What does the future hold for these eight Eastern Conference defensemen running on the hot and cold ends of the spectrum?
For most of us the early portion of the NHL season can be a very stressful time. Every anomaly looks so much worse because these are all we have to look at for the year to date. Conversely, if the same anomaly were to happen in February it would likely be a blip on the radar in an otherwise normal campaign.
While the fall draft is still the most impactful event of the fantasy year, many titles are also won and lost with key adds, drops and trades in the first months of the new season. Obviously, buying low and selling high goes a long way but you have to buy and sell the right players. Today we will examine four defensemen off to hot starts and four players off to cold starts along with some information to help us evaluate what is to come.
Note: this breakdown will use information found on player profile pages over at Frozen Pool. Clicking any player name here will bring you to that player’s profile which contains several metrics indicating what is to come in the not-too-distant future. This includes line combinations, ice time, power play time, shooting percentage, PDO and overall five-on-five shooting percentage among many other bits of useful information.
Rasmus Ristolainen – Buffalo
After Josh Gorges spent years being a valuable defense partner for the up-and-coming PK Subban in Montreal, he is once again helping a young defenseman with big upside – this time Ristolainen. The 21-year-old is getting heavy minutes in all situations and has responded with an excellent start to the campaign in all areas except plus/minus.
Through 12 games Ristolanen has five points with three coming with the man advantage. Even more impressive is his 31 shots on-goal amassed thus far, opening the door for more contributions in the goal-scoring department in the weeks and months to come. And with more than 24 minutes per game on the ice he is in a great position to maintain his production in all categories, as evidenced by his 21 hits and 21 blocks.
Ristolainen’s PDO and on-ice five-on-five shooting percentage are both very low at the moment. While this does indicate some bad luck and thus some potential for additional offense, the PDO is also affected by subpar goaltending. Buffalo sits 24th with an ugly team save percentage of .893. Until that improves expect Ristolainen (and other Sabres) to lag in the plus/minus department.
Andrei Markov – Montreal
The Canadiens have had an incredible start to the campaign and Markov has played a big role in their early successes. Obviously, it will be very difficult for the 36-year-old to maintain this pace. Not only is he seeing two minutes less per game than he saw a year ago, he is also shooting less. His 14 shots in 13 games represent a major decline from last year when he hit the net 1.67 times per outing. The advanced stats further validate these concerns as his PDO and on-ice five-on-five shooting percentage are both very high at the moment while the Canadiens are scoring goals at an unexpected rate.
It is also worth noting that Markov showed a similar pattern last year. After starting the year hot with 30 points in the first half, his production rate slowed down the stretch as he notched just 20 points in the second half. With that said Markov sits in an interesting situation in terms of trade value. On one hand, now would be a great time to sell high. However, that is easier said than done considering poolies can sour quickly on veterans even in one-year leagues.
Dion Phaneuf – Toronto
Often overlooked in the Maple Leafs’ disastrous start is their captain Dion Phaneuf rebounding well after a difficult finish last year. He has already posted seven points despite playing fewer minutes (22:02) than in years past. One factor has been a change to a more offensive role. His offensive zone start percentage sits at 53.7 percent, up from 42.5 percent last year. In turn, Phaneuf has been less of a factor in the shot-blocking department with just 13 so far after getting 126 a year ago.
While the good start helps, expectations have to be kept in check as the Leafs are not a good team at all. They do not possess enough finishing ability to help boost the point totals of their defensemen. However, it is worth noting that his luck metrics are normal aside from his personal shooting percentage due to not yet having any goals. Although he should beat last year’s 27 points easily, it will be very difficult to expect more than 40 points unless he can significantly increase his shot volume and get some goals himself.
John Carlson – Washington
Last year, Carlson posted a career-best 55 points while not logging significant minutes on the power play. With Mike Green now gone, Carlson’s average power play ice time is up to 3:36 and he has responded with 10 points through 10 games. Half of his production has come with the man advantage.
Whether or not Carlson can ultimately beat 55 points remains to be seen. After all, the bar has been set very high. So far so good as his luck metrics fall in a normal range. His personal shooting percentage is high at 10 percent so his goal-scoring rate will likely see a dip in the months to come unless he can get his shooting volume back up to what we have seen from him in the past.
Aaron Ekblad – Florida
The reigning Calder Trophy winner is off to a tough start to his sophomore campaign with just three points through 11 games. His shot volume and power play time are on par with last year but there are some major red flags at the moment. The elephant in the room is his overall ice time which sits at a bizarre 18:50, down from just under 22 minutes per night last year. The Panthers have benefited from improved play from other defensemen, most notably Brian Campbell and Dmitri Kulikov, but Ekblad is currently not being put in a position to succeed.
Another point of concern is Ekblad’s deployment on the ice. After starting over 60 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone as a rookie, he is current down to just 38.5 percent. Certainly, there is still a lot of hockey to be played but until Ekblad’s ice time and utilization changes expect the slow start to continue.
Adam Larsson – New Jersey
After showing a ton of promise in the second half last year, Larsson has not been able to carry his strong play over to this year and reward his patient fantasy owners. Worst of all Larsson has never been used much on the power play, instead being deployed more in defensive situations as evidenced by the 41 percent of his shifts started in the offensive zone and his team-leading 3:49 per game killing penalties. This severely limits his offensive upside.
With that said Larsson has also been unlucky this year which is especially clear when looking at his on-ice five-on-five shooting percentage of just 1.4 percent. This is unsustainably bad and will get better. Larsson will have a tough time scoring goals if he just gets one shot per game so any improvement will likely come in the assist department. Until he starts seeing more time with the man advantage it is difficult to envision Larsson as more than a 30-point defenseman who is better suited for multi-category leagues.
Nick Leddy – New York Islanders
Last year Leddy made a splash in his first year with the Islanders and notched 37 points. This output had some thinking he was a sleeper pick for a breakout campaign in year two in New York. Through 12 games that does not appear to be the case as the 24-year-old has produced just four points to date. Most concerning is his lack of shots on goal as Leddy has hit the net just eight times after hitting 120 the previous two years. The lack of shots has been an issue despite an uptick in offensive zone starts.
While his personal shooting percentage is obviously down, his PDO and on-ice five-on-five shooting percentage are normal. There is still time for him to get back on track but a slow start can be enough to derail hopes for a career year when it is all said and done.
Michael Del Zotto – Philadelphia
Del Zotto has had an up-and-down career and this year has not gotten off on the right foot with a single assist thought 10 games. Thankfully, there is plenty of evidence that he has been suffering from bad luck and is due for an improvement. Most notably, his on-ice five-on-five shooting percentage stands at just one percent. Like Larsson, there will be improvement in this area which will also help his plus/minus, current at minus-4. He is also getting more than two shots per game so he is bound to find the back of the net soon or later.
In the end, Del Zotto may fall short of the half-a-point-a-game mark but should be a good option moving forward. He is definitely in buy-low territory, especially in multi-category leagues. In fact, he may be sitting on your waiver wire if your league is shallower.
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