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An Early Look at Seth Helgeson’s Rookie Campaign

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With Peter DeBoer receiving a belated Christmas gift of being fired as head coach of the New Jersey Devils, whomever comes in to replace him will have to evaluate the team's talent. One of those skaters is rookie Seth Helgeson. How has he done?

Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

About a month into the season, the much maligned captain of the New Jersey Devils, Bryce Salvador, went down with an injury.  The team responded by calling up Seth Helgeson from the AHL.  The rookie has been up ever since, playing in 17 games for the big club.

As with any rookie, his season has not been perfect.  There have been peaks and valleys, to that anyone would agree.  At this point, however, with a fairly decent sample size, I wanted to take a closer look at how he has been doing for the Devils.  Before he was injured, most of the attention afforded to rookie defensemen on this team went to Damon Severson.  Has Helgeson also been a solid contributor in his own way, or has he been more of an anchor or possession black hole when out on the ice?  Compared to what the captain was doing before he was injured, has Helgeson been an upgrade over Salvador?

Of course, all of the stats and information on him must come with the knowledge that he is a fully-fledged rookie playing his first games in the NHL over the past two months.  A sample size of 17 games, while decent enough to get an idea on someone, will hardly define a season or career.  Simply, the information must be digested knowing that as a rookie, there are things that can still change over the course of this season and into the next.  He will hopefully improve and become a better NHL-caliber defenseman, regardless of how he has already performed.  One would certainly hope that of Severson as well.

Anywhere, here we go:

The Statistics

First, we need to look at both the basic and advanced statistics for Seth's season thus far.  To do this, I will be looking at information from Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Analysis, Behind the Net, and NHL.com.

Player

Games

Goals

Assists

+/-

PIM

Shots

ATOI

CF%

FF%

Seth Helgeson

17

0

1

+2

16

9

13:12

44.57%

43.56%

Player

CF Rel

FF Rel

OZS% (5v5)

OZF% (5v5)

PDO

Seth Helgeson

-2.72%

-2.97%

37.8%

51.5%

104.3


What Does That Mean?

Well, as with almost anyone's statistics, there are ups and there are downs.  Seth is no different there.  First, let's look at the positives.  The first one that jumps out is his +/-.  There are only 5 skaters on the team with a positive ratio, and Seth is one of them at +2.  The only ones above him are Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier.  Of course, the +/- statistic is not a strong indicator of personal play, and there are way too many other factors that go into it to place all of the praise on Seth himself, but it is interesting to note nonetheless.

The other real positive to note is his offensive zone start and finish percentages at 5 on 5 play.  Helgeson only starts 37.8% of his shifts in the offensive zone during 5 on 5 action, but finishes his shifts 51.5% of the time in the offensive zone.  This means that at least superficially, the puck moves forward when he is out on the ice.  Again, this is something that cannot be solely placed on one skater, so he should not receive all of the credit.  Also, he may start a shift in the defensive zone, be pinned back for a minute, then finally move the puck up ice, the opposing goalie covers up a weak shot, and the shift ends.  That is not a positive shift, but still ends in the offensive zone nonetheless.  Those do happen, and need to be taken into account.  However, the fact that he finishes more shifts in the offensive zone is a good thing.

After those two stats, sadly, his numbers begin to tail off.  Arguably the most important stats, the ones dealing with possession, are not too great.  His Corsi is at a lowly 44.57%, and his Fenwick is worse at 43.56%.  This is bad, even for the Devils, who are a negative possession team at 49.8% at 5 on 5 action.  What this means is that his relative Corsi and Fenwick are both negative, both hovering just below 3%.  So despite what the previous stats said about him generating puck movement forward because of offensive zone start percentages, he is not actually the result of this.  His possession numbers clearly indicate that when he is out on the ice, the opponents possess the puck much more than the Devils do.

Also, Helgeson does nothing for the stat sheet.  In 17 games played, he has a miserable 9 shots on net and only 1 assist.  He has never been a defender that lights up the scoreboard, and was not brought up to New Jersey to do this, but nonetheless some production now and then would be nice.  However, he currently produces 0.059 points per game, which is terribly low.

Finally, his PDO is actually really high, at 104.3.  So he is getting rather lucky while he is out on the ice too.  To a degree, this negates his positive +/- stat as well.  If his luck were closer to 100, as opposed to 104.3, his +/- would probably be more at 0 or possibly a negative.  104 is a really high PDO, so expect that to come back down to earth if he keeps playing, and let's see how that affects his +/-.

Has He Been Better for NJ Than Bryce?

The next question we have to ask is whether or not he has been an upgrade over the captain.  To find that answer, let's look at Bryce's stats before he got hurt.  Information comes from the same sites.

Player

Games

Goals

Assists

+/-

PIM

Shots

ATOI

CF%

FF%

Bryce Salvador

15

0

2

-5

20

13

18:30

35.28%

32.83%

Player

CF Rel

FF Rel

OZS% (5v5)

OZF% (5v5)

PDO

Bryce Salvador

-20.44%

-21.18%

41.4%

50.6%

96.9

The answer to the question, when looking at the stats, is actually not all that easy.  In terms of possession, the answer is clearly yes.  While Helgeson is not a positive possession player at all, he at least is over 40% and his relative percentages are not all that far away from the team average.  Bryce, however, was truly the definition of a possession black hole while out on the ice this year.  His relative percentages are over negative 20%, and his overall possession percentages were in the low-to-mid 30s.  That is truly bad, and meant that whenever Bryce was on the ice, the opposition had clear domination of puck possession, and it was not even close.

But for all of this, Salvador does have some positives over Helgeson.  First, Bryce played more.  He averaged over 5 minutes more of ice time per game than Seth.  This is of course because Seth is a rookie and is being slowly introduced to the league, but nonetheless more playing time is a good thing as it gives the other defensemen more time to rest and stay fresh.  Also, Bryce had a miserable PDO of 96.9%.  This is 7.4% lower than Helgeson's PDO.  Salvador was considerably unlucky this season.  You could be certain that if both of their PDOs were near 100, their stats would be much different, and Bryce's may look somewhat better than they do now.

Conclusion

In the end, I think when looking at the numbers more, it becomes clear that Helgeson is not really an upgrade or a downgrade over Salvador.  He produces very similarly.  The only major bonus is that Helgeson is not as much of a possession black hole as Salvador was.  But since Helgeson is still not good at all in possession, this is not saying much.

The only real benefit that I can see with having Seth out there over Bryce is that Seth has a higher upside.  He is still young, only 24 years old, and has time and room to grow and become a better hockey player in the NHL.  Bryce was only getting worse with age, and was becoming an extreme liability on the ice.  So the hope here is that over time, Helgeson will improve and become noticeably better than what Salvador was giving the New Jersey Devils this season.  But that is nothing more than hope at this point, however, because at this point in time, having Helgeson out there is like having Salvador out there.

Your Take

Now that you have looked at the numbers, what do you think?  Do you think Seth Helgeson has been decent out there for New Jersey?  How would you compare him to Bryce Salvador?  What do you think the new coach should do about his playing time?  Please leave your comments in the section below, and thanks for reading.