Chad Kolarik came into the AHL in 2008 and made it known that he wasn’t afraid to shoot the puck.
Two hundred and two times, to be exact.
Kolarik scored 20 goals that year and since then his penchant for putting the puck on net hasn’t slowed. As of Wednesday Kolarik led the AHL with 181 shots in 55 games for an average of 3.29 per game. In his first 14 games with the Penguins, Kolarik has shot the puck 50 times.
And in his opinion, it’s not enough.
“I want to be shooting a little bit more,” Kolarik said. “Sometimes there is a better play to be made and you have to make plays for your teammates, but I’ve always shot the puck. It’s always been ingrained in my game and I’m going to keep doing it.”
Through 14 games with the Penguins Kolarik has registered a minimum of five shots five times. Considering the Penguin with the next highest shot total, Trevor Smith (113) has registered five or more shots in a game only once, one would assume that Kolarik is happy with doing it five times.
But that isn’t the case. Kolarik readily admits he want to meet the mark every game.
“For me, a goal in each game is to get five shots. If I get five shots, then I’m going and getting the offensive opportunities,” he said. “If you get five shots in a game you’re going to score. It’s something I focus on.”
The numbers back up Kolarik’s claim.
This season, with Connecticut and the Penguins, Kolarik met or exceeded the five-shots-per-game mark 15 times. He scored in 10 of those games and more than half of his goals this season - 14 - have come when he shot the puck five or more times.
Head coach John Hynes is more than happy to see Kolarik firing away, adding that his nose for offense has led to playing in situations where he can shoot at will, such as the power play.
But Hynes added that while Kolarik’s shot totals are buoyed by his power play time, he isn’t just firing pucks on net with reckless abandon.
“The biggest thing is he attempts a lot of shots and they get to the net. They’re scoring threats,” Hynes said. “More often than not the shot is the best chance to lead to a goal, and he makes good decisions when and when not to shoot. He takes them and he gets them on net.”
Despite the lofty shot totals and three seasons with 20-plus goals to his credit, Kolarik shies away from the sniper tag. He describes himself more as an opportunist - one who gets pucks to the net and pounces on rebounds, scoring most of his goals from in close.
But even that approach takes time to develop, Kolarik said.
“I shoot pucks all summer to work on the hardness and accuracy of my shot. If you can control both it’s a deadly combination,” he said. “Obviously I’m not there. I’ve only scored 20 goals so far this season. If I was a pure sniper I’d have 40 goals on 200 shots.”
So what does Kolarik think his goal total should look like at the end of this season with his current pace?
“End of the year, my goal total is 31. We’ll see what happens,” he said.
Since joining the Penguins Kolarik has shown a commitment to playing a two-way game and helping out on defensive. While it’s an important element for team success, the two-way game could reduce shot opportunities a bit. Kolarik is aware of that, but it’s a sacrifice he’s willing to make.
“You have to be responsible in your own end. If not you’re not going to get the playing time on this team,” he said. “Even with that, there are plenty of chances for shots - the power play and the first line with (Trevor) Smith and (Riley) Holzapfel, we move the puck well.
“You have to be cautious to defend in your own end, and at the same time you have to put pucks on net. You’ll get your chances here.”
The only other chance Kolarik yearns for right now is an NHL shot with Pittsburgh. During his five seasons as a pro (minus one due to injury), Kolarik has only played six NHL games - four with the Rangers in 2010-2011 and two with the Blue Jackets the season before.
One would think that someone blasting 202 shots and scoring 20 goals in his first AHL season would generate more interest among NHL clubs.
“I guess not. If it did I would’ve played more NHL games in my career,” Kolarik said.
Hynes said Kolarik’s chances of seeing NHL time in Pittsburgh are realistic because he’s in a place where people believe in him. He has coaches in Wilkes-Barre who are willing to champion his cause, Hynes said, but there are elements of his game that need to improve to translate into an effective NHL player.
“Such as some of the grittier aspects of the game, the wall play - when you become a call-up player you want to have those things in your game regularly,” Hynes said. “On top of his abilities, that’s the difference right now. Improving in those areas is what’s going to give him the best chance to get to the NHL.”