Breaking Down: AJ Greer – It’s Time To Go

The Avs drafted AJ Greer in 2015 after a dominant high school career and a solid freshman year at BU as one of the youngest players in the NCAA. At the time, training him to be a top 6 power forward seemed to be the logical path given the Avs lack of wings beyond Gabe Landeskog and Greer’s draft classmate Mikko Rantanen. Following a move to the QMJHL and a strong playoff run in his D+1 he debuted in the AHL and immediately began scoring like mad with fellow rookie JT Compher and Rocco Grimaldi. Then the issues began to appear.

Compher went out with a concussion, breaking up the chemistry of the Rampage’s top scoring line. When he returned there was a shooting percentage correction that was made up with higher shot production rates and actually looked more sustainable. What happened next was that the mercenary AHL vets on the team couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain so the Compher line got the toughest matchups and began to struggle. With perfect hindsight the real problem was the Rampage staff’s refusal to get the youngsters experience in defensive situations early in the season to prepare them for a top line role by the time the vets inevitably crapped out in January.

Greer (and Compher) never got comfortable in defensive situations or the PK because they were never used there. That hurt Compher in the NHL this year and continues to hurt Greer now. Even in Greer’s second AHL season he was rarely used in that role, which is insane because it was obvious that Coach Bednar very much wanted to use him that way with the Avalanche. Coach Veilleux either didn’t know or didn’t care and the development staff’s solution seemed to be asking him to fight people if he wanted an NHL job. Thus, he has become the latest poster child for the disconnect between the Avs NHL needs and the AHL’s system of providing for them.

That said we’re here to look at what is rather than what could be or what should have been. In his second pro season Greer played 17 NHL games, 35 AHL games and missed time here and there with some injuries along the way. He played just over 120 minutes in the NHL so there’s the small sample size caveat with all of this, for better and for worse.

Legend: i – individual, CF – shot attempts for, xGF – expected goals for, G – goals, GF – goals for, P – points

iCF/CF – 23.5%, 5th on team
ixGF/xGF – 14.7%, 16th on team

When Greer was on the ice he was a driver of shot attempts and slots in right around Tyson Jost and Carl Soderberg in that respect. That’s good. Despite taking nearly a quarter of the shot attempts he generated only one-seventh of the shot quality and that’s not so good. When Greer is productive he’s a strong net-front presence and there’s no evidence he was able to make that happen for various reasons. He’s not a perimeter shooter, although he does have a strong shot, so that’s a logical explanation for his lack of goal-scoring.

P/GF – 0.75, 4th on team
P/xGF – 0.98, 2nd on team
P/60 – 1.47, 7th on team

He didn’t play much and got skunked on the goal board but he did contribute offensively with the time given. Again, these are very small samples but he wasn’t a black hole at all. While his personal Sh% was 0.0, his on-ice Sh% was a moderate 7.7 so this isn’t some kind of PDO anomaly. If you want an anomaly, he had 0 goals on 13 shots at 5v5 while his linemates had 4 goals on 39 shots (10.2%). This hints that he’s a passer, sort of, which is ironic considering he had more goals than assists in the AHL.

CF/60 – 41.7, 24th on team
xGF/60 – 1.5, 24th on team
GF/xGF – 1.31, 7th on team

Here’s where we get to some ugly numbers in on-ice shot generation. Depending on how you want to look at it, it’s either a cause or an effect of a poor CF%. Greer’s CA/60 is high but it’s right in there with the Soderberg line, Landeskog and Jost so the conclusion is that shot generation is just a problem in and of itself. The low shot quality is something you can put more on his shoulders since he was weak in that area but his linemates sure didn’t help.

