Cage Match: Who is the better fantasy own – Drew Doughty or Alex Pietrangelo?

Drew Doughty and Alex Pietrangelo will always be linked in my mind as the best two traditional defensemen drafted in the disgustingly loaded 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Yes, yes, yes, Erik Karlsson, but note I said traditional defensemen. Karlsson is something else. He's the cherry on top. Doughty and Pietrangelo were drafted to become anchors on the blueline for their once wayward franchises and they've become just that.


Doughty was the rare defenseman to make the leap to the NHL straight from the draft and even rarer was an impact player by his sophomore season, breaking out to the tune of 59-points. He has since regressed following that with seasons of 40, 36 and 22 points (the latter in 48 games). Not exactly what you want to see.

There are plenty of excuses for this however. For one, Doughty's role has expanded commanding more energy and more time away from pure scoring. That seems logical but here are Doughty's minutes per game numbers by year since his 2009-10 breakout:
























So his minutes per game have hardly increased. One notable change is the consistent drop in power play time from year to year, meaning more high leverage even strength shifts and fewer optimal scoring power shifts but this is just in keeping with the league-wide trend of fewer power plays. And that can't account for the significant drop in scoring for Doughty since 2009-10. It's certainly a factor but it's not the whole story. We know this because Doughty saw minimal change in his power play time between 2009-10 and 2010-11 and yet he scored 16 fewer power play points in 2010-11, which accounts for nearly the entire 19-point drop Doughty saw that year.

It's more likely that this decrease in power play time was just one of many factors. For instance, Doughty was pretty lucky as a sophomore. He scored on 11.3% of his shots that season resulting in 16 goals, many of which came on the power play. Doughty has a good shot and is smart about jumping into the rush but 11.3% is too high for any defenseman, even Doughty. As it turns out, his career shooting percentage sits at just 7.1%, a much more reasonable rate of scoring.

Doughty also found himself on a really good team in his sophomore season. Now, his emergence certainly had something to do with that but never the less the Kings were a top offensive team in 2009-10. They had a top 10 offense scoring 2.82 goals per game and had a top 10 power play scoring on 20.8% of opportunities. So not only was Doughty seeing a vast number of power play minutes but the team was scoring at an incredible rate while he was out there – perhaps even an unsustainable rate.

Look at the percentage of team goals Doughty recorded points on in games he played from each of the past four seasons:



% Team Points










One cannot tell for certain if Doughty was incredibly lucky compared to any of his peers in 2009-10 but even for a defenseman who plays as much as he does, in as important a role as his, with as much skill as he has, to score on over a quarter of his team's goals in a season is pretty incredible, a feat he hasn't achieved since. One might assume that based on the table above that Doughty's average rate of recording points is about one for every fifth goal the Kings score, which is still pretty impressive.

What that also means is that Doughty got a bit unlucky in this shortened season. A good reason for that is probably the reduced sample size a 48-game season provides. Had Doughty scored at closer to his 20% average his point total would have been marginally higher but it would have broken the magical 0.5 points per game mark, which is something of a critical indicator for defensemen in fantasy hockey because it represents a 40-point season.

Doughty was able to get unlucky and still record a decent final point total was because the Kings offense rebounded after two down years, where the team scored in the bottom five of the league each year and was similarly miserable on the power play. This season the Kings offense was back into the top 10 for both scoring (2.73 goals per game) and power play efficiency (19.9%). So there is hope that over a full season, Doughty and a return to his "normal" rate of scoring that Doughty will reap the rewards of playing on a top team.

Of course, all of these excuses take Doughty off the hook. We know he is capable of being better. While he does carry the huge defensive burden of facing the opponents' best on most nights there is still more he can offer offensively. Given his quality shot and excellent instincts, Doughty really should be getting more pucks on net. It just feels as though he's a bit too passive and a bit too willing of a passer. Perhaps those aren't necessarily bad qualities but as fantasy players we'd like to see a bit more aggression because he could be an absolute terror if he jumped up into the play and shot more.

It is possible that some of Doughty's passiveness this season was due to a new defense partner. In past seasons Doughty has mostly had the shelter of a defensive-minded veteran partner like Rod Scuderi or Willie Mitchell. This season more than ever Doughty had to shield his own young defense partner – per FrozenPool:




Muzzin did not monopolize all of Doughty's shifts but he was there for nearly half of them at even strength and more still on the power play (though Doughty was often the lone defenseman on the Kings' top power play unit). Robyn Regher's arrival at the deadline did allow for some return to the sheltering of Doughty but this was still less frequent than were the shifts with Muzzin.

