Step in the cage Sami Vatanen and Tyson Barrie. Okay. Round One… Fight!
This week the focus is again on young defensemen, with the combatants being Tyson Barrie and Sami Vatanen. Both have followed promising 2013-14 campaigns with nice starts to this season. But who's likelier to end 2014-15 with more points, and which one might be the better keeper?
Career Path and Contract Status/Cap Implications
Both players share several similarities, from their age (23) and draft year (2009) to not being top selections (Barrie went 64th overall, Vatanen 106th). This is also the first full season each will spend with his team, and their AHL experience (93 games for Barrie, 70 for Vatanen) is comparable. In fact, their only major difference beyond total NHL games played (Barrie holds a 50 game edge) is where they cut their teeth as youngsters (WHL for Barrie, SM-liiga -Finland's top professional league – for Vatanen).
Both produced well in 2013-14, although Barrie made a bigger impact with 38 points. Not only was that good enough for 27th in defenseman scoring, but those 38 points coming in just 64 games translated to a 0.59 points per game pace, which was 12th best among 40+ game defensemen. What's more, Barrie tallied only three of those 38 points in his first 17 games, which means he posted 35 in his final 47, for a remarkable 0.74 points per game pace that would've been 3rd best among d-men last year.
Vatanen had a respectable 21 points in 48 games last season; and although that was below 0.5 points per game, it was still impressive for a rookie. Making it even more laudable was the fact that, unlike Barrie, he found himself in and out of the lineup all season due to healthy scratches and AHL stints.
Both players are on year one of two season RFA deals, with Barrie earning more than twice as much ($2.6M yearly AAV/Cap Hit) as Vatanen ($1.262M yearly AAV/Cap Hit).
Barrie played only ten NHL games in 2011-12 and Vatanen only eight in 2012-13, so we won't chart their respective data from those seasons. And we need to keep in mind that, for both players, 2014-15 data reflects only 13 games (i.e., 16% of the season) through November 2nd.
Never would I have guessed Barrie's 2013-14 total Ice Time was so low, let alone that it was down by 3:02 from 2012-13. And given how well he produced despite 18:32 Ice Time, it definitely raises my radar for unsustainable good luck. But his lower 2013-14 Ice Time doesn't completely defy explanation, as Colorado was much improved, which meant young d-men like Barrie no longer needed to be thrown to the wolves. What's more, the decrease wasn't as much of a negative as it would appear, since it led to 1:06 less SH Ice Time, making it a reduction of not even two minutes in productive Ice Time.
Meanwhile, Vatanen's 2013-14 Ice Time was much less surprising, what with him being in and out of the line-up and sheltered at least somewhat during the games where he dressed (more on that below). And his net of 17:16 of productive Ice Time actually ranked him fifth among Ducks blueliners.