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2017-18 Player Review: Erik Haula quickly established himself as a top-six talent

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Haula surprised many with 29 goals in his first season with the Golden Knights, nearly doubling his previous career high of 15.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Vegas Golden Knights Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

In the 2017-18 Player Review series, we will evaluate the 2017-18 performances of each member of the Golden Knights. We have assigned each player a grade, which is a Knights On Ice composite grade made up of our individual ratings. Players were evaluated based on overall performance in both the regular season and playoffs, especially with regard to pre-season expectations and how that player performed in his particular role. Note: Only skaters who played in at least 20 games and goalies who played in at least 10 games were included.

When George McPhee struck a deal with the Minnesota Wild to not draft one of Minnesota’s prized defensemen in last summer’s expansion draft but instead take Erik Haula and receive forward prospect Alex Tuch as compensation, little did he know that that would turn into 44 goals and 99 points of good ol’ middle-six production. But while no one in Vegas really knew what was in store for the upcoming campaign, they certainly didn’t see Haula coming. The restricted free agent, whom Vegas promptly signed to a three-year, $8.25 million contract upon selecting him last June, was gearing up for a career season, and a career season he did have.

Season in review

After setting a career high in goals (15) despite playing much of the 2016-17 season on the Wild’s fourth line, Haula finished his first year in the desert second on the Knights in goals (29), seventh in assists (26) and fifth in points (55), setting new career highs in all categories. The only Knight that scored more goals was William Karlsson (43), and he finished third overall in the entire league.

Haula quickly took the reins as Vegas’ second-line center, and he was a steady offensive contributor throughout the year. In fact, only twice did he go three games without a point through the first 79 games of the regular season.

For the first time in his career, Haula established himself as a power-play threat, posting 12 goals and 19 points on the man advantage after managing just one power-play point in each of the previous three seasons. Not only that, but those 12 goals and 19 points bested everyone else on the Knights, including Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, James Neal, David Perron and all defensemen.

While Haula managed a respectable 50.1 Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5, his 44.23 Goals For percentage ranked 12th on the team among forwards who played in at least 20 games, and his 89.45 on-ice save percentage was second worst on the team and worst among players who played in at least 30 games. But to be fair, it’s possible these underwhelming numbers could be more indicative of the second line’s performance as a whole, as both Neal and Perron (Haula’s most common linemates) had comparable numbers in most cases. However, Haula’s 58 goals against ranked second on the team, and he finished last on the Knights in plus-minus with a minus-16 rating.

Regular season stats (5v5)

Player CF% SF% GF% SCF% HDCF% HDGF% On-Ice SV% OZ FO% GA Plus-Minus
Player CF% SF% GF% SCF% HDCF% HDGF% On-Ice SV% OZ FO% GA Plus-Minus
Haula 50.1 49.36 44.23 49.79 44.8 40 89.45 53.94 58 -16
Neal 50.51 49.6 46.39 49.83 46.75 44.23 89.76 54.38 50 -11
Perron 49.21 48.42 47.92 49.33 42.72 41.18 90.44 53.48 52 1
Data courtesy of NaturalStatTrick

Some of Haula’s possession numbers improved in the postseason, though many remained below 50 percent. His 51.57 Corsi For percentage was solid, as was his 53.97 percent scoring chance share, but his role in generating shots and especially goals was, shall we say, less than ideal.

Haula stat comparison: regular season vs. postseason (5v5)

Player CF% SF% GF% SCF% HDCF% HDGF% On-Ice SV% OZ FO% GA Plus-Minus
Player CF% SF% GF% SCF% HDCF% HDGF% On-Ice SV% OZ FO% GA Plus-Minus
Regular season 50.1 49.36 44.23 49.79 44.8 40 89.45 53.94 58 -16
Postseason 51.57 46.51 47.62 53.97 44.34 42.86 92.03 55.63 11 -3
Data courtesy of NaturalStatTrick

However, his production rate took a hit, especially as the playoffs wore on (he scored a combined three points in the final two rounds). Haula scored three goals and nine points in 20 playoff games, finishing seventh on the team in goals, sixth in assists and seventh in points. His 3-6—9 in 20 games translated to 0.45 points per game and 1.51 points per 60 minutes in all situations. Those were down from his regular season rates of 0.72 points per game and 2.5 points per 60. His 1.13 primary points per 60 minutes ranked seventh on the team but again fell far short of his regular season rate of 1.82. That being said, seven of Haula’s nine postseason points were scored at even strength, which is not insignificant.

