January 24, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov (1) blocks a shot by Columbus Blue Jackets left wing RJ Umberger (18) during the first period at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

What Can We Expect From R.J. Umberger

Ron Hextall sent a tremors through the Philadelphia Flyers in late June. Scott Hartnell was traded for R.J. Umberger. Like it or not, Umberger is here to stay. Umberger may not have similar production numbers to Hartnell, but fans can expect a better skating version of Hartnell in Umberger.

Fans, writers and analysts questioned why Hextall would trade away Hartnell, a streaky, but productive player, for Umberger. Umberger had inferior numbers and was a healthy scratch for the Blue Jackets during a crucial stretch of games. The trade made zero sense from a hockey standpoint.

An 18-point gap separates Hartnell and Umberger in terms of production from the 2013-14 season. The advanced statistics made it look worse.

The Hartnell-Umberger trade made zero sense from a hockey standpoint, but Umberger may not be as bad as some people think.

Comparison’s of Umberger’s and Hartnell’s Corsi numbers are well documented. Umberger’s numbers are ugly. Hartnell’s numbers are worlds better, but few articles have detailed what Umberger can bring to the Flyers if given a shot at the first line.

Assists are what created such a wide gap between the players. Umberger had 16 assists to Hartnell’s 32 last season, but let’s add some context to each player.

Hartnell played most of his minutes with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. The two combined for 148 points and have become one of the NHL’s most lethal duos. Umberger played most of his time with rising star Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno. Johansen and Foligno combined for 102 points, and Johansen was the only player of the trio to break the 20-goal mark.

The continuous growth of data has allowed fans to dig even further into their teams. One website has charted the goals and shot totals of each player in the NHL. Below are two graphics. The first illustrates a large portion of Umberger’s shot totals from the 2013-14 season. The second is Hartnell’s shot total.

R.J. Umberger Shots

Average distance per shot: 26.2 feet

umberger shots

Scott Hartnell Shots

Average distance per shot: 34.7 feet

scott hartnell shots

As the graphic shows, Umberger likes to get under the circles before he unleashes the puck. Hartnell liked to shoot from all over the ice.

Umberger tended to shoot more when he got under the hashmarks. On average, he was 26.2 feet from the net when he shot the puck. Hartnell, in comparison, averaged 34.7 feet from the net when he took a shot. Although Hartnell did outshoot Umberger, Umberger’s skating ability could have aided his closer shot distance.

Now let’s take a look at Umberger’s and Hartnell’s goal totals.

R.J. Umberger’s Goals from 2013-14.

Average distance from the net: 24 feet.

umberger goals

A trend has started to form. Umberger and Hartnell are similar in stature and play a similar style. All of Umberger’s goals are below the hashmarks. Similar to Hartnell, Umberger scores via deflections or picking up the rebounds in front of the net. This is further reinforced by their average distance from the net.

Scott Hartnell’s Goals From 2013-14

Average distance from the net: 22.5 feet

Hartnell goals

Hartnell’s goals are more spread out, but most of his goals come between the tops of the circles to the front of the net. A closer look at Hartnell’s and Umgerger’s power play totals show the players are even more similar.

All except one of Hartnell’s power play goals are scored from his wheelhouse between the hashmarks and the top of the circle. Umberger’s power play totals show he scores more off of deflections and rebounds than one-timers.

During his time in Columbus, the Blue Jackets ran a similar power play to the Flyers where three men would set up the umbrella at the top and a double screen would cover the lower  portion of the zone. Umberger was the low screen. Here, you can see Umberger score off of a deflection against the Flyers.

Umberger could score more than 20 goals if placed on the first line.

Umberger and Hartnell almost mirrored one another in average time on ice as well. Last season, Umberger averaged 16:11 while Hartnell averaged 16:53. Despite the vast margin of production, it is not too far fetched to say Umberger could score more than 20 goals if he plays on the top line. Hartnell, despite having superior ice time – 120 extra minutes – superior linemates and being an average skater at best only scored two more goals than Umberger.

What is stopping R.J. Umberger from increasing his point production with Giroux and Voracek?

Umberger and Hartnell are the same player in terms of how they play the game. Both are solid power forwards who can grind in the corners and score the dirty goals. Hartnell has a better track record of production, but he also has a reputation of taking bad penalties. Umberger is a more-disciplined, better skating and more defensively responsible forward than Hartnell.

As the days move closer and closer to October, Umberger will either take advantage of the opportunity in front of him, or relegate himself to the second or third line. A better skating forward could spark even more offensive firepower from Giroux and Voracek. Fewer penalties could also improve the Flyers even-strength. R.J. Umberger is here for three more years, let’s see what he can do.

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