While the 2018-19 New Jersey Devils team has nothing much to play for, several of the players actually able to play certainly do. The many players called up and brought in by the Devils are a mix of prospective players trying to show they have a future in this league, AHL veterans showing that they may be able to play at this level, and others who want to do enough to earn a contract for next season. If not in New Jersey, then hopefully with someone else in the NHL. In the latter category is Kenny Agostino, who has arguably been maximizing his minutes with the Devils.
Kenny Agostino is 26 year old left winger. The Devils are his sixth organization since being drafted in 2010. For much of his professional career, Agostino has played in the American Hockey League. He seemed marked to be a tweener. That is, a player who did more than enough in the AHL to make people wonder why he was not in the NHL, but was not good enough to stick in the NHL or earn a spot on a NHL roster. These players usually make up the depth of a team’s roster. They’re usually called up for a couple of games or longer if the team is beset by injuries. Such was the case this season with Montreal. Agostino started the season with Laval in the AHL. However, he was called up on November 8 and was seemingly sticking with the Montreal roster. It ended up that this was the first season where he played in more than 10 games, nevermind 36 of them with the Canadiens. As per NHL.com, he put up two goals, nine assists, and 38 shots while averaging a bit over eleven minutes per game. It was not a big job, but it was a NHL job. It did not last, though. He was placed on waivers on February 10 with the intent of being sent to Laval. The Devils claimed him. Since then, Agostino has played in 18 games and he has been one of the team’s better forwards in that timeframe. Seriously.
Agostino has been relatively productive. Since February 11, Agostino has put up three goals and six assists. According to NHL.com, this matches the point totals for Jesper Bratt and Kyle Palmieri, though those two did it in fewer games due to varying injuries. Only Travis Zajac (five goals, five assists) and Damon Severson (four goals, seven assists) have had more points since Agostino was acquired on waivers. It is not just points being produced. Agostino’s 27 shots on net is the fourth most on the team since February 11, falling only behind Palmieri (34 in 13 games), Nico Hischier (31 in 11 games), and Blake Coleman (30 in 13 games).
The run of play has been quite good when Agostino has been on the ice in 5-on-5 play. According to Natural Stat Trick, only two Devils skaters currently has a CF% (Corsi For%) above 50% for this season: Taylor Hall (52.95%) and Agostino (50.62%). This means that when either of these players have been on the ice this season, the Devils have out-attempted their opposition. Agostino also boasts a shots for percentage of 50.92%, which is the seventh best on the team and a high-danger scoring chance percentage of 60.94%, which is second only to Colton White, who has been held to limited minutes in just three games. The scoring chance percentage is just under 50% at 48.94%, but it is far from awful - especially on this team. As for goals when Agostino has been on the ice, they have been heavily in favor of the Devils. Agostino’s GF% in 5-on-5 play is 61.90% (13 for, 8 against), which is far and away the best on the team. It is the result of an on-ice GF/60 of 3.41 and an on-ice GA/60 of 2.10. All together, when Agostino has been on the ice, the Devils have attacked more and scored a lot more than what they have allowed.
The 5-on-5 numbers still look good for Agostino for relative on-ice rate stats. They look really good. These also come from Natural Stat Trick. Agostino’s relative CF% - the change in the team’s CF% when the player steps on the ice - is an astounding +8.08%. While the rate of shots goes up when he’s on the ice, the team’s shots against rate drops by nearly six per sixty minutes when Agostino takes a shift. That is amazing and contributes to a great +7.05% relative SF%. Even though he has a scoring chance for percentage below 50%, his relative percentage is +2.90%. that means the Devils have improved the proportion of scoring chances by them over all scoring chances - which is another plus for Agostino’s performances. As for the high-danger chances, Agostino’s relative percentage is a staggering +14.71%. All together, when Agostino has been on the ice for the Devils, good things have happened to them in 5-on-5 play.
It is not just on-ice rate and relative rate stats that point to Agostino being a positive force for a Devils team that does not have enough of them. Offside Review is a stat site similar to Corsica except that it works all of the time. It also has the expected goals model, which calculates how many goals should have happened based on where and what kind of shots were taken. According to Offside Review, Agostino’s expected goals rate at even strength has been 2.85. His expected goals against rate at evens is a low 2.081, which is great. That is respectively the third and second best rates on the team for the whole season. Agostino’s expected goals for percentage is 57.80%. Only three Devils have an xGF% above 55% at even strength this season: Hall at 56.63%, Hischier at 55.72%, and Connor Carrick at 55.32%. The expected goals model is just that, a model. It gives us an idea of the impact of the shots taken and allowed beyond just a count. In the case of Agostino, it is another significantly positive impact that suggests that his game has been effective in New Jersey.
