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UFA Spotlight: Is Joonas Donskoi a Fit for the Devils?

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Ray Shero will continue to build his New Jersey Devils team by turning to free agency in a few days. The Devils still have openings up front and could use another talented player on the wing. One player that could be a great fit is Joonas Donskoi, an under the radar right wing that has done well in a limited role for the San Jose Sharks.

San Jose Sharks v Vegas Golden Knights - Game Four
Joonas Donskoi could be a solid addition to the Devils roster from both a production and value standpoint.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils offseason is already underway as they have added center Jack Hughes with the #1 overall pick at the draft as well making a big trade to acquire defenseman P.K. Subban from the Nashville Predators. Ray Shero will now turn his attention to free agency to help further supplement this roster with more quality players. The Devils still have a few spots open, including a spot in the top 6 for another wing. Yesterday, Mike profiled right wing Gustav Nyquist as one potential option for the Devils in free agency. Today, we will take a look at another San Jose Shark right wing, Joonas Donskoi, to see if he would be a solid option for the Devils. Let’s get to know more about Donskoi now.

Career Overview

Joonas Donskoi is a 6’0, 190 lbs. right-handed shooting, right wing from Raahe, Finland. Donskoi was born on April 13, 1992, thus he will be entering his age 27 season in 2019-20. He was drafted by the Florida Panthers in the 4th round (99th overall) in the 2010 NHL Draft but never signed with them, instead playing his hockey with Kärpät in the Liiga back home in Finland through the 2014-15 season. He would help the team to 2 Liiga Championships over his final 2 seasons in Finland and would earn All-Star Team honors and the Jari Kurri Award (Best Player in Playoffs) in the 2014-15 season. In his age 17 to 22 seasons, he would appear in 271 Liiga regular season games with 60 goals and 96 assists. In 47 Liiga playoff games he would add 14 goals and 22 assists. As mentioned earlier, his 2015 playoff campaign was especially crucial to the team winning the title as he put up 6 goals and 16 assists in 19 games. That same spring he would add 5 goals and 3 assists in 8 World Championship games for Finland.

With the Panthers no longer holding his rights, the San Jose Sharks swept in and signed Donskoi to a 2 year entry-level contract on May 20, 2015. Donskoi would appear in 76 regular season games as a rookie in 2015-16, adding 11 goals and 25 assists while averaging 1.41 shots per game and 14:09 in ice time per game. Donskoi instantly gained NHL playoff experience by playing in 24 games with 6 goals, 6 assists, and an average ice time of 15:32 per game during the Sharks postseason run. Donskoi’s second NHL season in 2016-17 would see him feature in 61 regular season games with 6 goals, 11 assists, 1.56 shots per game, and an average ice time of 13:49. He made 5 appearances in the playoffs with 2 assists and 13:06 in average ice time.

The Sharks would re-sign Donskoi to a 2 year, $3.8 million contract on May 12, 2017. Donskoi would be more productive in 2017-18 with 14 goals and 18 assists across 66 games while averaging 1.95 shots per game with an average ice time of 14:58. In 9 playoff games that season he had 2 goals and 2 assists while playing 14:54 per game. This past season saw him play in a career high 80 regular season games with 14 goals, 23 assists, 1.44 shots per game with an average ice time of 13:25. In 12 playoff games this past spring he had a goal and 2 assists while seeing his average ice time drop to 12:26. Donskoi has spent his age 23 to 26 seasons in the NHL and been a 30+ point producer in 3 of those seasons, despite averaging 71 games played per season and with an average ice time of 14:04. It seems that he may have only scratched the surface of what he can contribute to a team. Let’s take a look at some more in-depth numbers to get to know his game better.

Basic Stats courtesy of EliteProspects and Hockey-Reference.

By the Numbers

First, let’s take a look at his 5v5 on-ice metrics thanks to Natural Stat Trick. His first 3 seasons in the league saw him post positive relative Corsi For% of 2.35, 3.31, and 5.94 from 2015-16 to 2017-18 respectively. His relative Corsi For% of -0.58 from this past season was the lowest of his career however he still had a 54.46 Corsi For% so he was hardly a burden on the team in that respect. He has posted a positive relative Shots For% across his 4 season career with totals of 2.83, 2.14, 7.07, and 3.71 from 2015-16 to last season. In his career he has never had a Shots For% lower than 52.98, which came in his 2nd season. Last season he had a Shots For% of 57.03 which was a career high. Donskoi has also had a positive relative Goals For% in every season with the exception of his 2nd, with rates of 3.41, -9.31, 15.11, and 6.64. He has only posted one sub 50% Goals For% season, which as I mentioned before was in his 2nd season. Finally, in terms of High Danger Corsi For%, he has posted relative rates of 7.66, 4.90, 9.69, and 2.58 across his career. His 56.06 HDCF% from this past season was the lowest of his career, though he was still on the positive end of things more often than not for the Sharks. I should also note that Donskoi did well last year to draw 1.13 penalties per 60 minutes.

