Andrei Kuzmenko’s first season in the NHL went better than anyone could have expected. The Russian winger immediately found chemistry with franchise forward Elias Peterson, as well as a place in the first game, scoring 39 goals.
This 39-goal season comes with a big caveat: the highest shooting percentage for a player since the 1980s.
Kuzmenko’s 27.3% shooting percentage is the highest of any NHL player with at least 100 shots in a season since Rob Brown scored 49 goals on 169 snaps—a shooting percentage of 29.0%—in the 1988–89 season when Mario Lemieux was feeding.
In fact, Kuzmenko’s shooting percentage is the seventh-highest in NHL history since the NHL began recording statistics in the 1959-60 season.
Until last season, which had the highest scoring average in the NHL since the 1993-1994 season, only six players had a shooting percentage above 20% while taking at least 100 shots. Closest after Kuzmenko at 27.3 percent was Bryden Point at 21.7 percent — a difference of 5.6 percentage points.
This is patently absurd and begs the question: Could Kuzmenko do it again?
of course not.
NHL players never repeat high shooting percentages
The odds were higher against Kuzmenko repeating the absurdly high shooting percentage than against the lady. Singing in the Brick House. Less than a penny the chance of being run over by a train. He is twice as likely to be struck by lightning on the same day he wins the lottery.
Here are all the players since the 2004-05 lockout who had a shooting percentage above 20% with at least 100 shots on goal prior to last season. In those 16 seasons, only 30 players have had a shooting percentage greater than 20%, with two players who have managed to do it more than once, Alex Tanguay and TJ O’Shea.
I’ve also dared Leon Dricetel and Brayden Point, who have both shot more than 20% this season.
The average shooting percentage of these 30 players the following season was 14.5%. Still above average for forwards, but closer to average than in those exceptional seasons. Notably, none of them had a higher shooting percentage the following season after going above 20%.
The biggest percentage drop belongs to Jordan Staal, who fell from 22.1% in his first year to 6.6% in his second year – a significant drop in his second year.
Only one player managed to post a shooting percentage above 20% again the following season – Alex Tanguay – but he didn’t have the youngest. That belongs to Drystle, which fell from 21.7% in 2018-19 to 19.7% in 2019-20. He seems to be the heir to Tanguay’s shooting percentage, but he’s more than just a scorer.
But even Tanguay and Dricetel never reach Kuzmenko’s max shooting percentage of 27.3% and their shooting percentages are 18.6% and 18.1%, respectively. Even though Kuzmenko is the type of player who maintains a very high shooting percentage, he will probably dip towards that kind of number.
There is evidence from Kuzmenko’s pre-NHL career that his shooting percentage will head towards the top of the front range. In the season before joining the Canucks, he had 19.8% for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL and another season he had 19.7%.
But these categories were outliers, not even close to 27.3%. The shooting percentage in the KHL is 14.7%.
With all that in mind, it’s basically certain that Kuzmenko’s shooting percentage will return to average level next season. His shooting percentage will likely come down to around the 14.7% shooting percentage he’s had in the KHL or, if he’s very lucky, around the 18% held by players like Tanguay or Draisaitl.
But here’s a counterpoint: No, you won’t.
I just won’t. None of this will happen.
Kuzmenko’s shooting percentage will not decrease next season. In fact, you will never back down. If anything, it will be backed up.
Don’t tell me this doesn’t make sense.
It didn’t work with these people. But it could work with Kuzmenko
If you look at the goals Kuzmenko scored, the vast majority were goals scored around the net. Even if they plan to play with the right teammates, it takes skill to get into the right position to pass goals and get hands to finish around the net.
If Kuzmenko continues to play Peterson, why not? He will continue to have these opportunities. There is just too much luck to finish it.
Kuzmenko also scored a lot of tips – 14 of his 39 goals are classified as tips by the NHL playmakers, the most in the NHL. These require a little more luck, as there is a lot of randomness involved in getting the angle right. But here’s the thing about tips from a lead percentage perspective – it doesn’t matter that much.
It’s easy to miss pointing a player at the shot if it leads to a save. If the goalkeeper misses the score in real time, they don’t go back and check if the shot was headed in – this only happens if the ball leads to a goal. If more Kuzmenko’s predictions are recorded next season, it could be tricky for his shooting percentage.
Another reason Kuzmenko had such a high shooting percentage was that he avoided low shooting percentages. Unlike some wingers who shoot from seemingly any angle, Kuzmenko’s shots converge around the net and into the middle of the ice.
These are high percentage areas and this type of shooting system will naturally lead to a higher shooting percentage. If he doesn’t see a high scoring opportunity, Kuzmenko doesn’t shoot, to the chagrin of his coaches in both the KHL and NHL.
“My last coach in the KHL, he said to me, ‘Please shoot, I’ve got a good shot: Shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot,'” Kuzmenko said when I spoke to him during the season about his reluctance to put the puck on the net. “It’s probably been eight years since a coach said to me, ‘Please shoot, please shoot, please.’”
It’s something Kuzmenko said has been working all season, but there’s little evidence of that on the ice. In the last two months of the season, Kuzmenko averaged 1.5 shots per game.
But it could work with Kuzmenko. Perhaps his excellent legitimate shot should be reserved for special occasions. It worked last season, as his shooting percentage wasn’t buoyed by a few hot streaks, but it’s stayed high all season.
After a slow start—scoring only one goal in his first seven games—Kuzmenko’s shooting percentage of any sample in just 10 games once dropped below 20%. Either way, it stayed above 20% all season.
This suggests that maybe, just maybe, Kuzmenko can be an extreme when it comes to shooting percentage.
Well, he probably won’t ever repeat his top 10 shooting percentage, but there’s a chance he’ll keep his shooting percentage above 20 percent next season, as he did almost all of last season.
All it takes is playing to his strengths around the net: finishing goals, getting shots from point to point and, every now and then, surprising the goalkeeper with a wicked shot to the wrist.
Of course, Kuzmenko is unlikely to score 40 points without a significant increase in his shooting percentage, but he may be able to avoid a significant drop in his shooting percentage.