to build on it a bit? At now 26 years old and going into his third NHL season, he’s got a lot to prove and a clock ticking pretty loudly right now.
How would you grade Sam Lafferty’s 2020-21 season?
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