How Andrew Mangiapane is becoming one of the NHL's best goal scorers

Ryan Leslie and Jason York discuss the Calgary Flames hot start to the season.

When someone says “who are the best goal scorers in the NHL?” it’s only natural to think about the big names with the big shots and the guys with the biggest totals. Duh. Alexander Ovechkin is the greatest goal scorer of all-time. Auston Matthews won the most recent Rocket Richard Trophy. David Pastrnak and Steven Stamkos and a few others have the big bombs and nasty releases that are front of mind. But don’t sleep on Andrew Mangiapane.

Hear me out.

As of Thursday the NHL’s goal-scoring leaders list looks like this:

Tied there for second are two Calgary Flames, which feels weird considering A) The Flames couldn’t buy a goal last year, B) They hired Darryl Sutter, and C) The names aren’t the most famous ones, as in Johnny Gaudreau or Sean Monahan or Matthew Tkachuk.

Mangiapane sits tied with Connor McDavid, and his goal-scoring run here hasn’t been some strange blip; he converts chances to goals at a rate up there with the elite finishers in hockey.

Mangiapane is 25 years old, and this is his fourth full season with the Flames. In his first go round he didn’t play a ton (2018-19), getting in 44 games and averaging well under 11 minutes a night. But 2019-20 saw his minutes and role tick up to a whopping 13:42 per game, and it got up to 16:39 last season before settling in this year just under 15 minutes. That’s still pretty minimal usage.

Over that time he failed to put up a 20-goal season, which might be why he doesn’t come up when we think of guys who put the biscuit in the basket. Mangiapane had 17 goals two years ago and 18 in the NHL’s shortened 56-game iteration of a regular season last year. You’ll notice, though, that 18 goals in 56 games is a pretty good pace. It put him in a tie for 50th in league scoring.

That total is more impressive when you focus on even strength play, where offence is tougher to come by. Looking at last season and this one so far, he’s actually been one of the game’s 10-best players at turning his ice time into goals. There’s some pretty elite names on this list (goals per 60 minutes of play).

Shout-out to Joel Farabee as well.

What’s crazy about Mangiapane's output is that he doesn’t pile up a ton of chances or shots, meaning he doesn’t create in a way that advanced analytics tends to highlight. There are guys like Brad Marchand and Brady Tkachuk who spray a cloud of shots on net in hopes goalies let some squeakers through. The numbers love those guys. Some guys create chance after chance -- Ilya Mikheyev in Toronto comes to mind -- but fail to convert those opportunities.

Instead, Mangiapane is lethal around the net, tending to convert his looks when they come. Here’s the top-10 in shooting percentage at even strength over the past three seasons among players who’ve played consistently (with a cut-off of 700 minutes played):

Marchand, Pettersson, Point, you’ll recognize some of the better finishers in the game on a list that ranks Mangiapane third. Guys with high shooting percentages don’t tend to be the guys who shoot from distance (that’s why you don’t see Ovi or Matthews), but rather the guys who can convert around the crease. They don’t ask how they ask how many, etc., etc.

If you go to “all strengths,” so including the power play, here’s how the top-10 shakes out over the past three seasons in shooting percentage.

He’s still a top-5 guy.

If you look at Mangiapane's goals so far this season, you can see why the numbers are so flattering.

The eye test on his playing style: He gets himself in positions around the net that if the puck comes to him, he’s all but a lock to finish. He’s what I call a “lurker,” in that he doesn’t necessarily beat three guys to get his chances, nor does he over-power anyone, he’s just extremely smart at finding windows where if he gets it, it’ll have a good chance of going in.

Teemu Selanne was one of the best at this, the Hall of Fame version of Mangiapane’s “quite good.” (Incidentally, this is how you end up being a 15-minute per night guy. If for a run of games the puck doesn't find you in those openings where you’re lurking, it can look like you’re not doing anything. Because you aren’t. I should also note Selanne didn’t have many stretches like that, as he found other ways to contribute.)

Take a look at Mangiapane’s goals so far this season (broken into two videos).

His shot is sneaky, of course, but you see what I mean about getting himself into body position and prepared in a way that if the puck finds him, he can bury it.

That’s how you end up with a heat map on Hockey Viz with bright red all around the crease, as well as a graph that shows a positive finishing ability that’s a major outlier compared to the rest of the league.

You don’t need to understand those things fully to understand that when Mangiapane gets chances, he’s as likely to bury them as the most elite players in the game.

I have no opinion on whether he deserves more ice time, and no idea where you’d place him among Calgary’s most valuable players. But we often hear that the hardest thing to do in hockey is to score goals. You can learn to defend and check and win faceoffs and all the rest. Finishing ability is a rare and coveted skill, and the Flames have one of hockey’s best there in Andrew Mangiapane.

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