Evaluating a player like Evan Rodrigues is an interesting task. I think we can safely say that he is a good NHL player based on a couple of different metrics available to us. He also doesn’t seem to do any specific thing exceptionally well so pinpointing where his value comes from becomes difficult when someone like me wants to illustrate why Rodrigues is someone the Sabres should try to keep on their team for ~three more years.
But because I care so much about you our loyal readers, and my dear editor, Chad DeDominicis promised to personally pay me $5000 to write this, I decided to put in the work and explain how exactly Evan Rodrigues brings value to the Buffalo Sabres.
Since Chad is so in love with the numbers and charts (he should just marry them), let’s start with some of that information to provide a foundation to build on before we jump into some video.
Let’s start with everyone’s favorite RAPM charts from Evolving Hockey
The first image is his value in each category over his whole career and the second image is his value during just the 2018/2019 at even strength. Through his first 1810 minutes at even strength he’s provided consistent value defensively in the form of preventing shot attempts and expected goals against. Offensively he’s come in been roughly replacement or slightly below replacement level in regards Goal For and Expected Goals For.
However, when we look at just his most recent season, which accounts for half of his career even strength ice time, we see he not only slightly improved his defensive impact, his offensive numbers were safely above replacement level.
According to Micah Blake McCurdy’s Hockey Viz, “Evan Rodrigues drives play well at 5v5 and 5v4. Excellent penalty differential also,” as illustrated in his isolated impact viz below.
On a per 60 minutes basis he shoots the puck a ton at 8.63 5v5 S/60. Only Jack Eichel (10.43) and Jeff Skinner (9.72) shoot more than Rodrigues. He does a decent job of getting shots in the low slot area, but I think we can see that he may have a bit of a mechanism in his head that says to take a shot around the moment he hits the top of the circle as seen in the image below. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing because shots are good and getting them inside the circles aren’t the worst place to do it, but I wonder if he’s passed up opportunities to work it in closer to the slot either with a move or a pass to a teammate to create a better scoring chance.
Ok now that we are done with the boring stats stuff, let’s look at some video. Admittedly this was a bit difficult because nothing is going to really wow you when you watch Evan Rodrigues on a given shift (unless he’s on a 2v1 and does his fake shot pass)
However, the thing I’ve found is that Rodrigues’ greatest skill set is simply being in the right spot basically all the time. One of the primary responsibilities of the center is to essentially be stalking the puck wherever it goes, putting yourself in a position to pounce on it once there’s an opening to steal it off someones stick or grab a loose puck, as well as filling in gaps in the defensive zone when your teammates attack the puck carrier.
In this clip Rodrigues sticks with the puck on the attempted breakout with Montour. Once that attempt fails he jumps back in and follows it to the other side and the moment St. Louis passes it to #20 he jumps in and applies pressure leading to a turnover.
Offensively you’re looking to create passing opportunities for the puck carrier on your team as you move up the ice. Similarly to the defensive zone, you want the center to put themself in a position to receive a pass from a teammate or pounce on the puck if it gets loose and keep the offensive push alive.
In this example there’s a puck battle in the corner so Rodrigues gets in around the dot where he is ready to grab the puck if it gets loose while also staying high enough to get back and prevent an odd man rush if St. Louis recovers the puck.
Finally here is an example of him filling in defensively as Dahlin attacks the puck behind the net before jumping in to provide support below the goal line once the slot is covered and a St. Louis forward jumps in to help his guy. When Dahlin gains control of the puck and skates behind the net, Rodrigues accomplishes two objectives by getting himself near the slot area in case a turnover occurs before jumping into open space to create a passing option on the breakout that leads to a rush up the ice where he cuts to the hash marks and scores a goal.
None of these examples are particularly exceptional but on the whole if you watch Rodrigues each shift he tends to be in the right spot at the right time. That’s exactly what you want from a bottom six center and keeping players like Rodrigues on value contracts is incredibly important.
I do feel it’s important to keep a few things in mind though. He is entering his age 26 season and he’s not a high skill player you’d expect to maintain his current level of play long into his thirties, so I’d personally be a bit weary of any contract longer than 3 years for him because even though it’s not a lot of money the Sabres are going to need to be smart on the margins given the large contracts they’re going to have going forward and it wouldn’t shock me to see the aging curve come for Rodrigues around age 29.
I’ve seen some people suggest that the Sabres are nickel and diming Rodrigues here and shouldn’t worry about giving an extra $500,000 to him because he’s good, but I’m not sure that’s right. When we talk about players like Eichel, Dahlin, and Skinner I think it is right to say that the team shouldn’t fret over an extra $500,000 a year because they are your elite players and finding replacements for them is significantly harder.
In Rodrigues’ case, while I too believe he is good and important to this team, I don’t think they should be haphazardly paying more than necessary for bottom six talent because $500,000 will in fact mean a lot when it comes to filling out depth positions on this team when they are up against the cap going forward. These contracts with players like Rodrigues are precisely the place you make up for paying a bit extra for the top end players.
After watching a decent amount of film I don’t think there is any question that Rodrigues should be playing center in Buffalo. He does everything you need a bottom six center to do in regards to suppressing attempts against, competently driving play up the ice, and keeping up with the puck wherever it goes around the ice.
In an ideal world he’s the fourth line center but you could do much worse than him as your 3C as a stop gap before Dylan Cozens makes the jump to the NHL and pushes him down to 4C. As of this writing I don’t know what his contract will look like but keeping him on the team for two or three more years would be a win and keeping the cap hit around $2 million would be a massive bonus.