How Timo Meier Is Coming Into His Own
Power forwards tend to travel down a longer development path. After all, they start out as lanky, awkward teenagers squaring off against grown men. In order to realize their full potential, they require time to fill out their bodies and even more time to feel comfortable in them.
Those gains just take time.
San Jose Sharks winger Timo Meier has never struggled in that department, though. The Swiss winger has been throwing his weight around and using his strength to shield the puck from defenders since his arrival in the NHL. He’s also a dynamic skater who can terrorize opponents on the rush. Despite these enticing attributes, the 2015 ninth overall pick has always left you wanting more—not because he’s been bad by any stretch but because he can be great.
With the physical side covered, his biggest issues have been his inefficient shot selection and inconsistent play-driving. Too often, he simply doesn’t put himself in position to succeed.
As you might have guessed, that’s changed in 2021-22. Meier has removed most of the low-percentage perimeter tendencies from his game, instead choosing to set up shop much closer to the opposition’s crease. With his 6’1”, 220-pound frame, hand-eye coordination and scoring instincts, the 25-year-old is a nightmare to handle in the trenches:
Rather than seeking knockout blows from a distance, he’s operating in tight quarters to give himself better odds of success. Beyond his own knack for tipping point shots and hopping on rebounds, his willingness to crash the net opens up prime real estate for his teammates too. They can slip into quiet spots or trail the rush to capitalize on the attention Meier has begun to command on a nightly basis.
His decision-making has become much more direct as well. When he can’t physically reach the tough areas of the ice, he sends the puck there via slot passes that are reminiscent of the Boston Bruins’ straight-for-the-jugular formula. Get possession, move the action to the middle of the ice, profit.
Meier no longer wastes shifts dawdling on the outside. He immediately looks for the kill:
Defenses aren’t granted a second to breathe because he could drive the play down their throat at any moment. The puck is on his stick, then somewhere around the crease in the blink of an eye.
This streamlined approach has turned Meier into one of the NHL’s premier quick-strike weapons. He ranks 14th in the league in scoring with 34 points in 28 games. More impressively, he’s second in points and first in points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5.
His individual and on-ice shooting percentages aren’t wildly different from his career marks either. What we’re seeing is a young winger refining his game, playing to his strengths and thus carrying his five-man unit to new heights. His line, whether it’s centered by Logan Couture or Tomas Hertl, has never averaged more expected or actual goals because they lead the entire league in high-danger chances.
Most of that boils down to style, but Meier’s physical gifts can’t be ignored. He’s a unicorn—a blazing-fast tank—and this makes him exceedingly difficult to corral:
His pace and build allow him to create a ton of separation after he enters the offensive zone. When he turns his back to post up opponents, he comfortably denies their attempts to strip the puck off him. And when he decides to dole out some punishment, you feel it. Defenders start hesitating on puck recoveries. They can hear footsteps coming.
Meier’s ability to absorb and deliver contact gives the Sharks additional cracks on the attack. This extra volume, combined with a more efficient tack and his natural offensive gifts, has generated a wealth of extra offense:
His finish and feel for the game are undeniable. He can still score from further out, but his focus on the slot has ramped up his potency to unprecedented levels.
By cutting out the fluff and emphasizing the best elements of his skill set, he’s become an even-strength monster. Puck protection, physicality, vision, net drive. He’s now a high-octane buzzsaw who can only be stopped if he lets himself be stopped. Look at how he overwhelms Adam Larsson—an experienced and stout defender—when he bites down on his mouthpiece and goes to work:
It’s worth noting that he has the fewest power-play points of any player in the top 30 in scoring. He often regresses to sniper mode on the man advantage, standing still and merely waiting for an opportunity to pull the trigger. He’s a poor defensive forward as well.
However, his offensive impact at 5-on-5 dwarfs any of those foibles. San Jose owns 66.7% of the goals during his shifts. To put that number into perspective, the Sharks’ GF% plummets to 36.0 when he’s off the ice. Only four forwards on the roster break even in that regard. While this isn’t a particularly good squad (20th in points percentage), Meier’s exploits on the attack are keeping the 17-15-1 Sharks’ playoff hopes alive.
In his sixth season, San Jose’s star power forward is learning how to put the team on his back.