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2021-22 Player Review: Max Willman finally makes it

Debuts abound!

New York Islanders v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

In a season as bleak and brutal as last year’s, the feel good stories are relatively few and far between, but Willman’s certainly does make the cut. From getting his start in the organization fighting for minutes with Reading in the ECHL, to earning a tryout with the Phantoms when they were ravaged by injury, running with that opportunity, and performing so well with them as to leverage that success into an ELC with the Flyers, the last few years have been a real grind for Willman, and to see him finally making his NHL debut this season was definitely sweet. And once again, he certainly took that opportunity with the big club and ran with it, turning what some figured would just be a cup of coffee into a 41 game run with the team—certainly nothing to sniff at.

It’s not hard to see how Willman’s style of play would quickly endear him to the Flyers’ coaching staff—he unquestionably skates at an NHL level, he doesn’t shy away from bringing a certain heaviness and physicality, and he just flat out works. There might not be a ton of flash in his game (outside of that bit of speed) but that’s still the type of player coaches tend to become enamored of in their bottom six.

Basic Stats

Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM Shots on Goal Shooting Percentage
Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM Shots on Goal Shooting Percentage
41 4 2 6 16 65 6.15%

That said, digging into the results, the numbers don’t tell a stellar story here. Willman has been consistent and productive in the AHL, but he just doesn’t have the finishing ability to continue to find that same success at the next level, so the scoring really dried up for him here. Four goals is still something on a team that felt like they couldn’t score to save their lives at times last season, but it’s still well short of what the team—and probably Willman—would have liked to have kicked in.

5v5 On-Ice Stats

Corsi For % Corsi For Relative GF% Expected Goals For % PDO
Corsi For % Corsi For Relative GF% Expected Goals For % PDO
42.38% -3.49 32.43% 16.09% 0.96

5v5 Individual Stats

Points/60 Primary Points/60 Shot Attempts/60 Expected Goals/60
Points/60 Primary Points/60 Shot Attempts/60 Expected Goals/60
0.76 0.5 12.74 0.56

But the underlying numbers are where we really get clued in that things were not going great for Willman. He wasn’t chipping in much in the way of individual offensive chances, and even on a team that struggled mightily in possession on the season, they were slightly worse off than the team average when Willman was on the ice. Now, he was in a bit of a tough situation, playing higher in the lineup than he is best suited to, and having some of his most common linemates being Gerry Mayhew (who has also spent the bulk of his career in the AHL) and Morgan Frost (who came into the season effectively still a rookie). So his linemates had some trouble pulling Willman’s impacts up, but so too did he have trouble doing the same for his line. It all works together. But with all of the factors at work here, we still arrive at the same place—with the impression that Willman was just a bit out of his depth in his run of games with the Flyers this year.

And there’s still a good bit to unpack with all of this, to close things out. There’s really no question that, with the work he put in and the success he found at the lower levels with this organization, that he deserved a shot to see what he could do at the NHL level, and it’s nice to see that he was able to get that chance, and looked like he was able to hang, at least for a period of time. It’s, if nothing else, a great story in a season when we really needed it.

But the reality also is that, true talent level, Willman is more of a tweener. He’s a good guy to have in the organization for depth, a nice option to have as a call-up in a pinch, but he’s just not skilled enough to find sustained success at the NHL level. On a deeper, less injured team, Willman does not play 41 NHL games in one season. And that’s not a knock on the player, he did his best with what he was given, but that’s just the reality of his situation, and it’s hard to be too upset with the player for not delivering outstanding results in a situation he wasn’t well suited for. Asked to stick at this level for months, and to play on the third line at times, that was Willman playing over his head, so the fact that the results were relatively poor isn’t much of a surprise.

He’s under contract for one more year, and we’ll likely see him in the mix, at least for a while, in training camp, and when the inevitable first injury call-up is needed, but really, if things are going at least relatively well for the Flyers, we’ll be seeing more of Willman playing his standard stabilizing role for the Phantoms next year. But, well, we’ll see how things shake out when the time comes.

All stats via Natural Stat Trick.