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Wednesday 29th Mar 2017

Each year, regardless of who is playing in the playoffs, a lesser paid, lesser known player excels in the playoff environment. This year is no exception with many skaters of non-superstar status elevating their game to that of “team studs.” Such players are usually third or fourth line skaters, but definitely not potential Conn Smythe winners.  

Such was the case in 2003, when Jay Pandolfo made his mark with a great playoff performance during the 2002-03 Stanley Cup run with the New Jersey Devils. Pandolfo, who was 27 years old at the time, racked up six goals, six assists, and was plus +/- 9 during the Devils' 24-game Cup run. Those might not seem like monstrous numbers, but remember New Jersey specialized in winning the 2-1 game behind Martin Brodeur’s fantastic goaltending.

Of course, there are “Pandolfo” candidates this season, and among those I like, Nick Bonino has stood out more than any other skater left in this year’s playoffs. To start, Bonino and line-mates Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel are what has stoked the Pittsburgh playoff run. Bonino, a sixth-round pick in 2007, has been on a tear, and the “HBK Line” struck again in Game 3. Kessel and Hagelin, also a sixth-rounder in 2007, were each good for a goal and an assist, and Bonino had the helper on the Kessel goal at even-strength. Bonino also added two shots on goal, one hit and a plus +/- 2 rating to his stat line last night.

Bonino’s stat line in 63 regular season games included nine goals with 20 assists, but so far in the playoffs he’s scored two goals, ten assists and plus +/- 9 in just 14 games, way above the regular season average. When I was young and used to skate, I remember the feeling of elevating my game to those of the players around me, and it seems Bonino is having the same impact with former first-round selection Kessel and speed demon Hagelin.

Bonino has done all of his damage at even-strength while averaging 16:39 of ice time per game. The Center also has 16 Shots on Goal, a 12.5% shooting percentage with ten hits and 25 blocked shots. He is also averaging 3.42 DraftKings points per game, which is good for fifth on the Penguins.  

In fact, the Penguins points per game leaders on DraftKings--along with their regular season salaries—reads as follows:

Phil Kessel - 4.82 ppg/ 14 games - $8.6 million
Evgeni Malkin - 3.76 ppg/ 13 games - $9.5 million
Sidney Crosby – 3.68 ppg/ 14 games - $12.0 million
Carl Hagelin – 3.53 ppg/ 14 games - $5.0 million
Nick Bonino – 3.42 ppg/ 14 games - $1.9 million
Kris Letang – 3.39 ppg/ 14 games - $7.25 million
Patric Hornqvist – 3.18 ppg / 14 games - $4.25 million
Chris Kunitz – 2.07 ppg/ 14 games - $4.0 million

As we can see, Bonino is certainly giving the Penguins the most bang for their buck thus far. Diving deeper into fantasy numbers, Bonino has been a relatively solid player in the Possession Metrics as well. Nick has a Corsi For percentage of 51.9%, meaning his team is controlling the puck more often when their Center is on the ice. The same can be said for his Fenwick For percentage of 52.6%, which also means the same thing as Corsi For ratings with his team controlling the puck more often with Bonino on the ice.   

The Pandolfo Effect could even grow greater in Nick Bonino like the force has grown in Luke Skywalker (and maybe grow in the hint of a daughter we saw in The Force Awakens). The way Pittsburgh has been playing the last two months, the squad is indeed a “force” to be reckoned with.

The playoffs in any sport always present the best there is, so enjoy the Conference Finals, and if you want to break a newbie into hockey, this is the time of year to do so.  Maybe even tell said newbies about the strange playoff happenings of the Pandolfo Effect (and if the new fan is a baseball junkie, they might respond with names like Al Weis and Buddy Biancalana) because a player seems to step up every year regardless of who’s still playing.  

For example, the last two Stanley Cups the Chicago Blackhawks won, in 2012-13 and again in 2014-15, Andrew Shaw had an acute case of the Pandolfo Effect during each run to the Holy Grail called The Stanley Cup.

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