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After a season in which he centered the trio that became the team's de facto top line for prolonged stretches, attention will shift to Kyle Turris to become the Senators' number one centre in title and play this season.
Injuries during the lockout shortened 2013 campaign gave Turris a taste of what it meant to shoulder the load up front, while instant chemistry with Clarke MacArthur and, later on, Bobby Ryan, gave the team a formidable trio with all three finishing amongst the Sens' top five scorers one season later.
The departure of Jason Spezza will mean there is no doubt as to which centre will steer the ship for the Sens up front. While many "Is Turris Ready?" articles are popping up across the hockey world, both the stats and his career arc seem to confirm that he's already there.
Let's take a look...
He is much more competitive in his game, he's better at both ends of the ice, his skating has really improved, he's much more confident with the puck and distributes it really well. I think he liked the challenge when Jason was out with some injuries, Kyle really stepped up and liked the challenge of being the go-to guy at centre. I think he's ready to take on that big role.
The above quote comes to us courtesy of Sens asssitant GM Randy Lee during his season preview with SiriusXM NHL Radio. Turris' growth since his arrival in Ottawa during the 2011-12 season has been obvious. The growth in his two-way play led to him playing a vital shutdown role during the team's run in the 2013 playoffs and doubling his penalty kill time at centre from 2013 to 2014. With the puck he has become a more balanced player, equally effective at distributing to his wingers and putting pucks on net.
Thanks to the great resource that is Hockey Analysis we can actually see this type of growth in his game.
The above chart shows the type of output Turris offers at 5 on 5 hockey.
After the rookie growing pains in 2008-09 we see a player who excels offensively in carefully controlled ice time in 2010-11 after a season in the AHL. A year later after a trade to the Senators, Turris receives a heavier workload against tougher opponents and the numbers come back down. The next year those rates come down again against the NHL's top flight defenders.
Last season Turris rockets back up to those huge rates we saw in 2010-11 with a few nuanced differences. You'll note that his Goals/60 rate in 13-14 — while his highest as a Senator — is down from 10-11, but his Assists/60 and Primary Assists/60 are at all-time highs. These numbers suggest that not only has he had the luxury of playing with more productive linemates (MacArthur/Ryan), he has also become a better distributor of the puck, with prime evidence being the increase in primary assists. He's putting offensively inclined teammates in opportunities where they can succeed and finish.
While I'm sure the numbers laid out have spurred some skepticism with respect to whether or not he can keep it up, an interesting tidbit is Turris' peripheral numbers haven't fundamentally changed. Take a look at this chart (also from Hockey Analysis) which looks at his shots/60, Corsi/60 and Fenwick/60.
As we can see, Turris has, by and large, played a consistent game from year to year. What's encouraging, however, is the way these rates have stayed steady — if not improved — as he has come to shoulder a heavier burden playing against tougher opposition. With the smart money heading into 2014-15 being put on Turris facing top shutdown lines and pairings each night, these numbers should ease concern regarding the adjustment.
Given that Turris is taking over the 1C role from Spezza, let's have a look at what the latter's rates have been like over the last seven seasons for the sake of reference.
Look a bit similar?
Looking at least season in particular, Spezza posted a Corsi/60 of 17.432, Fenwick/60 13.447 and 9.605 Shots/60. Turris recorded a Corsi/60 of 16.98, Fenwick/60 of 13.484 and 9.14 Shots/60. The two had virtually identical possession numbers. When looking at the past three seasons of both players, the statistical parallels are fairly evident.
In this sense, the "Can Kyle Turris become a first line centre?" line of questioning seems a tad flawed. Over the past two seasons the combination of injuries and his play meant he has consistently drawn attention from top shutdown players and defensive pairings. In those situations he has found ways to perform at a top line level based on the incumbent standards. The evidence suggests that he is already there.
Here's what Turris had to say about taking on the role of being the team's top line centre:
It's something that I've been lucky to learn from Spezz for the three years that I've been here. I kind of went through that a couple of years ago. I've learned from it, I know what to expect and I'm going to be more prepared this year if I get the opportunity.
If, for the sake of argument, we assume that he is reunited with Clarke MacArthur and Bobby Ryan once again in 2014-15 and the trio is healthy for a majority of the season, it certainly seems fair to believe that Turris can meet the expectations he has set for himself after a solid 2013-14. Furthermore, with the increase in power play time at the centre position that's sure to come, it could be yet another career year across the board for Ottawa's number seven.