If there was an area of Mark Stone’s game that needed work heading into 2017-18 it was consistency.
Despite being one of the most dogged defensive forwards in the league each of the past three seasons and scoring some big goals in that time, Stone developed an unenviable reputation of disappearing for long stretches. Playing for a contract this season, Stone needed to prove he could be a consistent and valuable threat for the Ottawa Senators – and so far, he has done that.
Hands of Stone
“Hands of stone” isn’t a phrase any player wants to be associated with, but for the term’s namesake, it’s a positive. Stone has 12 goals through 16 games, good enough to rank fourth overall in the league, but it’s how he’s finding the back of the net that has been so impressive.
Stone has used a full complement of shot types to beat his opponents (backhand, writer, etc.), but one noteworthy stat is five of those goals have been on tipped or deflected shots, compared to eight such goals in the past four years combined. Equally noteworthy is the timing of his goals. He has two game-winners, putting him on pace for 10 which would be a career-high.
Although his scoring touch has been on full display – the 62 goals he is on pace for, however unlikely, would obliterate his previous career high of 26 – Stone has been sharing the puck as well. He has seven assists to give him 19 points overall, putting him in an eight-way tie for 14th in the league with Alex Ovechkin and Connor McDavid among others.
And let’s not forget the skill that gave Stone some notoriety in the first place: his tremendous play away from the puck. Stone has led the league in takeaways each of the past three seasons (including a ridiculous 2015-16 campaign in which he had 128 of them) and while he isn’t performing as well by those standards, he is still proving to be a nuisance to opponents.
He’s averaging just over a takeaway per game through 16 games, yet only ranks tied for 15th. Leading the way, surprisingly, is Artemi Panarin who is more known for his work with the puck on his stick than for his pursuit of it.
Taking a Bigger Role
Few people could have predicted that Stone would lead the team in scoring through the first six weeks of the season, but that’s the case. No doubt it’s a result of Karlsson’s stint on the IR to start the year – the captain has since put up 17 points in 11 games – but the more likely candidate in his absence would have been Mike Hoffman or Kyle Turris.
That Stone was able to lead the team’s scoring charge in the absence of such prominent offensive catalysts (Turris also missed some time) speaks volumes to the kind of improvements he has made this season. Even with the Senators’ recent trade for Duchene – at the expense of Turris – Stone’s role isn’t likely to diminish given the Senators’ line combos and spat of injuries.
Duchene figures to slot down the middle with Hoffman and Smith when he returns from a dislocated thumb, meaning Stone won’t be getting any help (not that he needs it right now). And given the injuries to Smith and Bobby Ryan, the timing of the Duchene trade couldn’t be better as the Sens look for another source of offence.
But if their recent trip to Sweden is any indication, Stone and the Sens will be just fine as their wounded continue to recover and as Duchene settles in. The team came away with a big four points on the trip and Stone left quite an impression on the locals, putting up three goals in two games, including the game-winning goal in Game 1 and a beautiful backhand in Game 2.
The Stone Celebrations
They have no bearing on his contract negotiations – or anything else for that matter – but let’s take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the Mark Stone goal celebration. So exuberant and emotionally charged are his celebrations, they’ve built up a cult following of their own (and he doesn’t even have to be the one scoring the goal).
— NHL (@NHL) October 6, 2017
If he keeps up this pace it’s not a question of if he gets a long-term contract, but how much he’s going to earn. That’s good news for the fans who would love nothing more than to see hundreds more of Stone celebrations for years to come.