In the most lopsided case of the adage "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em", Nick Bonino signed a four-year deal with the Predators just weeks after beating them in the Stanley Cup Final as a member of the Penguins. Three years later, 31-year old Bonino is having the best season of almost any other Preds player in 2019-20.
Bonino's current season collection of 35 points matches his total from 2018-19, and he's still owed 13 games to round out his 2019-20 season. Though he'll probably never come close to his 22-goal, 49 point season as a member of the Ducks in 2013-14, Bonino is more than fulfilling his role as a second-line center.
Bonino's highlight reel for this season is a mixed bag- his inadvertent goal on Juuse Saros against Washington on Jan. 29 can be offset by his natural hat trick at home against Chicago on Oct. 29 and his no-look backhand goal against Calgary two days later.
Bonino has one year remaining on his four-year, $16.4 million deal. This season especially, he has been commonly speculated as a trade piece that could yield a nice crop of talent. Realistically, Bonino's stock value currently sits at the highest it will ever be again for the remainder of his career. His status as a Predator lays directly in the balance of how he performs next season.
As of the season pause on Mar. 12, Bonino's 18 goals are tied with Craig Smith's 18 for the second most on the team; he hasn't had a better scoring season since 2016-17 in Pittsburgh. His shooting percentage, at 17.3 percent, is tied for the best on the team among skaters who have played in over 50 games. That 17.3 percent also happens to be a career-best for Bonino ; in short, this means Bonino is converting more of his shots into goals than any other time in his career. His on-ice shooting percentage (the team's shot conversion rate while a specific player is on the ice) is 13.3 percent- also the best Bonino has had in his career.
This season, Bonino has grown his forward line into one of the NHL's most hardworking, relentless group of forecheckers. Bonino is typically on rushes with Smith and Rocco Grimaldi, and not only are he and Smith tied for the Preds' second-most goals, all three of them are sharing success in one critical metric. Smith (+18), Bonino (+17), and Grimaldi (+10) rank second, third, and fifth, respectively, for the team's highest on-ice ratings this season- meaning they are on the ice . High +/- ratings are most commonly attained by defensemen due to longer time on the ice, so having three forwards on the same line ranked where they are is a mark of true effort on their part.
Bonino's high on-ice rating is a big credit to his defensive game as well as his offensive game. He is vastly out-generating his opponents while simultaneously securing his own zone to a high degree of success. Bonino's +17 rating says even more when you consider his defensive zone start percentage (dZS%) is a whopping 63.3 percent. So, while Bonino takes most of his faceoffs in the Preds' zone, he is able to clear the puck before the opposing team can do anything with it.
His 1.7 defensive point shares are the highest of all Preds forwards this season, and his 4.1 total point shares are second only to Filip Forsberg among forwards. Bonino is also recording the most blocks of any other Preds forward, absorbing 89 so far in 2019-20 (this is actually one of the only metrics where Bonino and Smith are not neck-and-neck with each other).
GENERAL EFFECTIVENESS AND TEAM INFLUENCE
We'll probably never know just how awkward it must have been for Bonino to waltz into the Preds' locker room in 2017 freshly adorned with a Stanley Cup Champion ring, but we do know that Bonino's presence has since been a positive one.
Upon his signing with the Preds, Bonino was effusive about the city of Nashville and the energy Preds' fans exuded around the team. Though it didn't really help patch the wound, Bonino said that one of the driving factors of signing in Nashville was what he experienced in the Stanley Cup Final, even being on the wrong side of the ice.
As a product of Boston University- and the Boston collegiate hockey gauntlet in general-Bonino shares a significant lineage with lots of current NHL players. Bonino dressed for BU with the likes of Kevin Shattenkirk, former Pred Colin Wilson, and Alex Chiasson, facing off against Boston College "Beanpot" rivals Cam Atkinson, Chris Kreider, Brian Dumoulin, and Nathan Gerbe. Bonino famously scored the game-tying goal in the 2009 National Championship game with 17 seconds left on the clock, helping the Terriers take the title in overtime.