Jan 2, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets left wing R.J. Umberger (18) celebrates a power play goal during the third period against the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

R.J. Umberger: Race To The First Line

Late in the month of June, Ron Hextall made his boldest move yet when he traded for R.J. Umberger. The trade has continued to perplex some fans, but R.J. Umberger could make a smooth transition onto the first line.

Umberger and Hartnell are two players who are similar in numerous ways. They mirror each other in size. They bring a physical style of play to the ice, and they score most of their goals in the same area of the ice. Umberger may not have the same production rate as Hartnell, but he brings most of the same qualities as Hartnell, along with a more disciplined style of play.

R.J. Umberger Tale of the Tape:

  • Age: 32
  • Position: Center
  • Height: 6-2
  • Weight: 220
  • NHL Experience: 9 years
  • 2013-14 Stats: 74 games played: 18 goals, 16 assists , 34 points

Umberger is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career. It was the first time in seven years where he did not score more than 20 goals and 40 points in a full 82-game season.

Umberger appears to be on the decline, but a deeper analysis of his numbers tells us he can have a bounce back year with the orange and black.

Umberger may not have the same production rate as Hartnell, but he brings most of the same qualitites as Hartnell, along with a more disciplined style of play.

Umberger possesses a strong wrist shot, which he utilized often during his peak years. From 2008 to 2012, Umberger eclipsed the 20-goal and 200-shot mark. During that time he averaged more than 17 minutes per game.

Last season, Umberger’s numbers declined across the board. His ice time dropped to 16 minutes per game and his shot totals dropped to 136. Even with reduced ice time and a significant drop in his shots, Umberger still managed to score 18 goals.

Despite his sub-par numbers, Umberger posted his best shooting percentage since his rookie year, although it was helped by a stretch of two months where Umberger scored on 21.7 percent and 21.1 percent of his shots. His shooting percentage dipped back to his career average – 10.9 percent – during the final months of the season. If placed on a line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, combined with his solid wrist shot, it is not out of reach to believe he can score between 22 and 26 goals next season.

One thing Umberger does very well is complement star forwards. For most of the 2013-14 season, Umberger spent the majority of his shifts with budding star Ryan Johansen, who had a breakout season last year. If Umberger can use his size, speed and wrist shot to his advantage like Hartnell did on the top line, Giroux and Voracek may not miss a beat.

Hartnell was by far the more productive player, but his and Umberger’s goals per game totals are not as far off as some may believe. Hartnell scored .256 goals per game, but Umberger was right behind him with .243 goals per game. When these totals are pro-rated to a full 82-game season Hartnell comes out with 21 goals. Umberger comes out with 20 goals. When it boils down to even-strength tallies, both came away with 11 even-strength goals.

Umberger’s experience and scoring ability could give him the edge to carve his name on the first line.

With an increase in ice time and playing alongside Giroux, Umberger could be the surprise of the 2014-15 season.

A common protest against Umberger is his advanced stats. Umberger’s -8.4 Corsi Rel ranked him second-to-last on the Columbus Blue Jackets during the 2013-14 season. His offensive zone starts – 45.6 percent – may have contributed to that poor rating.

One area where Umberger does shine is his penalties taken-penalties drawn ratio. Umberger has crossed the 50 penalty-minute plateau once in his career. He also draws more penalties – 0.8 per game – than he takes – 0.3 – per game. Couple his ability to draw penalties with his net presence on the power play and the Flyers have a solid player in their lineup who can play any forward position.

Training camp is less than two weeks away, and Craig Berube has a tough task in front of him. Michael Raffl, R.J. Umberger and Brayden Schenn are candidates to play with Giroux and Voracek on the first line. Umberger, Raffl and Schenn each play a physical style and could fit on the top line. Umberger’s experience and scoring ability could give him the edge to carve his name on the first line.

 

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Tags: Brayden Schenn Featued Michael Raffl Philadelphia Flyers R.J. Umberger

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