Back in April of last season, when the Devils were selling off assets at the trade deadline for futures for seemingly the 20th year in-a-row, Fitzgerald actually dealt a 3rd round pick away. The target? The 7th defenseman from the Washington Capitals. The then 23 year-old left-shot blue-liner had only played 7 games prior to the trade, and did not record a point. He was averaging 13:23 per game (per hockey reference) when he did manage to sneak a game in, so it’s probably safe to say he didn’t exactly have the faith of the coaching staff. Still, it’s a little odd for a playoff team to be dealing guys away. Depth is important in the playoffs and Siegenthaler had fresh legs and playoff game experience under his belt. As it turns out, Siegenthaler asked for a trade mainly due to lack of playing time. The Devils just so happened to be in the market for a defenseman or two at the time, so the Swiss blue-liner ends up in Newark where he had the chance to play more, the Capitals collect a decent asset for someone who wasn’t a regular for them and wasn’t happy spending his time in the press-box, and the Devils got a potential piece for their future. When the trade was made, the reaction was mostly positive from Devil’s fans. It is hard to be too upset when you’re getting a young NHL player for a 3rd rounder who may turn into a player for the team in 3-5 years, or just as likely not at all.
Siegenthaler had played well in limited minutes throughout his short NHL career. Sure, he’d never averaged more than 15:44 in a season, but his impact in those minutes, at least on the defensive side of the puck, was very promising. So the question was, how would he fair in a bigger role. A third round pick isn’t a major asset to give up, but the Devils didn’t acquire him because they liked the way he sat in the press box.
There’s always some concern how a player who excelled in sheltered minutes will respond when given a bigger role. Sure, you’d rather give a player who played well in a limited role more ice-time than, say, Connor Carrick. But, that doesn’t guarantee they’ll rise to the challenge. Sometimes you get Nate Schmidt, other times it turns out they were in a limited role for a reason, and the coach wasn’t being a complete moron (there’s a first time for everything I suppose). It’s not like the Devils really needed him to be some offensive dynamo for the trade to work out for them though. Sure they’d likely give him more than 13.5 minutes a night, but he wasn’t going to have to play 25 minutes against top competition and put up 40 points doing so. If they got someone who could solidify the 3rd pairing and play a big role on the penalty kill, that would be enough of a win.
That’s exactly what he’s done. So far this season, Siegenthaler has been mainly in the number 6 role in terms of average TOI per game at a little over 18 minutes per night, with a healthy 2.5 minutes of that coming on the penalty kill. That may not sound very impressive, but given it’s a 3 minute bump from his career high, it’s absolutely worth noting. Additionally, him and PK Subban have formed a fairly useful pairing this year. In 166:27 together they have a CF% a hair over 50% and an xGF% well over 53%. On top of this, by EvolvingHockey’s GAR model ($), Siegenthaler leads the Devils in xEVD, is second to Severson in xSHD (short handed defense) and leads the team overall in xDef with 2.8. Severson is 2nd and is over a goal behind Siegenthaler.
The Devils have not been a good defensive team in recent years and Graves and Siegenthaler were brought in to help fix that. Graves has been solid alongside Hamilton, and leads the team in ice time. Siegenthaler has excelled in more limited minutes, but hasn’t gotten the chance to play a bigger role yet. It’s time to give him that opportunity. Because he’s earned it and he’s ready for it. There’s an easy enough way to do this. Ty Smith has struggled badly in his own end. He has the worst xDef on the team, with a -2.8, which is some unfortunate symmetry. It has meant that what was a dominant pairing of Smith-Severson last season has not yet found the same success. My solution is to cut Smith’s 5 on 5 minutes for the time being, and rotate Siegenthaler in with Severson, particularly in defensive zone starts. This would likely mean just 1-2 shifts per period and would add up to another 2-3 minutes per game for Siegenthaler. If he continues to play the solid, defensively sound game he has so far, this can only benefit the Devils and maybe at the same time give Smith a chance to figure things out. To me, in his brief time in New Jersey, Siegenthaler looks to have a bright future with this team.
How do you think Siegenthaler has looked so far? What do you think about the trade now that we’ve had a chance to see him for more than the 8 games he played last season? Do you see him sticking in New Jersey long-term? Would you give him more of a role? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading.