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In a league with a hard salary cap, few things are as valuable as scoring contributions from a player a team is paying very little money to. Historically this role is most often played out by rookies and young players on entry-level contracts. Yet sometimes deft clubs like the Rangers find the right player at the right time under the right circumstances in an effort to replicate the kind of bang-for-buck normally reserved for young, cost-controlled players. That’s a situation the now 25-year old Brandon Pirri found himself in this past summer after the Ducks, who acquired him from the Panthers at the trade deadline for a paltry sixth-round draft pick, balked at extending him his $975,000 qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent in the process.
Originally a second-round draft selection by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2009, Pirri signed a one-year deal worth just $1.1M with the Rangers late in the offseason. That deal made the Rangers his fourth team in six years, an aspect of his playing career that might cause one to question his value as an NHL player from the outside. But a deeper look into his production thus far tells a different story — a story the Rangers seem to have done their homework on. A story that began with his time in Junior A (94 points in 44 games) and continued through his NCAA Division I draft year (42 points in 39 games), as well as his time in the American Hockey League (200 points in 238 games). His story is one that might have just bought the Rangers one of the best bang-for-buck players in the NHL this season at an incredibly discounted price.
Pirri’s NHL experience is the definition of small sample size. He’s played in just 173 NHL games to date due to a combination of injuries and a lack of trust, never playing in more than 61 games in a single season. That season was split between Florida and Anaheim last year in which he scored a combined 14 goals and 29 points over that span. But if you pull back on the picture a bit there’s untapped promise in his game that the Rangers seem to have successfully struck oil on.
Most of his games came after the start of the 2013-14 season and among players who have played at least 40 games since then, Pirri ranks 11th in the NHL in goals per 60 minutes with 1.37. His closest peers during this span are Jamie Benn (12th at 1.36), Wayne Simmonds (13th at 1.34), and Max Pacioretty (11th at 1.41). More interestingly, Pirri’s scoring numbers are predominantly registered 5-on-5, not on the power play as one might expect. Still, a larger sample size is needed to completely trust that data. Over the same 2013-2016 stretch, only 15 of his 53 goals (28%) were scored on the man advantage. Compared to that same peer group Pirri really stands out as the untapped goal-scorer he is. 61% of Benn’s goals and 48% of Simmonds’ were scored on the power play. Only Pacioretty has a better even strength percentage, having scored just 23% of his totals on the man advantage over that time.
Through ten games this year, Pirri has four goals and six points. He’s shooting at an astounding 36.4% (a number that will surely come back to earth over the duration of this season considering his career shooting percentage prior to joining the Rangers was 13.6%), but this temporary production inflation shouldn’t stop him from continuing to find consistent success with the Rangers. There’s enough evidence in his body of work at the NHL level to believe he can score at least 20 goals this season, probably more. For the $1.1M the Rangers invested in him, that’s incredible bang-for-buck when it comes to cost per goal. It would equal around $55K per goal scored. Discounting NHL rookies on entry-level deals, only a handful of players offered that kind of value to a team last season. According to CapFriendly, among them were players like then 32-year old P.A. Parenteau, who scored 20 goals for the Leafs on a one-year, $1.5M contract, 33-year old Lee Stempniak, who scored 19 goals between the Devils and Bruins on a one-year, $850,000 deal, and 26-year old Joe Colborne, who scored 19 goals for Calgary in the second year of a two-year deal with a $1.275M AAV.
When the Rangers get healthy at the forward position, they will no doubt have a tough decision to make. One decision that shouldn’t be difficult is keeping Pirri in the lineup so long as his stick remains hot. He likely has pushed one of Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast or Michael Grabner to the press box with his offensive production that earned him a roster spot out of training camp in the first place.