The story in San Jose this season was supposed to be the dominant blueline, led by Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns. The Sharks’ forward corps was supposed to be highlighted by Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Evander Kane and Tomas Hertl. All the while, Joe Thornton’s campaign was set to be one of the more enjoyable narratives of the season — the near 40-year-old pursuing the long-elusive Stanley Cup with a presumed frontrunner all the while climbing all-time lists.
And all of the potential storylines in San Jose have allowed Timo Meier, on a league-wide scale, to fly under the radar.
Granted, the hype surrounding Meier was limited with reason. Sure, he had produced impressive sophomore numbers — 21 goals and 36 points in 81 games while skating middle-six minutes — but he was hardly considered a lock to be a featured scorer on the Sharks this season, particularly with the wealth of talent up front. Improvement was expected, definitely, but when The Hockey News pegged Meier as a 27-goal, 52-point player in our annual Pool Guide, it was assuredly seem by some as a hopeful projection, the best-case scenario for the 22-year-old Swiss winger.
Turns out it may have been an underestimation.
On Thursday night in San Jose, Meier scored his 17th and 18th goals of the season and registered not his second, not his third, but his fourth multi-point game in his past five outings. It vaulted his point total further past the point per game mark, as he now boasts 32 points in 30 games. That sets Meier on pace to absolutely, positively blow any and all pre-season point projections out of the water. Waking up Friday, Meier finds himself on target to more than double the career-bests he set last season, in line for a 47-goal, 84-point campaign. Totals such as that would likely see Meier finish in the top 10 in goals and top 30 in points.
Admittedly, there’s a more than fair chance that Meier doesn’t reach those heights. The perils of on-pace numbers at any time before, say, the 60th game of the season is that they can be incredibly volatile. One big game can turn a player scoring at a 25-point pace into a potential 50-point scorer overnight. And while at this point in the season, with one-third of the campaign behind us, the swings are less significant, they’re still significant enough that you have to be cautious. Case in point, Mikko Rantanen, scoring at a 137-point clip, is on pace to become the highest scoring player in more than two decades. I’d wager a kidney that doesn’t happen.
Meier has seen an increase in his on-pace rate, too, thanks to his recent scoring surge. Consider that entering December, before he was sidelined three games with an upper-body injury, Meier had netted 13 goals and 23 points in 25 games. Upon his return to the lineup on Dec. 5, he was on pace for 41 goals and 73 points. Increasing the former by six goals and the latter by 11 points in a five-game span likely means his current rate isn’t sustainable.
There are a few reasons for that. First, Meier’s shooting percentage is remarkably high, sitting at 18.2 percent, and the bulk of his assists, 71.4 percent, have been secondary helpers. Neither are favorable percentages when it comes to maintaining a high rate of scoring. There’s also the fact that Meier is keeping some rather elite company when it comes to rate of production.
Of all skaters with at least 200 minutes played at 5-on-5, Meier’s goals per 60 minutes rate (1.9) is tied for second in the NHL behind some guy named Alex Ovechkin. Meanwhile, Meier’s points per 60 minutes rate (3.1) is narrowly outside the top-10 in the NHL, putting him in the same company as Ovechkin, John Tavares, Jack Eichel, Nathan MacKinnon and Sidney Crosby. The difference between Meier and that five-player superstar cohort is a track record of production at this rate. Crosby’s points per 60 minutes rate over the past 11 seasons, for instance, is 3.1, which correlates perfectly with his current performance. And while the rest fall short of matching that, the other four players range from 1.8 to 2.3 points per 60 minutes over their career. Meier’s (albeit brief) career rate is the lowest at 1.3 points per 60 minutes.
That’s not to say this current pace is wholly unsustainable. He’s not about to go the rest of the season without scoring, and this appears very much to be his breakout season, one that puts him on the map going forward and sees the ninth-overall pick from the 2015 draft establish himself as a top-line scorer. And even if Meier is likely to fall victim to a slow regression in his points pace, it’s hard to fathom he falls further than a low-70s or high-60s point total by the time the season ends. At the very least, he’s going to surpass most — if not all — pre-season projections; he seems a safe bet to surpass the 30-goal plateau and another 20-plus points in 49 games doesn’t seem at all far-fetched for Meier given he’s spent the bulk of his ice time with Couture and Hertl. Both are linemates conducive to Meier’s pursuit of what should be far-and-away some career-best point totals.
So, with all the weapons the Sharks already have at their disposal, it appears it’s about time to add another to the list. Meier didn’t get the press heading into the season, but if he keeps this up, it won’t be long before he starts nabbing more headlines.