The Rise of Mike Santorelli
One of the earliest bright spots of the John Tortorella era to date has been the success of Mike Santorelli. The forward that was at one point seemingly destined for Utica – due mostly to his two-way contract – is now the staple of Vancouver‘s second line and a key cog in the functions of this hockey club as a whole.
What has most likely endeared Santorelli to Tortorella and his staff is the multiplicity with which he plays.
While the versatility commonly associated with most two-way forwards really is something unto itself, it’s the fact that Santorelli offers the ability to excel in whatever role he is asked to fill that sets him apart.
When the Canucks need a checking centre, put him on the third line; and when the team looks sluggish, put him on the first. Rarely does a jack of all trades have the ability to exceed in any one, let alone all.
And while he’s now centering the Canucks second line and receiving the most ice-time of his career, the only question on everyone’s mind is when and if Santorelli will come back to earth? This is the same player that only last season was given up on by the deepest of teams, in the Florida Panthers and Winnipeg Jets. I really hope you caught that sarcasm.
The sustainability of this early success and the long-term role that it’s slowly leading into are all explored below.
A Pleasant Surprise
While attempting to find out where exactly this stretch of above average play came from, one of the more shocking revelations was just how un-shocking this stretch of play has been. And oh how I mean this in the best of ways possible.
When the coffee break rantings of the fan base colluded en-masse during the summer to review, discuss and more than anything complain about the actions and inaction of Mike Gillis, nobody saw this coming from Santorelli. He was seen as the Andrew Ebbett of this season; that is to say a reliable depth forward that one could only hope was invisible.
The driving factor in this perception of Santorelli was the misconception that his production, or lack thereof, last season was his return to the mean and on the converse that his 20 goal campaign in 2011 was the aberration. Luckily for Santorelli and the Canucks, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
This chart listed below – and made with the ever handy http://www.ChartGo.com – shows that his save percentage, while not exactly being on a plain, is by no means being tipped upwards this season with luck of the insanely good variety.
Not sure if it’s the overbearing salmon-red colour type thing that fills this chart or what, but it’s making the shooting percentage look considerably less consistent than it actually is. Don’t be fooled by this most offensive of colours and the effect it’s having on even my perception of this graph.
Even with that said, it’s becoming increasingly clear that last season was the outlier.
Another metric that was at my disposal when exploring the sustainability of Santorelli’s play was PDO – a stat favorite of mine for reasons even I’ve yet to grasp. While I’ve yet to find out what exactly the acronym stands for, in the stats world PDO is the sum of both the shooting percentage and save percentage of the team with him on the ice.
In theory, the law of averages suggests that any one player’s PDO score should eventually round out to about 1000, or 1.000 or 100 – depends entirely on where your information is from, but always mean the same… more or less.
If the player in question has a PDO considerably lower than 1000, one would suggest they are the recipient of horrendous luck, and vice versa as it goes above 1000.
PDO lesson aside (you’re welcome, I think), Santorelli proves yet again that last season was a forgettable one.
Nothing out of the ordinary where this season is concerned and the same goes for Santorelli’s 20 goal campaign. Encouraging signs aplenty.
Into the Crystal Ball we Gaze
Trying to decipher the sustainability of Santorelli’s production seems like child’s-play in comparison to determine where it lands him with this club long-term or when it’s healthy. Not sure which will come first.
Now that Tortorella has come out and proclaimed for all to hear that Ryan Kesler is best suited to playing the wing, this leaves the Canucks with a vacancy in the two hole at center.
Does this sound familiar?
The difference between last season and this being that the Canucks apparently have a competent fill-in for him on the second line.
For now Santorelli is centering a rather effective trio, flanked by Chris Higgins and Alex Burrows and this has been dubbed the second line. On Saturday night the three combined for two points, with Higgins notching a goal assisted by none other than Santorelli.
Yes, there is something to be said for sample size and even more to be said for the fact it was of course the Maple Leafs that they were running ram-shod over, but if they can keep this up and against good teams to boot, problem solved. Second line, found.
But with a heightened role comes heightened expectations. Of his own accord, Santorelli really hasn’t produced much at even strength this season (two goals and one assist, with a ghastly 18 shots).
Even more concerning is the fact that he’s shooting the puck at the second lowest rate per 60 minutes of his career, with only 5.7 making it on goal.
Can’t score if you don’t shoot, and surely the offense will be expected of Santorelli if he’s asked to fill in as a second line center.
Long Term Solution?!
And here we are again, wondering where exactly Santorelli fits long-term. Sure, he’s vastly outperformed expectations and from where I’m sitting has already outplayed his contract. Great, no complaints. Where do the Canucks use him though…
Ideally, Santorelli meets the billing of a more than ideal third line center.
It’s easy to look at his point totals and assume he’s already outplayed that role, but sometimes one has to dig a little deeper.
Firstly, it’s not difficult to accumulate points when playing alongside the Sedins, and play alongside the Sedins he has for a huge chunk of his time as a Canuck. Secondly, he’s just not what a team is looking for in a second line center.
Santorelli lacks the size or bulk to physically impose his will on the opposition, or control play. His effort, speed and fastidiousness are the stuff dreams are made of, but they just don’t make up for his diminutive frame to the point that he can pivot a contending team’s second line.
Think of Santorelli as the Canucks very own Nick Bonino: a former sixth-round pick, of Italian descent and name with less than desirable size, but enough production and defensive acumen to reliably anchor a third line or spell someone in that role on the second for brief periods of time.
And even that, is a vast upgrade on anything Vancouver received from a bottom-nine center for the vast majority of last season.
I’ll gladly take it.