Standout moment

Haula’s game-winning goal in double overtime of Game 2 of the first-round series against Los Angeles was quite a thriller, and it tops the list of his memorable moments from the 2017-18 season.

After nearly 95 minutes of action, Haula broke the 1-1 tie as he got one past the electric Jonathan Quick to lift the Golden Knights to victory.

It seemed like no one was going to beat Quick, who had stopped 54 of the previous 55 shots. But Haula came up huge, sending T-Mobile Arena into quite a frenzy.

At the time, it was obviously the biggest goal of the season, and it was an extremely clutch play that secured Vegas a critical 2-0 series lead.

KOI composite grade: B+

Knights On Ice awarded Haula a composite grade of B+, with individual grades ranging from B to A- (the majority of which were B and B+).

Haula played a strong bottom-six checking role for the Wild before coming over to Vegas, and he was never “supposed” to be a top-end talent that would fall just shy of the 30-goal mark. The fact that he nearly doubled his career high in goals and helped give the Knights an opportunity to roll two top lines every night certainly warrants high praise, especially when you compare that level of value to his pre-season expectations. After all, Haula finished tied for 33rd overall in the entire National Hockey League in goals, putting up more goals than Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos, Mark Scheifele, Joe Pavelski, etc.

It was also a surprise to see Haula at the top of the Vegas leaderboards in power-play production in the regular season. Not too shabby.

But while a B+ is a solid grade and very much a reflection of Haula’s success last season, it obviously falls short of anything in the A-range. Perhaps that’s because there were other players on the Knights that further exceeded their individual expectations or were more dominant in a year when 11 different players on the team set career highs in points. It also might have something to do with Haula’s production taking a dip in the postseason, which may have detracted from his 2017-18 performance on the whole. Plus, some of his possession stats were not strong, and his defensive numbers were questionable at times. It would be unfair to ignore the shortcomings in his game, but it’s tough to be too critical of Haula’s season. At the end of the day, he was more productive than most could have imagined, played a key role in a top offensive position and put together an impressive 29-26—55 stat line in Year 1 in Vegas. All of that from a player the Minnesota Wild practically begged the Knights to take in the expansion draft.

Looking ahead to 2018-19

With the acquisition of Paul Stastny in free agency, Haula’s role with the Knights very well may change moving forward. He recently indicated he is open to playing center or wing, which will give Gerard Gallant more options depending on chemistry and injuries over the course of the season. Either way, he should have a middle-six role in 2018-19, and that should include plenty of time on the power play given his track record.

But it’s realistic to expect a regression from Haula, who maintained a career-high shooting percentage of 16.6 percent last year (up from a career average of 12.8). His 29-goal surge can be chalked up to multiple factors, but it’s obvious that Haula has the talent and can produce when given the opportunity. Year 1 in Vegas was all about opportunity; Year 2 will be about consistency, and it will be an entirely new test for players like Haula to prove that 2017-18 was no fluke.

Without knowing his linemates and role in the lineup, it’s difficult to throw out a ballpark projection for Haula’s 2018-19 output. But considering the likely regression and lineup uncertainty, it’s probably fair to say that around 20 goals and 40-plus points would be a satisfactory follow-up performance for the 27-year-old Finn. If he gets decent minutes, though, don’t be shocked to see him exceeding expectations once again.

Poll

How would you grade Haula’s 2017-18 performance?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    A+
    (2 votes)
  • 25%
    A
    (15 votes)
  • 37%
    A-
    (22 votes)
  • 17%
    B+
    (10 votes)
  • 15%
    B
    (9 votes)
  • 0%
    B-
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    C+
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    C
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    C- or below
    (0 votes)
58 votes total Vote Now