Last year the Devils got a number of standout individual performances, despite their dreadful finish in the standings. Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt both had breakout years. Nico Hischier had a career high in points, besting the 52 points he put up during his rookie season centering Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall. Even Damon Severson had a career high in points, with 11 goals and 35 assists in 80 games. Then there was rookie Dawson Mercer breaking onto the scene with a productive, if somewhat inconsistent 1st pro season. All of this meant that the emergence of Jonas Siegenthaler’s as one of the league’s top defensive defensemen went under the radar among most NHL fans and probably even a lot of casual Devils fans. But it’s worth taking some time to appreciate Siegenthaler’s ascendence.
When he was traded to the Devils from Washington for a conditional 3rd rounder at the trade deadline in 2021 it felt like a savvy move to improve the bottom of the line-up. Tom Fitzgerald decided he’d rather have a guaranteed NHLer than a 3rd rounder that may not turn into anything and Siegenthaler was unhappy with being a regular healthy scratch in Washington thanks to the presence of Capitals’ legend Zdeno Chara. But when he was acquired, I thought the Devils were getting a fairly limited player who could really solidify the 3rd pairing and give the Devils another penalty killer. Anything more than that would be gravy.
Well the Devils got a lot more than a good 3rd pairing defenseman in Siegenthaler. He finished the 2021 season playing in such a role, with an average TOI of 17:34, and he began last season on the 3rd pair alongside PK Subban for the first couple months, but it wasn’t long before he earned a promotion. By the time mid-December 2021 rolled around the Swiss blue liner went from being tied with Ty Smith for the 5th among Devils’ blue liners in total ice time to 2nd behind Damon Severson from December to the end of the season.
But ice time isn’t a great measure of performance since all coaches have their blindspots. And since we’re talking about a defensive defensemen, points won’t help that much either. Where Siegenthaler really shines is when you look at his underlying numbers. His 12.4 xDef GAR value led Devils defensemen by a wide margin. In second was Severson at 2.7. Not only did this value lead the Devils, it led all NHL defensemen. Meaning that by Evolving Hockey’s GAR, Seigenthaler was the most valuable defensive blue-liner last season. I was curious how this number compared to previous seasons, so I selected for all seasons for as far back as the model would go (07-08). Here are the top 5 seasons over that time by xDef:
Siegenthaler’s 21-22 season finishes second over the last 14 years in this metric. He’s got pretty good company too. Hjalmarsson, Slavin, Brodin, and Vlasic are/were considered among the best in this role during this time period. So even if you think this model over-inflates Siegenthaler’s value somewhat, there’s no denying he had an elite defensive season. And Evolving Hockey isn’t the only model that views his season as remarkable. Here is his player card from JFresh and TopDownHockey.
Siegenthaler performed at a high level defensively at both 5 on 5 and on the penalty kill and did it against high-end competition. It was a fantastic season overall and Fitzgerald deserves a ton of credit for locking him up to such a team friendly contract this past summer. If not for the whole Bratt situation I would have been very satisfied with Fitzgerald’s work overall this summer (the only blemish being a Palat contract that’ll likely age poorly) with Siegenthaler’s 5 year, 3.4 million AAV extension as a major reason why.
Now the question is, can he repeat last year’s performance? In short, I think the answer is yes, the Devils should expect him to remain a high-end defensive player for the next few seasons barring injury. His numbers likely won’t look as stellar as last season, because it’d be nearly impossible to repeat that kind of performance, but I still expect him to remain one of the better defensive players in the league. Siegenthaler was acquired because he had previously put up very strong defensive results in a smaller role. It was a bet, because he hadn’t yet ‘proven it’ in more than a bottom-pairing role, and sometimes a sheltered 3rd pair defensemen is a sheltered 3rd pair defensemen for good reason, but it was a very smart and safe bet given a 3rd round pick is a very fair price to pay for a quality 3rd pair defensemen. Obviously we know now that he ended up being much more than that. The same metrics that made him worth acquiring in the first place indicate that he will continue to excel in the larger role he was trusted with last season. A large part of the viability of WAR/GAR models is based on the idea that they are more predictable than points or goals or wins as a metric of player and team performance. You can see in the viz above that Siegenthaler’s numbers are based on a 3 year weighted average of data, not just last year’s performance. So Siegenthaler should be a mainstay in the Devils top-4 for the duration of his new contract, and if all goes well, he’ll be a major part of a future championship contending blue-line.
Where would you rank Siegenthaler’s season among Devils players last season? Do you think he can repeat last season’s performance or was it a flash in the pan? Will the coaching changes impact his play at all? Where do you think he fits on the Devils blueline in the future when Luke Hughes and Nemec have joined the team? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading.