Jonas Siegenthaler's season ended when he was shut down with an injury a few weeks back, but as the season comes to a close, it's clear he was one of the brightest spots in another lousy season for the Devils. Siegenthaler was acquired from the Capitals last season for just a 3rd round pick in a deal that was looked at as a depth add for the defense at the time. In his first full season in New Jersey, though, he has displayed that he's capable of being much more than just defensive depth. Instead, he is an impact player in his own end, a constant calming force in a sometimes chaotically structured team. We have been forced to find the silver linings in a lost Devils season once again but it’s tough to argue Jonas Siegenthaler is not one of them.
Watching Siegenthaler, you can see the way that he can confidently identify the best potential option in his end playing the puck and guide it to safety. He is very good at dispossessing opponents and then carrying the puck with strength in his own end. On a team dotted with defensive risk-takers Siegenthaler is adept at cleaning up messes and is capable of stacking up well against other teams’ top lines. He is also a player that the Devils otherwise don’t really have. I don’t know that I would argue he’s the team’s best defenseman, certainly Hamilton is much more impactful when he’s on his game and Severson is a play-driver at both ends of the ice, but he is almost certainly the team’s best defenseman in his own end.
The numbers, which we will get into below, tell a story that is also pretty easy to parse by watching him closely. Siegenthaler always seems to make a strong play with the puck on his stick in his own end. The Devils can be plagued at times with turnover-itis but Siegenthaler is very rarely the culprit on that front. If there is one player you want to put on the ice when you need the other team not to score, Siegenthaler should be the top choice on the blue line without much debate. It’s also easy to see what Siegenthaler is not by watching him, and the thing he is not is an offensive dynamo. The confident puck-carrying and playmaking is not quite so clear when he’s supporting the offense and that bears out clearly in the analytics models too. So what you have with Siegenthaler is a true defensive defenseman, albeit a pretty great one at this juncture.
Let’s look at what the Devils are with and without Siegenthaler on the ice. The heat maps, from HockeyViz, paint a pretty stark picture.
For the uninitiated, that blue chasm in front of the Devils net in the heat map for the minutes with Siegenthaler is just about the ideal scenario you could want from your defensemen. The Devils are a pedestrian outfit when it comes to allowing chances without Siegenthaler, but they advance to very good to even great with him on the ice, allowing almost half an expected goal fewer per 60 minutes in his ice time. This comes despite Siegenthaler commonly seeing opponents’ best lines and getting a bigger share of his starts in the defensive zone than any skaters other than the fourth line. This isn’t just at 5v5 either.
A similar phenomenon is observable on the penalty kill, where Siegenthaler takes it from an okay unit to a great one.
The Devils are generally fine without Siegenthaler on the PK, but looking at the heat map, you can where he supresses chances from crucial areas like the netfront and the key one-timer zones at the dots. On the PK, the Devils are allow almost 1.4 goals fewer per 60 with Siegenthaler on the ice.
On offense, the heat maps are somewhat reversed at 5v5, with the offense going from above average without Siegenthaler to below average with him. He is a player with notable limitations at the offensive end of the ice, but his value in spite of that is clear. Going to another model from Evolving Hockey, you can see that presented very clearly in Siegenthaler’s player card, which summarizes his impacts on offense, defense, and special teams.
As intended, this paints a clear picture of the type of player Siegenthaler is and why he is valuable. He is a hinderance on offense, but his defensive impacts, which rate out in the top 1% of the entire league, make him a very valuable player to have around. He’s unlikely to garner any Norris buzz in his career due to his one-dimensionality but it’s not a huge leap to say he is one of the better defensive defenders in the entire league right now. He suppresses chances extremely well in big minutes at both even strength and on the penalty kill and does it without taking many penalties (and even drawing a few). That adds up to a highly valuable player.
So, while the ongoing trainwreck in goal has made the Devils a porous team in terms of allowing goals, it’s clear that there are pieces of a decent (or even pretty good) unit on the blue line already on this roster, and Siegenthaler is a big part of that. He’s also a player that the Devils very much do not have otherwise, unless one of the Devils prospects makes a surprising leap in the near future. The Devils have ended up in the basement again this year, but Siegenthaler has been very good, to the point that he should likely be considered a foundational piece of this defense going forward.