Greer’s most common linemates were Kerfoot/Yakupov then Toninato/Bourque. His overall on-ice goals for per hour rate was 1.96 and goals against was 0.98. Shot attempts were 41.71 for and 62.32 against. Here’s how he fared with his usual partners:

Kerfoot – Goals 2.60 for, 0.87 against. Attempts 40.7 for, 64.95 against (69:16)
Yakupov – Goals 1.87 for, 0.94 against. Attempts 40.22 for, 65.47 against (64:09)
Toninato – Goals 0.0 for, 0.0 against. Attempts 44.42 for, 51.53 against (33:46)
Bourque – Goals 1.79 for, 0.0 against. Attempts 41.19 for, 60.9 against (33:30)

Thanks to a very high on-ice save percentage with just about everyone on the team nothing much bad happened when he was on the ice, regardless of linemates. His numbers with Toninato still aren’t great but are the most promising of the bunch. In an offensive role with Kerf & Yak shot share was alarming but they did produce. I’m just not sure why you would use him in a role like that in the bottom 6 until he’s more developed. What the numbers with Toninato & Bourque show is that despite having very little pro experience in a defensively oriented role, he can function there even so. Imagine if the AHL staff had been training him to fit in there for the last 2 years. Wow, it’s the big physical winger we’ve been looking for.

 

For a more positive outlook we have some, but not many, AHL stats to peruse. He had 8 goals and 5 assists in 35 games. Granted the 5 assists are a red flag but 7 regular players ended up with more goals than assists, which I attribute partially to Eric Veilleux’s horrible offensive systems and partially to the official scorer in San Antonio. Let’s compare this year to last:

Shots per game: 2.14, +3.4%
Goals per game: 0.229, -3.8%
Even Strength goals per game: 0.2, +39.8%
Power Play goals per game: 0.029, -69%
Shooting percentage: 10.7, -8%
Assists per game: 0.143, -60.8%
Even Strength assists per game: 0.086, -61.3%
Power Play assists per game: 0.057, -60.8%
PIM per game: 0.97, -23%

That’s a lot of red, but not all of it is bad. Shots per game were marginally higher on what I would estimate is lower ice time so that’s actually a decent bump. Goal scoring at even strength was a whole lot better plus his shooting percentage was closer to league average

Greer didn’t get nearly the amount of PP time he did as a rookie and even when he did his role was mainly to screen the goalie not handle the puck. Unless he was super unlucky it’s easy to estimate that he took less than 10 PP shots on goal all season. Smart move coach! Like all assists, the PPAs took a huge hit.

The PIMs going down significantly dispels the narratives that a) he’s undisciplined and b) he’s out there picking fights constantly. If you want to get old school you can say he’s not being physical enough but a PIM per game is plenty and most of the physical guys other than Mason Geertsen were around that or lower.

 

Putting together a profile of Greer looking back on this year and forward to next there’s more to be positive about than at first glance. His point production at both levels without context is alarming, sure, but breaking it down a bit there has been improvement and the NHL potential is still there.

Generating shots isn’t a problem, getting better quality chances is and that’s going to come from better opportunities and confidence. Greer generated assists at a fine level in the NHL but bad coaching strategies eviscerated that part of his game in the A. Scoring goals wasn’t an issue in the A but he remained stymied in the NHL. Despite getting help from an inflated on-ice save percentage he did his job defensively when called on with the Avs but got no help or instruction in that area with the Rampage.

The objectives have changed since Greer turned pro and that has stunted his growth a bit. He’s big, plays a physical game, has the skills to move the puck forward and produce points. In the 3rd year of his ELC he deserves to be catered to with opportunity and instruction in the early part of this season. I want to see him playing against the toughest competition in all situations with the Eagles and playing regularly on the penalty kill. If it doesn’t work out that’s fine but the org needs to know sooner rather than later where the weak spots are. The main point here is that Greer has been failed by the Avs dev system but has to take on a fair share of the responsibility himself. Best case is that he shows well in training camp, stays at the top of the callup list and the staff in Loveland follow through with what needs to be done. With any luck they can pat themselves on the back next summer and say they’ve finally developed their first depth player.

 

 

Thanks to Natural Stat Trick, the NHL and AHL for the stats

earl06

Scoring LW, punchy climber for the Ardennes classics, spirit guide

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