So there are reasons for optimism with Doughty but beyond some serious luck and changes to increase scoring, it is unlikely Doughty will approach the 60-point plateau any time soon. And that is compounded by the emergence of Slava Voynov, who we talked about in this space just a few weeks ago. It is also unlikely that Doughty will lose his power play spot to Voynov but if Voynov proves a better, more willing shooter then it could happen.

Pietrangelo had a much tougher road to stardom than Doughty but it may ultimately be a more fruitful one. Pietrangelo only got to sniff the NHL in the first two seasons after the '08 draft. With former top pick Erik Johnson already eating minutes on the blue line in St. Louis the Blues felt they could be patient with Pietrangelo and let him grow his game in the OHL for a couple more seasons.

Once Pietrangelo arrived however it was clear that that patience would be rewarded. He immediately emerged as an offensive threat and solid two-way defenseman scoring 43 points as a rookie (besting Doughty's 40 that season) and performing so well that the Blues were comfortable dealing Johnson at the trade deadline that season.

The Blues were an exciting young up-and-coming team that season scoring at top 10 rate overall and on the power play, which certainly helped Pietrangelo to his excellent rookie campaign. Unfortunately, the Blues weren't a very good team and in the fall of 2011, with the team struggling, head coach Davis Payne was fired and Ken Hitchcock was brought in. This brought the Blues' offense to a screeching halt. They were 21st in the league in scoring (2.51 goals per game) in 2011-12 and were tied for 17th on the power play at 16.7%.

No matter, Pietrangelo just went out and bested his rookie totals scoring 51 points, 24 of which came on the power play. This isn't all that surprising however, as Hitchcock soon realized that Pietrangelo was his best player and sought to use him in every situation possible. Pietrangelo's minutes jumped from 22:00 per game with 3:00 on the power play in 2010-11 to 24:44 per game with 2:53 on the power play in 2011-12. A good deal of that minutes increase came on the penalty kill, which is less than optimal but the point is that Hitchcock was starting to use Pietrangelo just like Doughty was being used in Los Angeles but Pietrangelo responded with even more offense.

Of course, Pietrangelo was probably a bit lucky. His shooting percentage that season (5.9%) was consistent with his career average (6.2%) but to have recorded so many power play points on that abysmal Blues (ahem, Hitchcock) power play was probably the result of luck even though he played such an important role on it.

Pietrangelo's scoring responded in kind in 2012-13. His final total – 24 points in 47 games – was still very respectable and also subject to small sample size scrutiny but he scored just six PPP a significant regression that we all probably should have seen coming especially with Hitchcock's mud-pit hockey still in effect.

The Blues' power play was 12th in the league in efficiency at a solid 19.5% but the team improved little overall scoring just 2.58 goals per game good for 17th in the league. That Pietrangelo did so poorly on the power play while the Blues improved is somewhat shocking but probably just a course correction for how lucky he was the previous season. A happy medium in the future would be nice.

Pietrangelo's role in 2012-13 really did not change much from 2011-12 though he did see a slight increase in minutes to 25:07 per game with 2:51 on the power play as he remains the most important member of Hitchcock's Blues.

What's interesting is that while Hitchcock has treated us like Whos in recent years he hasn't always been fantasy hockey's Grinch. His teams in Dallas were among the best offensive teams in the league. Perhaps he is just waiting for the forward crop in St. Louis to improve before unleashing them on the league. With all that intriguing young talent up front it would not surprise me at all to see the Blues make a leap offensively like the Kings did this year and Pietrangelo would most likely benefit.

Pietrangelo probably isn't quite as talented as Doughty. His shot isn't as good nor is he as physical a player but physicality doesn't matter much (unless your league counts hits) and what Pietrangelo may lack in shot quality he makes up for in willingness to shoot. He is almost as lethal as Doughty jumping into the rush or from the point and is a bit more willing to do so. Hitchcock won't allow Pietrangelo to go rogue a la Mike Green circa 2008 but no one has that sort of freedom and nor should they. Intelligent two-way hockey requires that defensemen not be constantly gunning for offense.

Both Pietrangelo and Doughty are going to suffer a bit offensively because of the intelligent two-way game that they play but they are so talented that it won't make or break them. You'd like to see Doughty get a bit more aggressive though. His potential is slightly higher than Pietrangelo's if he ever decides he wants to become a menace of a shooter. If not Pietrangelo carries a slight edge because he's more aggressive and is needed more in St. Louis as a puck carrier/handler, which will lead to more overall points.

The point is that you probably want both of these guys on your team. They are not just two of the best defensemen in the game but they are two of the best offensive defensemen in the game. But Pietrangelo offers you a bit more in your fantasy league and I would absolutely recommend him over Doughty.


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