Panthers’ Carter Verhaeghe Is a Shooting Enigma

Florida Panthers‘ forward Carter Verhaeghe has exploded onto the scene this season. The 25-year-old forward has 15 goals and 13 assists through 35 games. The Tampa Bay Lightning were unable to find a way to keep the young forward in spite of his promising play during the 2019-20 season. Panthers’ general manager, Bill Zito, made Verhaeghe one of his first free agency signings with the team.

His 15 goals lead the Panthers in goal scoring. It would put him one behind Steven Stamkos for the team lead if he were still on the Lightning. Should they have made more effort to keep him? Could this burst of goal scoring have been predicted? I have a statistical model that I work with that says maybe it could have.

Absolute Shooting Value

I have a stat that I use for evaluating players that I call “Absolute Shooting Value”(ASV), and it’s a very simple metric. I’m sure there’s somebody out there using this same calculation under a different name, and when I find it, I’ll probably adapt their usage. When a player’s shooting percentage is calculated, it takes the number of goals a player scores and divides it by their shots on goal total.

This doesn’t really paint an accurate picture of the shooter in question, though. In order for a shot to be registered as such, it must either go in the net or make contact with the goalie. Those shots that go just wide or hit the post are not counted as shots. However, all of these events are counted under the term “shot attempts.” So, if we want to get a better picture of how accurate of a shooter a player truly is, we should be taking their goals and dividing it by their total shot attempts.

This paints an interesting picture when applied to some of the NHL’s top goal-scoring forwards. In this list, I tried to include some of the top goal-scoring talents in the game, as well as some future Hall-of-Famers who have been doing it for a while now. It’s important to note that my primary source of shot attempt data, hockey-reference.com, only has data available from the 2007-08 season onward. This means the first couple of seasons of Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin are absent. Evgeni Malkin is also missing a season of data.

PLAYER (2007-March 26, 2021)Shooting PercentageAbsolute Shooting Value
Alex Ovechkin12.9%7.14%
Sidney Crosby14.6%8.87%
Evgeni Malkin13.6%7.86%
Auston Matthews15.9%9.20%
Nikita Kucherov14.9%7.88%
Patrick Kane12.1%7.11%
Connor McDavid15.0%9.25%
David Pastrnak14.8%8.19%
Nathan MacKinnon9.9%5.90%
Data provided and Absolute shoot value calculated using data obtained at Hockey-Reference.com

This brings me back around to Verhaeghe. His sample size is admittedly small, but it has been oddly consistent in spite of changing teams and seeing a massive increase in ice-time.

Carter VerhaegheGames PlayedGoalsShooting PercentageTotal Shot AttemptsAbsolute Shooting ValueAverage Time On-IceMinutes Per Shot attempt
Career852115.7%2249.38%12:204:41
2019-2052915.8%979.28%9:225:01
2020-21 (Up to Mar 26)331215.6%1279.45%17:014:25
Data provided by Hockey-Reference.com

Through this small sample size, Verhaeghe shoots the puck with Hall-of-Fame quality precision. It’s genuinely unbelievable, but the data is right there. I first started tracking him in this regard after his season with the Lightning. I was interested to see if he could sustain the same level of shooting precision on a different team in an expanded role. Not only has he sustained it, but he’s also actually gotten better. His 4:25 per shot attempt means that he averages 3.85 shot attempts per game. Over an 82 game season that averages out to 316 shot attempts. Applying the ASV to that, he would average +/- 33 goals in an 82 game season at his current minute usage.

If we want to be a little silly with extrapolations, Ovechkin averages 8.58 shot attempts per game. That works out to 703 shot attempts per 82 games. If Verhaeghe were able to somehow push his shot attempts up to an Ovechkin-esque level and still maintain his own level of accuracy, he would average 75 goals per 82 games. That seems utterly insane, but it paints a picture of just how accurate of a shooter Verhaeghe has been.

Is This Sustainable for Verhaeghe?

The big question about this data and Verhaeghe is one of sustainability. I thought for sure his percentage from his time in Tampa would drop off a bit after he was given more minutes and an expanded role. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect some kind of regression to the mean.

Carter Verhaeghe Florida Panthers
Carter Verhaeghe, Florida Panthers (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

What makes Verhaeghe so extraordinary is the fact that he actually saw an increase in his ASV with an increase in minutes. As the sample size continues to grow, he seems up to the task of keeping his percentages in Hall-of-Fame company.

As if to drive this point home further, Verhaeghe scored a hat-trick with three goals on eight shot attempts against the Dallas Stars on March 27th. That hat-trick pushed his ASV for the season up to 11.11%. This kind of spike is normal for him. As I’ve tracked him over these last two seasons, there have been moments where he gets hot and his ASV climbs above 10%. What’s truly unique about him is when he cools off, it’s often because he’s simply not taking shot attempts. He doesn’t fire enough shots without scoring to ever really see his score drop below 9%. The lack of major drop-off gives me pause and makes me think that maybe this is actually sustainable. I keep expecting him to drop off and regress down to a more pedestrian number, below 7%, but it just hasn’t happened.

RELATED: Florida Panthers’ 2020-21 Mid-Season Awards

I have to wonder if somebody in the Panthers’ analytics department came across this data anomaly prior to them signing Verhaeghe. It’s not a complicated statistic to generate and could easily be calculated by any fan sitting at home with access to the internet. Considering how readily available the data is, It begs the question as to why other NHL front offices didn’t pursue him more heavily. Right now, the Panthers are the benefactors of his production, and Zito looks like a genius for signing him. If he’s able to continue to produce at a +/-9% ASV pace, his 2-year, $2,000,000 contract will be seen as the steal of 2020 NHL Free Agency. I’ve seen nothing from his game that leads me to believe he can’t do it.


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