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Peterka With Thompson and Tuch Is Not The Answer



Here’s a bold take on the surface – playing JJ Peterka, Tage Thompson, and Alex Tuch together is detrimental to the Buffalo Sabres in the long term. Head coach Don Granato formed the line on Thursday against the Edmonton Oilers. Since its inception, the trio has eight combined points in two games. The top line’s production has been a welcome boost to the team’s scoring woes.

So why isn’t it going to work?

There’s a myriad of reasons. The trio is too similar-minded, it crushes the depth of the forward group, and, as much as they’ve been scoring, the line’s underlying metrics are worrisome.

Latest Sabres Grades: Benson Is a Workhorse

Player Traits

There’s an overriding theory on forming forward lines that the players should complement each other in some fashion. For instance, you wouldn’t want players who all defer to the pass and rarely shoot. You also wouldn’t want three forwards who all demand to have the puck on their stick, for ego and synergy reasons.

In breaking down the player traits of Peterka, Thompson, and Tuch, we can see a lot of similar attributes between the three.

JJ Peterka Tage Thompson Alex Tuch player attributes

Peterka is in the 94th percentile of volume shooters in the NHL and Thompson is in the 99th percentile. This means that both shoot the puck at an extremely high rate. Tuch isn’t too far behind, placing in the 80th percentile.

The same can be said for scoring above expected, where Peterka (80th percentile) and Tuch (82nd) are quality scoring threats from anywhere. Thompson is elite in the sniping category, ranking in the 91st percentile with his deadly shot.

As for driving play up the ice into the offensive zone, Peterka (88th percentile) and Thompson (90th) are nearly identical. Peterka and Tuch are also porous defenders from the wing at even strength, with each grading in the 35th percentile or lower.

So what does this tell us? Well,’s player tendencies summarize it a little better for us.

PuckLuck Player Tendencies

PlayerOffensive/DefensiveShoot First/Pass FirstDriver/DependentPhysical/Passive
JJ PeterkaOffensiveShoot FirstLine DriverPassive
Tage ThompsonOffensiveShoot FirstLine DriverPassive
Alex TuchOffensiveShoot FirstLine DriverPassive

In other words, they’re all the same style of player. While similar traits can be good in some cases, they can leave glaring holes and shortcomings in others. Every player cannot do the same thing on the ice. Someone has to shift their game to be a better fit.

Forward Depth

Removing JJ Peterka from the middle six creates a hole in the secondary scoring. Since Peterka is a shoot-first play-driver, he can create scoring opportunities on the rush single-handedly. Out of the other options on the wing, only Zach Benson, Zemgus Girgensons, and Jordan Greenway can consistently drive the play up the ice. All three are pass-first players and defensively focused, although Greenway is starting to show more of a two-way game lately.

At center, Dylan Cozens and Tyson Jost grade as more dependent players than play drivers at this point in their careers. Peyton Krebs also defers to the pass and is defensive-focused. No one outside of the top line is left to drive play with an offensive, shooting mindset. That’s a big void left in the supporting cast at forward.

Underlying Metrics

On the surface, the production of the Peterka, Thompson, Tuch combination can lead you to think it’s a success. After all, Peterka has scored three goals in two games since joining the top line.

Take a deeper dive though, and you’ll realize that isn’t the case.

The Sabres have let up the same amount of goals with Peterka on the ice as they have scored. Thompson and Tuch would be in the same boat if not for Thompson’s empty-netter on Sunday.

It gets even worse if you look at the shot quality. According to Evolving-Hockey, the trio is below a 50% expected goal share at five-on-five over the last two games. Peterka’s shot quality share is particularly troubling, at 39.51%.

The goal of the game is to score more than your opponent. So far, the top line is doing that thanks to some crafty plays, shooting talent, and shooting luck. In the long term, their production will likely regress and you’ll be staring at some break-even hockey (or worse) from the line.

The Solution

Every problem requires a solution, so what can the Sabres do to better balance out their forward group?

Granato may have been on to something previously with placing Girgensons with Thompson and Tuch. A defensive-focused play-driver who understands his role should open space and time for Thompson and Tuch to operate. Girgensons seems lost in his ambiguous role since his demotion, so maybe a more focused job on the ice is just what he needs.

If not Girgensons, then Benson and Greenway could fit the same mold. The latter two wingers are in a successful shutdown role with Cozens, so Granato may not want to disrupt that.

Two offensively-minded, shoot-first, dependent players in the lineup could fit with Thompson and Tuch, and one of them has done so in the past.

Jeff Skinner isn’t going to carry play into the offensive zone and limit chances against, but he does know the right areas to go to complement the top line. His east-west style of play gives a less direct approach to Thompson and Tuch’s north-south style, which has both helped and hurt at times. If the coaching staff is looking for balance, it might be time to reunite the high-scoring trio from last season now that Thompson looks healthier.

The other player aforementioned is Victor Olofsson. Olofsson’s opportunity has increased substantially with the trades of Casey Mittelstadt and Kyle Okposo. While he’s looked better in recent weeks, it’s notable that he was never able to sustain success in a top-line role in the past. His elite shot and history of scoring goals could help the team if he can find his touch again.

Potential Lines

With all this said, let’s get into what the lineup could look like in the short term and long term:

This Season

Jeff Skinner – Tage Thompson – Alex Tuch

Jordan Greenway – Dylan Cozens – Zach Benson

JJ Peterka – Peyton Krebs – Victor Olofsson

Zemgus Girgensons – Tyson Jost – Lukas Rousek/Eric Robinson

Next Season

Jeff Skinner – Tage Thompson – Alex Tuch

Jordan Greenway – Dylan Cozens – Zach Benson

JJ Peterka – Peyton Krebs – Jack Quinn

Isak Rosen – Jiri Kulich – Matt Savoie