Moving beyond 5-on-5, which is where Agostino has primarily played in, the Goals Above Replacement model attempts to determine a player’s value by a number of different means of contribution. The GAR model at Evolving-Hockey looks at even strength, penalty kill, power play, and penalties to establish how many more goals the player may be responsible for compared to a marginal NHL player. Agostino’s GAR is 3.5, which is a top-ten value on the team but nowhere near the top. (Aside: The Devils’ leader in GAR among skaters is Palmieri.) However, this is still impressive as Agostino has achieved this with just 18 games with the Devils. He has not played in more than ten games anywhere else before this season and his GAR with Montreal was 2.2. Agostino has provided more value with the Devils and, again, it is has been quite positive.
The takeaway here is not that Agostino is this 5-on-5 wizard that the Devils just happened to come across on the waiver wire. It is not meant to be an indictment that Agostino has done a better job that nearly all of the other skaters on the team. The takeaway is that he has been a legitimately good player for the Devils. His game is not flashy. He is not this super-productive player. He has been a solid hand for the Devils in 5-on-5 play, which is very welcomed given the current state of the Devils forwards. Due to injuries and trades, the roster has opened up for many players to take spots out of necessity. These are all opportunities. Agostino has taken his and he has maximized it.
He has been given an average of over 14 minutes per game, easily the most in his limited NHL career as per Hockey-Reference. And he has earned those minutes. He is playing more in a role that he likely never would have had a chance in. His teammates have been all over the place given the rash of injuries causing all kinds of changes. And with just 18 games played, there has not been a lot of minutes for common teammates. And according to Natural Stat Trick, Agostino has performed well with the likes of Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac, Blake Coleman, and Kevin Rooney - three different forwards in terms of role, skill sets, and talent levels. It is one thing for a player to have a run of good games, but to manage a CF% above break even or an xGF% well above 50% over 18 games on a bad Devils team tells me that he has something the Devils could use.
Going back to the beginning of the post, while the team’s effectively done for this season, the players have to play for their own futures. Among them, I think Agostino has done the best. Through maximizing his opportunity with the Devils. I think Agostino is earning a contract right now. Why? A current Devil who came to the organization in a similar situation comes to mind: Stefan Noesen.
Noesen was picked up on waivers back in 2016, another lost season for the Devils. The then-24 year old right winger did not produce a whole lot in 32 games; just eight points. But he demonstrated enough at even strength to show he can contribute and chip in while playing in a bottom-six role. As shown at CapFriendly, it was enough to earn him a contract for 2017-18, which led to a big pay raise for 2018-19. All for a player that almost entirely plays at even strength and in a depth role.
While Agostino is older and plays left wing, he has already done more in 18 games than what Noesen did in 32 games. Even if he ends up as a 13th or 14th forward, it would shore up the depth at that position. After all, if you believe the 2018-19 Devils were short on talent, then they should try to keep the players that do perform quite well at something even if the team is guaranteed to be done after Game #82. Noesen did well enough then. Agostino has been doing more now and if he can keep it up for the next nine games, then strengthens his case. I would then be more than fine with the Devils retaining his services for another season.
No, keeping Agostino will not be the move that fixes all of the Devils ills. It will help a need with the team. Not a big one, but the need for better depth players has been apparent whenever injuries or road games happen. Agostino alone will not be the answer, but his inclusion would address it - at least for another season. Whether you believe in trusting a process that has never been detailed or you’re grumpy for the near future of the team, the whole point of a re-build is to address all of the significant and not-as-significant needs. Ray Shero has a big enough summer to worry about. If he and his management see what Agostino has done and decides that he is worth keeping around, then it is one less issue to deal with.
For what it’s worth, if these 18 games have not proven that Agostino has justified another NHL contract, then I do not know what more he can do other than get his name on a lot of scoresheets in the next three weeks. Agostino is a pending unrestricted free agent, so there is a possibility that he explores options elsewhere. Which is his right. My point is that Agostino has maximized his opportunity with the Devils and there is evidence that he has been contributing on a level that the other call ups, marginal players, and AHL tweeners I think he is earning a NHL contract and I would not mind if it comes from Ray Shero and the Devils. Let’s see what he does in the next nine games and what happens this summer for Agostino.
What do you make of Kenny Agostino’s play with the Devils so far? Have you been impressed by him? Are there any other skaters (read: not Blackwood) who have been called up or acquired in 2019 that you think has performed better than Agostino? If so, who are they and why? Do you think Agostino will get another NHL contract this summer? If so, do you want the Devils to keep him? If not, what more does he have to do as the 2018-19 winds down? Please leave your questions and other thoughts about Kenny Agostino in the comments. Thank you for reading.