During the early stages of the 2013-14 season the Washington Capitals‘ headlines have been largely occupied by Alexander Ovechkin, who is on pace for a historic season. But while Ovechkin has been having a great season, there has been one player in Washington that has been vastly underrated and who is having the best season of his career. That player is Joel Ward.
For the entirety of his career Ward has been known as a physical forward that can play a third line role on any team in the NHL with efficiency and contribute close to 30 points a season. This held true for the first five seasons of his career, which took place with the Nashville Predators and Washington, as he picked up more than 29 points three times and likely would have if not for a lockout shortened season last year.
Always a source of sure hands in front of the net and a physical presence in the corner, something has seemingly clicked during the 2013-14 season. With 33 games played Ward has scored 10 goals and contributed 10 assists, which puts him on pace for a smooth 25 goals and 25 assists in 82 games.
One may ask how this occurred for a guy who is 33 years old and seemingly should have already reached his peak, and the answer to that question is layered.
First of all, Ward has benefited from seeing significant time on the power play for the Capitals, including time with the first unit. During this time with the extra man he has scored four goals and added one assist — which ties his career high of five power play points in a single season — while playing in the slot. Clearly playing with the likes of Nicklas Backstrom, Ovechkin and company is a benefit, but the credit has to be given to Ward for putting the biscuit in the basket with consistency — and it is hard to see this efficiency changing.
In addition to scoring on the power play unit, Ward has also played with consistency at even strength and has combined with fellow winger Jason Chimera to form a lethal third line for Washington. Both players are very hard nosed, preferring to run you over instead of go around you, and they play to this strength. This has given both significant scoring chances throughout the season and has given Ward a career high .42 points per game on even strength. There is no doubting that this level of play is not only maintainable through the rest of the season but could even be built upon.
Finally, a key cog in Ward scoring 10 goals in only 33 games has been that he has a lethal 18.5 shooting percentage, which sits 3.1 percent over his previous career-high which was set last season. It would appear that this level of play is a bit inflated, even if the winger is getting in good positions and is working as hard as any player in the NHL. There is no doubting that this level of shooting efficiency is doomed to come down, although it could very well sit in the 15-16 percent region.
Moving forward it would appear that while Ward is due for some regression in shooting percentage his overall level of goals, assists and points will all fly by career-highs. Washington coach Adam Oates loves the way the winger plays and will continue to play him at or above the 16:28 time on ice averaged per game thus far, in addition to numerous chances on the power play. Furthermore, Ward will continue to team up with Chimera to make life miserable for opponents, and a total of 25 goals and 25 assists for 50 total points seems to be a low-ball estimate.