Player: Zach Aston-Reese
Born: August 10, 1994 (Age 27. He’ll turn 28 on August 10— is a joint Aston-Reese/Crosby birthday party in the works?)
Height: 6’ 0”
Weight: 204 pounds
Hometown: Staten Island, New York
Draft: Undrafted (Signed two-year ELC with Penguins in March 2017)
2021-22 Statistics: 52 games played with Penguins— two goals, nine assists, 22 penalty minutes (with Anaheim Ducks: 17 games played, three goals, one assist, six PIM)
Contract Status: Aston-Reese was traded to the Ducks at the deadline with a one-year, $1.725 million contract, which was signed in summer 2021 following arbitration with Ron Hextall and the Penguins. He is set to be an unrestricted free agent next month.
Fun fact: Despite leading the NCAA in goals (31) during his senior season at Northeastern, Aston-Reese was not chosen in the years before for the NHL draft. He is one of several successful Penguins signings of undrafted players (others include Conor Sheary, Casey DeSmith and Carter Rowney.)
Note: Aston-Reese was traded to the Anaheim Ducks on February 21
Story of the Season
Aston-Reese began the season on a roster which was missing both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, leaving him on the third line with Teddy Blueger and Brock McGinn. In those early October days, Aston-Reese was averaging over 15 minutes per night. By January, with a healthier forward lineup, he was sometimes skating for under nine minutes per game.
The decreased ice time might have had something to do with his flagging production. After tallying a goal against the visiting Canucks on November 24, Aston-Reese did not score again for 34 games.
He finally struck against the Hurricanes on March 13, which would end up being his last game as a Penguin after he was traded the following week at the deadline in the trade that brought Rickard Rakell to Pittsburgh.
Today’s hidden stat is Aston-Reese talking about how little he knows about his hidden stats.
Regular season 5v5 advanced stats
Data via Natural Stat Trick. Ranking is out of 17 forwards on the team who qualified by playing a minimum of 150 minutes.
Corsi For%: 49.58% (15th)
Goals For%: 60.61% (4th)
xGF%: 50.41% (3rd)
Scoring Chance %: 47.82% (15th)
High Danger Scoring Chance%: 51.14% (14th)
5v5 on-ice shooting%: 7.12% (12th)
On-ice save%: 95.0% (2nd)
Goals/60: 0.10 (17th)
Assist/60: 0.92 (11th)
Points/60: 1.03 (16th)
Aston-Reese did not rank among the leaders in most offensive categories, but check out that on-ice save percentage. More on this below.
Zach Aston-Reese, reportedly traded to ANA, is an all-defence forechecking bottom-six winger who has consistently put up elite defensive results for the past four seasons by keeping the puck along the boards and away from his net. #FlyTogether pic.twitter.com/OmP0BtQgzB— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) March 21, 2022
This JFresh article on Aston-Reese’s defensive work, from June 2020, is worth a read. You may have heard Aston-Reese is a bit of an analytics darling in terms of his defensive numbers. JFresh breaks down why after his 2019-20 season:
I honestly think that the core of Aston-Reese’s “defensive” brilliance actually comes down to maintaining puck possession in the offensive zone. In both games, ZAR’s line spent entire shifts wearing out their opponents along the boards behind their own net and just generally being pains in the ass.
Typically their shifts would involve a dump-in with Aston-Reese going to retrieve the puck... according to Corey Sznajder’s stat tracking, he ranked 20th in the league among forwards in puck retrievals per 60 minutes, first among forwards who played more than 15 games for the Pens.
Something I also kept noticing is how frequently Aston-Reese moves to his off-wing to support the forecheck, battle for pucks, or make himself open for a scoring chance. Oftentimes this led either to a puck battle win or forced a defenceman to make a hasty clear out of the zone that ended up back in the Penguins’ possession... Despite all of this movement, I never saw Aston-Reese get exposed coming back; he always had time to get back to the left side.
Once in his own end, Aston-Reese played pretty deep in his zone, which wasn’t what I was expecting. He was very active along the boards, and almost always seemed to make the right play to chop the puck out of the zone and over a defender’s stick. His line’s M/O was the same as in the offensive zone: kill time.
The Athletic’s GVSA card ties largely to the WAR% looks too: Aston-Reese is an elite defensive forward but struggles mightily at generating offense.
Aston-Reese came onto the scene scoring 12 goals in his first 59 NHL games (over the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons). That’s a 19-goal pace in a full season and suggested that he might grow into being a middle-line winger with that sort of scoring punch.
Unfortunately, that part of Aston-Reese’s game never took root and 2018-19, where he scored 17 points in 43 games, remains the best offensive season of his career. Probably for the reason of the stagnating offense, Aston-Reese became a trade candidate for Pittsburgh.
The micro-stats in 2021-22 also back this notion about Aston-Reese’s limits about how he stacks. His passing is very poor and his shooting is not much better. He has some bright spots with the puck when it comes to zone entries, but this is a player who is more effective without the puck than with it.
Aston-Reese springs Blueger on a breakaway:
But his true talent may lie in the sport of curling:
Evan Rodrigues and Zach Aston-Reese are 'rock'stars.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 2, 2022
Tune in for the newest Bold Penguin Challenge: curling ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/0TFUsTHHvq
Aston-Reese was defensively solid for the Penguins in 2021-22, just as he has been for the past three seasons, because he drives puck possession and doesn’t give the opposing team many chances. His offensive numbers took a dive this season, resulting in a few healthy scratches and setting the stage for an eventual trade off of the team.
Aston-Reese would be a strong bottom-line candidate for a number of NHL teams. The question is how much it will cost to sign him in 2022-23. What do you think— would you like to see him back in Pittsburgh?
How would you grade Zach Aston-Reese’s 2021-22 Penguins season?