Next, let’s take a look at some numbers and visual aids from Evolving Hockey starting with his offensive and defensive rate impacts. The first image below will isolate his 2018-19 season while the second image will look at a 3 year stretch from 2016-19. As we can see in the first image, Donskoi was a positive player at even strength in Offensive Goals For, Offensive Expected Goals, Defensive Expected Goals, and Defensive Corsi For though he wasn’t at a standout level in any of those categories. He was slightly below average in Offensive Corsi For. If we compare this to the second image which shows his previous 3 seasons, we see that he’s been a positive player across all of these categories and very solid in Defensive Corsi For. Going back to the first image, we can see that in limited action, Donskoi did not excel on the PP. When we expand that sample size to 3 seasons, we see in the second image that while not a positive PP player in Goals For, he has had a positive effect on Expected Goals and Corsi For. Perhaps he could be useful on the PP with more of an opportunity.

Donskoi’s rate impacts from last season via Evolving Hockey
Donskoi’s three-year rate impacts 2016-19 via Evolving Hockey

Now, let’s take a look at Evolving Hockey’s Goals Above Replacement model to see how it views Donskoi. Last season, in terms of EV GAR, Donskoi ranked 55th among forwards with a 8.4 EV GAR. His overall 11.2 GAR ranked 50th among forwards last season. Since breaking into the NHL at the start of the 2015-16 season, Donskoi has the 80th highest GAR among forwards. Overall, I feel like you could say he’s done a fairly solid job in a limited role where he wasn’t always the preferred option in San Jose as they sometimes dressed more phsyical players in his place. When looking at his career chart in the image below, I’m encouraged to see that it appears he is trending in the right direction as he enters his age 27 season.

Donskoi’s GAR Chart via Evolving Hockey.

Finally, I want to take a look at CJ’s A3Z Player Comparison Tool to compare Donskoi to Gustav Nyquist who was profiled yesterday. As we can see in the image below, Donskoi seems to excel more in shot contributions and zone entries/exits than Nyquist. What really stood out to me about Donskoi is how well he did in possession entries per 60 (91st percentile) and possession exits per 60 (90th percentile). I have to imagine that these strong entry/exit numbers help him contribute those solid shot contribtuion numbers.

via CJ’s A3Z Player Comparison Tool

According to EvolvingWild’s contract projections, Donskoi is projected to get a 3 year deal with a $2,796,060 cap hit. A deal like that would take him through his age 27, 28, and 29 seasons. Nyquist is projected to get a 6 year deal with a $5,649,366 cap hit. A deal like that would take him through his age 30-35 seasons. From a point production perspective, Nyquist is the better player, but when you factor in term, cap hit, and age, Donskoi could provide the better value and allow from more roster flexibility.

Is He a Fit for the Devils?

The Devils certainly have a need for right wing that can play on the 2nd or 3rd line. I’m a fan of Donskoi for a few reasons, starting with how Ulf Andersson of EliteProspects describes his game:

Donskoi is an explosive skater. Works hard both ways. Has excellent stickhandling ability and puck control, but could improve his finishing skills.

Donskoi would fit right in with a rejuvenated Devils team that should play a faster, attacking style of hockey. I like that he’s a responsible two-way player that can move the puck effectively through all 3 zones. Another reason I’m a fan of signing Donskoi is that you could probably get him on a 3-4 year deal at a reasonable cap hit. For a player that’s about to enter his age 27 season, you won’t have to worry about getting stuck with a bad contract that will hurt the team. He’s been reasonably productive in his limited role thus far in his NHL career. I also like the fact that he could offer some versatility whether he has to play in a more offensive role on the 2nd line or a more defensive role on the 3rd line.

While I do think Donskoi could be a more productive player in a more expansive role than the one he had in San Jose, his lack of point production that puts him below a lot of other free agents like Nyquist is a legitimate concern. He hasn’t hit the 20+ goal or 40+ point marks in his career yet. I can see why an older player like Nyquist that maybe doesn’t move the puck as well but has a proven track record with multiple 20+ goal seasons and 6 staright 40+ point seasons could be a favored option. With Donskoi you are really betting on getting a player that is better than what his results have been from a point production standpoint.

Overall, I would side with Donskoi as one of my preferred free agent targets for the Devils. He’s still young, he’s likely looking for a fresh start that a team like the Devils could give him, and he can end up being one of the better values in this year’s free agent class. At minimum you know you are getting a responsible, effective two-way player. At best you could get a guy that can help provide some secondary scoring. I’m hoping to see Shero take a chance at trying to sign Donskoi on a 3-4 year deal.

Your Take

Do you think the Devils should go after Joonas Donskoi? Do you think his game is a good fit for this team? What parts of his game stand out to you in a positive or negative way? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!