This season: 70 games, 6 goals, 11 assists, 17 points, 20 penalty minutes, -2 rating, -1.1 CF%Rel, 12:47 time on ice
The good: When asked prior to the 2015-16 season whether Nick Shore would be able to fill the team’s third line center position, Darryl Sutter referenced that he wasn’t looking for a “name” to fill that particular role, but rather the output from that “box” in the lineup had to hit a certain level of productivity. One year later, Shore did exactly that as a loosely defined fourth line center. His production – six goals and 17 points in 70 games – was perfectly passable in the role he played and did not come with any cut corners, lack of detail or shirked responsibility. On the contrary, that production came despite lining up most regularly alongside forwards who aren’t offensive catalysts in Trevor Lewis, Jordan Nolan, Dwight King and Kyle Clifford. The “teacher’s pet” jokes seemed to follow King and Lewis, but really, that idiom should be Nick Shore’s, and he should wear it as a badge of pride. Sutter loved the young center’s approach to the game and his willingness to work. Really, Shore’s sophomore and junior NHL seasons were similar, though he was able to find the back of the net with greater regularity in 2016-17, an ability that doesn’t go unnoticed when compared to the club’s overall dearth of offense. “I’d say that Shoresy can be a more productive guy in terms of the actual goals and assists part,” Sutter said in January. “I think he’s a really reliable player and he’s been an awesome penalty killer for us this year and his ability to take faceoffs against top centermen has really gone up for us. He can play with a lot of different guys.” He remained one of the league’s top shot suppression forwards on the league’s top shot suppression team, and though there were five Kings ahead of him, he still ranked 11th in the league with an on-ice 24.2 SA/60 rate in five-on-five play. In each of his three seasons in the league, he has won greater than 50% of his faceoffs, and with five primary assists in nfive-on-five play, he finished level with Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin and one ahead of Tyler Toffoli. He scored his first NHL shorthanded goal in January, though the Kings ultimately lost the game in regulation, and has some underrecognized passing ability.
The bad: While Shore was mostly effective as a depth center and a penalty killer, he still wasn’t able to flourish in a much broader role, which was one of the team’s needs heading into the season. “What do you expect out of him? Hey, go from a fifth or a four to try and be a three,” Sutter said in March. While Dowd and Shore could be interchangeable on many nights, and both brought their own attributes, neither really held down the third line center role with successful consistency. Both could play there, but the Kings were not a playoff team in 2016-17, and there remains a massive gap between Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter and Dowd and Shore. This is significant for a team that has had its center depth whittled away in a league that handsomely rewards teams for being strong down the middle of the ice. “When you have Kopi and Jeff as your top two guys, then you need guys to take more responsibility and take good minutes and accomplish something while they’re getting those minutes,” Sutter said. “We don’t have a three or a four right now. We have guys that are balanced in.” Though Shore had been a reliable secondary goal scorer at Denver and in Manchester, he still hasn’t fully cashed in on that ability at the NHL level with one goal, three goals and six goals in his 24, 68 and 70-game NHL seasons. His on-ice possession rates also strangely took a bit of a nosedive one year after he led the league in raw Corsi-for, even though he was shaded a touch away from the defensive zone in 2016-17 and faced relatively softer competition. Though Shore was an even player during five-on-five play, there were massive swings of team fortune when Shore was on the ice with Doughty (2.02 GF60 / 0.81 GA60 / 58.9% CF) and/or Derek Forbort (2.26 / 1.25 / 51.9%) as opposed to Alec Martinez (1.67 / 4.05 / 49.1%) and/or Jake Muzzin (1.44 / 3.37 / 50.3), though that speaks more to the irregularity of the team’s minutes when Muzzin and Martinez skated together.
Going forward: Though he has been a King for the better part of three seasons, it’s almost easy to forget that until Adrian Kempe was called up late in the year, Shore was the club’s youngest skater. As someone who plays an important position, has some limited degree of to-be-realized offensive upside, won’t turn 25 until training camp and will sign what should be expected to be a relatively inexpensive RFA contract, Shore is someone who will have a spot available on a team that spends up to the salary cap. Note that didn’t say Shore will necessarily have a spot “protected.” Vegas will give Shore consideration – keep in mind the Golden Knights can sign an unprotected RFA “like the player is its own,” and that player would suffice as the expansion selection from that particular club – as they will Nic Dowd, Dustin Brown, Brayden McNabb, Trevor Lewis and Kyle Clifford and perhaps a few others. But this is a player who should be expected to again compete for a role, along with Dowd and Adrian Kempe, at a position that the club may also look to reinforce through free agency or a trade. Realistically, though Shore wasn’t able to command the third line center role, he raised his production on a team that badly needed secondary sources to contribute while maintaining a level of responsibility that often isn’t reflected in box scores, and it will be interesting to see if his usage or thrust evolves with John Stevens replacing Sutter behind Los Angeles’ bench. Keep in mind that in five-on-five play, his 15 points were more than Dowd’s 13. With every passing year the ceiling of his production seems to take a modest hit, but as a responsible defensive center who is nearing his prime years and gaining familiarity with his opponents and the league, there’s more value inherent in Shore than the NHL HITZ crowd gives him credit for.
Player evaluations: ANDREOFF | BROWN | CARTER | CLIFFORD | DOUGHTY | DOWD | FORBORT | GABORIK | GRAVEL | KOPITAR | LEWIS | MARTINEZ | MCNABB | MUZZIN | NOLAN | PEARSON | SHORE | TOFFOLI | BISHOP/BUDAJ/CAMPBELL/QUICK/ZATKOFF | THE OTHERS