One of the surprises coming out of training camp for the Tampa Bay Lightning was Finnish player Waltteri Merela making the squad over Alex Barre-Boulet. Merela had never played in the NHL before but flashed some solid offensive upside in the preseason, picking up four points in four preseason games, including two goals.
But nine games into his actual NHL career, the regular season hasn’t been as productive, and Merela finished the month of October with the same number of career NHL points he started the month with: zero.
In lieu of not scoring any points, what do the deeper numbers indicate about Merela’s first month in the NHL?
Tampa Bay Lightning: We’re not in Finland anymore
One of the adjustments that Merela has talked about in previous interviews is the adjustment one has to make playing in the NHL after playing in Europe. Most notably, the ice dimensions are smaller in the NHL, and players don’t have as much open ice as they do in Europe.
So far, his game has reflected a much safer style than some of the dynamic playmaking we saw in the preseason. Paired mostly with Tanner Jeannot and a rotating cast of others, Merla has 17 total shot attempts, 11 of which have been on goal, for an individual expected goal of 0.75. All of those numbers are the lowest on the team among forwards except for Luke Glendening.
But shots and offensive production alone don’t tell the full story for Merela. He has been utilized for over 10 minutes on the penalty kill this season, and his unit has not allowed a power-play goal while on the ice.
In fact, in 99 minutes of overall ice time this season, Merla has only been on the ice for one goal against. His on-ice Corsi (shot attempts for vs shot attempts against while on the ice) is third best on the team during 5 v 5 play. The 63.16% share of scoring chances while on the ice (36 for vs 21 against) is the best on the team.
If not for the fact that the Tampa Bay Lightning have a team shooting percentage of 2.70% while Merela is on the ice, the second-worst of any player on the team and 25th-worst of any player in the NHL with at least 95 minutes of on-ice time, he might have three or four assists and not be sitting with a big zero in the score sheet.
With Tyler Motte slated to return soon and Barre-Boulet playing well with the top line, the Lightning will have to make a choice on what to do with Merela. He’s played better than his baseline numbers would indicate, but to justify a roster spot in the NHL he will eventually have to generate actual points or risk becoming the next JT Brown.