Player: Jeff Carter
Born: January 1, 1985 (36 years old)
Weight: 219 pounds
Hometown: London, Ontario
Draft: 2003, Philadelphia Flyers, First Round (No. 11 overall)
2020-21 Statistics: 54 games played — 17 goals, 13 assists, 30 points (14 games played — 9 goals, 2 assists, 11 points with the Penguins)
Contract Status: Carter is signed on through 2021-22 at a $2.636mil cap hit (the LA Kings retained 50% of his $5.273mil contract). At the end of next season, he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
During a postseason in which the Penguins’ famously potent offense struggled to reach twine against the New York Islanders, Carter led Pittsburgh in scoring with four goals. His five points, second to only Kris Letang for the team lead, included the deciding tally of a 2-1 Game 2 victory and two goals during the Penguins’ 5-4 Game 3 win.
Story of the Season
Due to Carter’s nearly immediate success with the Penguins after his trade deadline acquisition— he registered 11 points in 14 regular-season games and then five in six playoff contests, quickly establishing his position as one of the most successful third-line center experiments in Pittsburgh’s recent history— it seems difficult to believe that the Kings were willing to retain half of his salary when they sent Carter to the Penguins in exchange for two conditional draft picks.
But Carter’s shot charts from recent reasons show the story of a one-time first-line center (in 2008-09, he led the Flyers with 46 goals) who had struggled defensively after a brutal injury impacted his game in 2017. With the Kings in 2018-19 and 2019-20, Carter’s line buckled against scoring attempts from the danger zone right in front of the net. When on the ice, opposing teams earned an average +4.6% expected goals against while Carter averaged -3.95% expected goals for. (Numbers courtesy of HockeyViz.)
All of that turned around in 2020-21. Carter limited most opposing team’s scoring attempts to shots from the blue line, positively impacting both the Penguins’ offense and defense— and that’s while facing a high quality of competition, thanks to the fact that much of his regular-season play with the Penguins was spent filling in for an injured Evgeni Malkin on the second line.
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. Note: Carter only played 14 contests of the 56-game season with Pittsburgh.
Corsi For%: 53.67% (2nd)
Goals For%: 75.0% (1st)
xGF%: 53.80% (3rd)
Scoring Chance %: 57.58% (1st)
High Danger Scoring Chance%: 56.0% (1st)
5v5 on-ice shooting%: 14.85% (1st)
On-ice save%: .943 (4th)
Goals/60: 1.07 (1st)
Here’s Carter’s WAR card for this season, in which the benefits of the Kings retaining half of his salary are immediately apparent.
Below is Carter’s three-year look at WAR. After suffering a major ankle injury in October 2017, he’s slowly climbing back to his old self. You can see the arrows pointing up as the 399 career goal-scorer returned to doing what has always done best: putting the puck in the net.
Below is a look at Carter’s game over time. You can see the drop-off in the 2017-18 season due to his major injury and the time it took to recover, but the Penguins are beneffiting from a late-career bounceback. As a savvy veteran, he’s begun to lean on his defensive game more, giving him value even beyond his blistering one-timer.
Here’s Carter’s player card, which combines his time in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh. As anyone who watched the Penguins late in the season knows, Carter’s team tended to get pucks in the net while he was on the ice (check out the bottom right chart in the blue box).
Here’s a shot chart for Carter with the Penguins. His shot pattern reveals his history as a right winger, although he slotted in nearly seamlessly as a center in Pittsburgh. His well-earned reputation as a volume shooter remains intact.
This final chart reveals at the bottom the increasing defensive role Carter took on in 2020-21. As the Penguins began to lean on him on the backcheck, we can see the red line steadily climbing upwards.
The first graph reveals that Carter played exclusively with Jared McCann on his left (in green) as they found chemistry together. His right wing remained in frequent rotation as players dipped in and out of the injured reserve and lines fluctuated; McCann and Carter rotated right wings from Jason Zucker to Kasperi Kapanen and finally Frederick Gaudreau.
Carter’s first goal in Pittsburgh showcased one of the most exciting qualities he brought to the team: a terrifyingly powerful slap shot.
On May 6, Carter’s offensive explosion against the visiting Sabres marked the first four-goal outing of his career.
Carter made his case for a place on the Penguins’ top power-play unit with this quick short-side strike in Game 3.
The Carter trade was a success in 2020-21. It gave the Penguins one of their most consistent scorers of the postseason, and added some defensive-mindedness to their forwards corps. Still, Carter only played 14 regular-season games in Pittsburgh. Will his chemistry with Jared McCann continue into 2021-22?
Malkin’s off-season surgery means that he might not be ready for the start of next season, possibly returning Carter to a second-line role. But an ideal 2021-22 sees Malkin returning quickly, placing Carter on the third line— a role that would decrease the quality of his competition and give him even more of a chance to thrive.
Questions To Ponder
Carter registered just one of his 14 regular-season Penguins points on the man advantage. Throughout his career, the center has done most of his work at even strength— but could there be a place for him on the Penguins’ power play in 2021-22?
And of course, the biggest question is: Will the 36-year-old center be able to continue his impressive scoring pace through a full regular season in Pittsburgh?
You’ve seen the data; now it’s time for you to weigh in.
How would you grade Jeff Carter’s 2020-21 season?
This poll is closed