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2019 Report Card: Vinni Lettieri

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It’s time to break down the performance of another depth forward

NHL: New York Rangers at Minnesota Wild Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Expectations

It’s hard to say what was expected out of depth forward Vinni Lettieri as he headed into his second full pro season. The undrafted college free agent, who averaged 0.56 points per-game at the University of Minnesota, proved himself to be a high-volume shooter and a reliable goal scorer at the AHL level last season. However, Lettieri also struggled with consistency in both the AHL and NHL.

Lettieri scored 23 goals and piled up 148 shots in 55 games during the 2017-18 AHL season. He led Hartford in goals and power play goals. His production in 19 games with the Rangers last year was a different story; he scored one goal and picked up four assists in that window.

Even before general manager Jeff Gorton re-signed Cody McLeod in free agency, it was unlikely that Lettieri would be anything more than the Rangers’ 14th, 15th, or 16th forward, depending on who you asked.

Really, the 2018-19 season was a chance for Lettieri to prove that he could be more than a goal-scorer in the AHL. He needed to make a much bigger impression than the one he made in 2017-18 when he scored a goal in his first NHL game and then failed to score in his next 18 games.

Performance

Lettieri started the year off on the right foot. While impressing in training camp, he scored two goals and registered 10 shots in five preseason games; that made him one of only four Rangers to tally at least two goals in the preseason. That performance was enough for new head coach David Quinn to give Lettieri a spot on the opening night roster.

So, the college free agent that had slim odds of becoming a regular in the Rangers’ lineup this year found himself right where he wanted to be on Oct. 4. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there.

Lettieri failed to make the most of his opportunity. He was held out of the lineup six times in the Rangers’ first 20 games of the year and failed to register a point in the 14 games he was in the lineup. After taking a minor penalty and seeing just 4:29 time on ice on Nov. 17 against the Florida Panthers, Lettieri was sent down to the Wolf Pack.

The 5-foot-11 forward picked up five points in four games in Hartford before being called back up to the Rangers on Nov. 30. Lettieri played two more games with New York — where he registered one hit and one shot in 17:54 combined ice time — before being sent back down to the minors. He wouldn’t get another chance with the big club until Feb. 6 when the Rangers traded McLeod to the Nashville Predators. And even then, his presence in the lineup was never certain.

Lettieri finally picked up his first goal and point of the year in his 21st game of the season. That goal, which was scored on the power play, came in a 5-2 losing effort against the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 25. It held up as his only goal of the season. Lettieri would go on to pick up two more assists before the season was over to finish with a total of three points in 27 games. Two of those three points came on the power play.

Lettieri had just one point — a secondary assist — in 253:34 5v5 ice time with the Rangers this year. No other Rangers’ forward who skated in at least 250 minutes of 5v5 ice time finished with fewer than five points. Even for a fourth liner, that scant production was inadequate, especially for a player who had scored 46 goals in 103 AHL games.

Still, it’s important to note that Lettieri finished third among the Blueshirts forwards with his 13.96 iCF60 (individual Corsi for per hour) at 5v5 and was fourth in iSCF60 (individual Scoring Chances for per hour) with a rate of 7.81 per. There were definitely signs that Lettieri could translate some of his skills as a shooter to the NHL, but he just wasn’t able to finish.

Lettieri’s most frequent 5v5 lines

P1 P2 P3 GP TOI CF% Rel CF% G+/- GF% xG+/- xGF% Rel xGF% PDO
P1 P2 P3 GP TOI CF% Rel CF% G+/- GF% xG+/- xGF% Rel xGF% PDO
Chytil Lettieri Namestnikov 12 42.32 45.12 1.38 -1 0 -0.93 38.05 -11.88 95.83
McLeod Chytil Lettieri 4 21.92 32.65 -18.19 -1 0 -0.25 43.59 -14.6 94.12
Howden Lettieri Namestnikov 6 19.03 40.62 -5.31 -1 0 -0.17 44.06 -4.6 90
Howden Vesey Lettieri 10 17.08 52.5 6.93 -1 33.33 0.56 62.96 14.2 88.96
Nieves Andersson Lettieri 2 14.87 50 2.74 0 NA -0.09 45.36 -8.64 100
All data courtesy of Corsica.hockey

At least some of that was due to bad luck — he had a 95.4 PDO — but there is also something to be said about the gap between scoring in the AHL and scoring in the NHL. When the book closed on the 2018-19 season, Lettieri’s shooting percentage stood at 2.9 percent. For those who are curious, he is a 13.7 percent career shooter in the AHL and shot 14.4 percent in his 19-goal senior season at the University of Minnesota.

Another important factor to consider here is that Lettieri is not exactly a celebrated two-way forward. He took two more penalties than he drew during 5v5 play this year and had the fourth-highest CA60 among Rangers forwards. His -1.81 Relative Expected Goals for Percentage (Rel xGF%) was 10th among Rangers forwards, behind Pavel Buchnevich and ahead of Jimmy Vesey.

Grade: C- | Banter Consensus: D

If we were grading Lettieri’s performance with the Wolf Pack in the 2018-19 season, he’d come away here smelling like a dozen roses. After all, he finished tied for 14th in the AHL in goals per-game this year. However, the focus of these end-of-season report cards is how players performed with the Rangers; and that is why my Lettieri has ended up in the D to C- range.

Lettieri looked one-dimensional against NHL competition this season. And while that wasn’t altogether surprising, it was still disappointing considering what he was and is able to do in the AHL.

If he isn’t adding offensive punch to the fourth line when he draws into the lineup, he doesn’t have much else to offer outside of his hustle. He had two big opportunities to prove otherwise this season and failed to do so.

The odds have always been stacked against him becoming a regular NHLer. At the end of the day Lettieri’s hustle and knack for putting pucks on net are simply not enough to secure him a spot on this team. Until he proves otherwise, he’s an AHL-level player.

Data courtesy of Corsica.hockey, naturalstattrick.com, hockeyeastonline.com, and ahltracker.com.


2019 Report Cards: Ryan Strome / Filip Chytil / Brendan Lemieux / Tony DeAngelo / Chris Kreider / Pavel Buchnevich / Neal Pionk / Cristoval Nieves / Kevin Shattenkirk / Marc Staal / Jimmy Vesey / Brady Skjei / Connor Brickley / Vladislav Namestnikov