One of the most important things any hockey team can have is depth. Even if you field elite players on your first two lines, a team is only as good as its weakest link. In order to truly contend for a Stanley Cup, a squad must be solid on all four lines.
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One of the best fourth lines in hockey belongs to the New York Islanders. When it comes to the Islanders’ fourth unit, it’s wingers Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin that get the majority of the attention.
Clutterbuck and Martin have long been fan favorites, as both of their prowess for getting hits against the opponent are well appreciated by any Islanders supporter. While in the past it’s been Clutterbuck scoring most of the goals for the unit, this season has seen a shift in production on the fourth line. Clutterbuck still has a solid 21 points on the season in 61 games, but only eight goals. So who has been scoring those goals?
A Career Season for Cizikas
Look no further than Toronto native and lifelong Islander Casey Cizikas. “Zeeker,” as the Coliseum faithful refer to him, is having himself a career season. With 12 games to go in the season, he has already surpassed his career highs in points, goals, plus/minus and shooting percentage.
The 28-year-old Cizikas has seriously elevated his game and has evolved into the unit’s leading goal scorer. After having never topped eight goals in a season, he has already found the back of the net 19 times in 2018-19. He places third on the team in goals, behind only Anders Lee and Brock Nelson. Of his 63 career goals, about 30 percent have been scored since the start of the current season. That is quite the ratio for a player in his eighth season in the NHL.
Cizikas’ plus/minus of plus-26 is not only the best mark on the team, but it’s currently the 10th-best mark in the NHL. For reference, his previous career high in that category was plus-nine.
Islanders head coach Barry Trotz has high praise for Cizikas.“You’re talking about a player who leaves everything on the ice every day,” Trotz said. “It’s not only during the games. It’s practices. He’s got a motor, and that’s a skill in itself. He’s grown. He’s had a terrific year.”
Buy or Sell?
So are we seeing a fourth-liner grow into a superstar before our very eyes, or is it just an outlier?
As much as Islanders fans hate to hear this, a great deal of Cizikas’s success this season can be attributed to luck. His unsustainably high 19.6 percent shooting percentage is over six points higher than his previous career high of 13.3, a mark he set in his second season in the league back in 2012-13 when he played just 45 games. It’s also tied for the eighth highest of anyone in the league.
Cizikas’s stellar season fails the analytical test as well. PDO, a statistic that combines on-ice save and shooting percentages, is one of the best ways to measure how lucky a player or team has been. A high PDO means a player or team is due to regress to the mean. Cizikas’ PDO of 1.054 leads the Islanders and places in the top-30 in the league.
While stats such as PDO and shooting percentage can provide context, they do not tell the whole story. It is still very possible the Cizikas has taken a step forward. Perhaps it’s unfair to expect such an elite level of play from him next season, but we still may be looking at one of the Islanders’ most improved skaters.