As the latest edition of the Washington Capitals entered the 2022-23 season, the injury bug had already hit the team rather hard, as Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, and Carl Hagelin all entered the offseason on the injured list. The Capitals’ forward depth took a real hit, and effectively, a third of their top-six forward group was on the shelf for the foreseeable future.
Mid-October rolled around and the Capitals were flush with cap space due to long-term injury salary cap relief and had an opening on their organizational 50-man roster. Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan took a flyer on Sonny Milano, a 26-year-old winger who had been non-tendered by the Anaheim Ducks, and then released from a professional tryout with the Calgary Flames prior to the season.
Milano started out in Hershey and showed flashes of the skill that got him into the NHL in the first place.
Then the worst happened for the Capitals: Connor Brown went down with a knee injury in late October, followed by Beck Malenstyn fracturing his finger on a blocked shot on November 2nd. Milano was called up to the big leagues after the Malenstyn injury and has performed rather well since that point.
In this post, we’ll take a look at Milano’s statistical performance so far this season. The statistics used in this post are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, Evolving Hockey, and Hockey Reference. If you’d like to learn more about the statistical terms used in this post, please check out our analytics glossary.
Let’s take a look at how Milano has fared so far this season regarding his overall player value, as measured by Goals Above Replacement (GAR) and in Regularized Adjusted Plus-Minus (RAPM). Here’s how Milano has stacked up in comparison to the rest of the Capitals’ forward group this season:
Milano falls into the top half of the forwards in total GAR so far this season, which is rather impressive considering Milano has only played in 16 games; the non-injury impacted Capitals have skated in 28 games so far this season. As expected, based on Milano’s history as a player, most of his player value is derived from his offensive prowess. In fact, Milano is currently third amongst forwards in offensive GAR, trailing only Conor Sheary and Dylan Strome. It’s impressive he’s generated this much value in a bit over half of the games played as his healthy forward counterparts.
One of the biggest gripes about Milano in the past was his defensive contributions. He’s scoring at a -0.2 in defensive GAR, which puts him right in the neighborhood of replacement level. That doesn’t necessarily mean “bad”, but that it would be easy to replace his defensive output with another player. The interesting thing to note is Milano has graded out rather well in defensive GAR the past four season, posting a 1.8 defensive GAR last season, 1 defensive GAR in 2020-21, and -0.1 in 2019-20.
Here’s Milano’s RAPM chart via Evolving Hockey:
At first glance, Milano’s RAPM chart isn’t exactly a masterpiece. Part of this is a relatively low sample size in comparison to his teammates (and the league as a whole), and the process of meshing into a new team and a new system. Capitals Head Coach Peter Laviolette seems to like what he’s seeing out of Milano, since we’re seeing slow-but-steady increases in ice time week over week.
Here’s Milano’s player card from Evolving Hockey:
The Capitals are getting immense value out of Milano. MacLellan was basically able to acquire Milano for free, shelling out a low cap hit of $800k for this season. Unfortunately for the Capitals, Milano is an unrestricted free agent after this season.
Based on how Milano is tracking in expected GAR (xGAR), the best seems to be yet to come from and for him. As the Capitals get players back from injury, this kind of performance from Milano would be key in the team’s efforts in getting back into real playoff contention. If the Capitals don’t make their way into the playoff conversation, Milano would have a lot of value on the trade market if an extension is out of the question. He’s certainly playing his way into a full-time role with the Capitals, even with the potential return of Wilson and Backstrom on the horizon.
By Justin Trudel