It's tough to quantify how encouraging something is. If it were easy, then scouting would be much simpler a process. However, as I get through this article, it will become apparent that this may no longer be about their future. In most cases, the future of these young defencemen should have arrived already. They have not. In this article I will show that Greene and Larsson do everything difficult, and yet Severson and Moore have appeared average, and Gelinas and Merrill have appeared to not belong in the NHL.
Larsson and Greene Do All the Hard Things
First we will take a look at how they are used at even strength. I took the 10 most defensively-used blueliners in the league based on War-on-Ice and charted them below:
Firs of all, how good is Zdeno Chara? He plays 18 minutes of ES hockey mostly in the defensive zone and he breaks even in possession...and he's 38 years old. But now on to our guys. Look at those ZSO%Rel numbers. The less-familiar with hockey analytics might not be impressed so let me try to explain that a little more. That pairing starts in the defensive zone 36% more often than an average Devil should. The second largest number in the entire league is 23%. For perspective, the largest such number last year was Nate Prosser at -15%. But ridiculous statistic is not the only place we ride this pairing into the ground.
These are the top 5 defenders in shorthanded time on ice per game. Seriously, Zdeno Chara is a man. But, again, I digress. The point here is the use of Greene and Larsson. They play about 3:45 of shorthanded hockey per game. Only 20 defenders in the NHL average even average 3. You can see that they and Chara sorta stand by themselves with Miller being more of 3rd pairing defender and Johnson playing significantly less time than the top tier.
So, the other defenders aren't being asked to do much defensively. Where is the offensive productions then?
Moore and Severson
So neither of them have ever really been big point producers. However those also are not exactly stats ala Ken Daneyko either. Everyone remembers Severson lighting it up in his first few games last year as he convinced us he would be the next Scott Niedermeyer. That went away pretty fast. But, not only did he production dip, the performance has too. He had a positive corsi in 17 minutes per game with a minus zone-start percentage. That's great for a rookie. This year, he has been more sheltered, but is getting less possession.
John Moore has been remarkably consistent in his point production, averaging around 0.8 points per 60 minutes. But has also been pretty consistent in his use as a lower-end 2nd-pairing defender. Unlike Severson, Moore is in his 5th NHL season and has 286 NHL games under his belt. It appears that he has only very slight improvement potential.
All that being said, they are in this section because they are legitimate, contributing defencemen on an NHL team. According to Hockey-Reference they are 2 of our top 10 players in point shares (a WAR-like statistic).
Gelinas and Merrill
Remember when these guys burst on to the scene in 2013? Eric Gelinas was an offensive dynamo. And Jon Merrill was playing true, tough, NHL minutes. Both of them have seen their ZSO%Rel's increase every year indicating that they've been more and more sheltered in possession as they've "matured."
Gelinas has regressed to the point that he is now a known PP and offensive-zone specialist. His possession numbers are thus rendered almost irrelevant and even if we shift our focus to the offense, he has only 3 points this year. That's the same per-minute rate as Moore and Severson but with more offensive starts and a ton of PP time.
To me, however, there is an argument to be made that Merrill is even less of an NHLer than Gelinas. Gelinas has a role. It is debatable whether he is worth putting in that role, but he is better than the average NHL defender at producing offensively. Merrill has no such crutch to fall back on. Merrill is going the wrong way in possession, is a non-factor offensively, and according to that same HR link from before, he has 0 point shares. That means that it is estimated that, by replacing him with fringe-NHLer, we would be in the exact same place we are right now.
The Other Guys
Brian's Top 25 under 25 series takes our writers rankings as well as the community rankings and aggregates them into a single list during the offseason. Notable defencemen are listed below and stats are retrieved from Brian's most recent Prospect Update:
#10 Steve Santini
|Steve Santini||D||Boston College||13||1||5||6||10||24||4.76%||1.62||0.46||26||12|
|Height: 6'2||A1||Pts1||EVG||EVA||EV Pts||PPG||PPA||PP Pts||SHG||SHA||SH Pts|
|Weight: 208||20.75||Hockey East||1||2||1||3||4||0||0||0||0||1||1|
#13 Josh Jacobs
|Height: 6'2||A1||Pts1||EVG||EVA||EV Pts||PPG||PPA||PP Pts||SHG||SHA||SH Pts||NHLe|
#15 Raman Hrabarenka
#17 Vojtech Mozik
#19 Seth Helgeson
#23 Reece Scarlett
I see Jacobs, Santini, and Mozik as the only possible NHLers here. And honestly, it feels like the thing putting Jacobs here is more just his age, because he is the 3rd most productive defencemen on an OHL team. Mozik is the wildcard as he might be productive, but he's also already 23 years old, so we need to get him up soon if we want to see what he can do. Santini is supposedly a great all-around defender at the level he's playing, but there's still so much unknown having only played at the NCAA level.
I saved an extra paragraph for Reece Scarlett. This is because he has been dubbed as one of our top prospects for a while and is still listed as such on Hockey's Future. I've seen him play a couple times now and I've been thoroughly unimpressed. Although he uses his stick well, he leans on it and does not use his body enough. His puck-moving skills also seem to have been overstated. If someone who has seen him more would like to disagree with me please say so in the comments.
I would also like to point out that I was the only one to place Colton White in my top 25 pre-season. I had him at 18, while the consensus ended up being 29. He was the prospect of the week last week and has the most NHLe of any prospect outside the AHL so far. And he's not even 19 yet. He might be the one to watch.
I don't think you can call Adam Larsson a young encouraging defender anymore. He's already a great defender. That doesn't mean he can't improve, but he's already fully ingrained into the team plan.
Severson's average production at the NHL leve and his youth make him an encouraging prospect still. Moore is a nice player to have on the team, but I don't see him improving much.
Merrill is proving himself to be a fringe NHLer and Gelinas is proving to be a specialist.
The defensive prospects pool the NHL-level seem to be of note more due to its volume than its quality.
The way I see it, we have an elite top pairing, a begrudgingly serviceable second pairing that may improve with Severson, and questions after that. I think that between Merrill, Gelinas, Scarlett, Jacobs, Mozik, White, and Santini, we can squeeze out a bottom pairing and a 7th. But we are going to need to get lucky on one of them in order to be actively excited about this pool.
Let me know what you guys think. I initially intended to spend less time in this article, but after researching a bit more I changed some of my prepconcepctions about our prospects individually and as a whole. If you think I'm wrong, leave a comment. If you think I'm right leave a comment. If you have no opinion, but you think you learned something, leave a comment. If you think my profile picture is just a little too juvenile and you have no clue what that logo on my chest is supposed to be, leave a comment.
So basically, leave a comment.