Cage Match: John Carlson vs. Oliver Ekman-Larsson – who would you rather own?

by Rick Roos on January 11, 2017

Also in this article - the results of the 'slumping player least likely to rebound' tournament...


Before our regularly scheduled Cage Match column, I want to announce that, by your votes, Bobby Ryan, Jake Muzzin, and Reilly Smith were named the players least likely to achieve their 2016-17 expected production this season or in a future season. Thanks to everyone who voted in that second tournament (and the previous one) and posted valuable comments in the forum threads.

Although they weren’t top vote getters in last week’s tournament, it’s as good a time as any to cover two of the choices – John Carlson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Both were projected as top fantasy d-men for 2016-17, but thus far have fallen short of lofty expectations. Is this just a temporary setback, or might one or both have peaked early? Cage Match is here with the all-important answers!


Career Path and Contract Status/Cap Implications

Carlson, who just turned 27, was drafted 27th overall in 2008. After 39 points in 48 AHL contests in 2009-10, Carlson was in the NHL to stay. But back then it was the Mike Green and Dennis Wideman era in Washington, so Carlson posted only 32-37 points in each of his first three full NHL seasons despite ample minutes for a high-scoring squad. But 2014-15 saw Carlson skyrocket to 55 points; and once Green left last season, Carlson’s scoring inched upward to a 57 point pace, although after he was first injured he tallied only 12 points in 22 games after starting with 27 in 34. This season he’s been healthy, but struggled early on. In fact, it took ten points in 14 December contests just for him to reach the point per every other game mark by New Year’s Day.

Ekman-Larsson (“OEL”), 25, was drafted 6th overall in 2009. In his first full season (2011-12), he opened eyes with 32 points but even more notably potted 13 goals (fifth highest among all NHL d-men). Like Carlson, OEL settled into an early scoring pattern, although in his case it was right at the point per every other game mark. His goal scoring continued too, and resulted in him having tallied the fifth most goals and having fired the sixth most SOG from 2011-12 to 2014-15 among all NHL rearguards despite only accumulating the 17th most total points. Then last season OEL exploded for 55 points in only 75 games, which was made all the more amazing because his team scored just 208 total goals.

Carlson will be a UFA in 2018 when his $3.96M per season contract expires, while OEL becomes a UFA in 2019 after his $5.5M per year contract ends. Count on both getting big raises on their next deals.


Ice Time



Total Ice Time per game (rank among team’s defensemen)

PP Ice Time per game (rank among team’s defensemen)

SH Ice Time per game (rank among team’s defensemen


23:26 (J.C.) – 1st

24:08 (OEL) – 1st

3:16 (J.C.) – 1st

4:02 (OEL) – 1st

2:57 (J.C.) – 2nd

0:50 (OEL) – 7th


23:42 (J.C.) – 2nd

24:46 (OEL) – 1st

3:18 (J.C.) – 1st

5:10 (OEL) – 1st

2:10 (J.C.) – 4th

0:43 (OEL) – 6th


23:04 (J.C.) – 1st

25:12 (OEL) – 1st

1:44 (J.C.) – 2nd

3:53 (OEL) – 2nd

2:57 (J.C.) – 1st

2:34 (OEL) – 4th


24:30 (J.C.) – 1st

25:53 (OEL) – 1st

3:08 (J.C.) – 1st

4:05 (OEL) – 2nd

3:44 (J.C.) – 1st

2:51 (OEL) – 2nd


Like Ryan Suter (profiled in a recent match), both Carlson and OEL have apparently benefitted from a “less is more” approach to Total Ice Time – that is, despite a drop in their Total Ice Time in each of the two seasons since 2013-14, their scoring had risen significantly. Overall though, it’s mixed news for both in terms of Ice Time as it relates to the sustainability of their high scoring.


I’m immediately drawn to Carlson’s 2014-15 data, since on paper it doesn’t seem conductive to him having scored 55 points that season, especially with PP Time substantially below levels from even his 37 point 2013-14 season and SH Time well above the 2:30 per game level that I’ve demonstrated in past columns is such a key threshold not to exceed. If we shift to 2015-16, it looks much more like the Ice Time data of a top scorer, particularly since his SH Time cratered. For 2016-17 his SH Time has spiked back upwards, so that – plus perhaps unsustainable good luck in 2014-15 – might explain his lower production this season thus far.


OEL’s Ice Times from 2015-16 were the stuff poolies dream of. In fact, the last time any NHL d-man had more than 5:00 in PP Time but less than 1:00 in SH Time per game was 2006-07; back then it was Dan Boyle, who just so happened to tally a career high 63 points that season. The problem is, for 2016-17 OEL’s per game PP Time is down by 1:08; and thus, the fact that his scoring has also dropped seems more than a coincidence, especially since unlike Carlson he’s only had one season of big production, which in turn makes his 2015-16 scoring more inherently suspicious. We’ll have to look closely at his luck data to get a better idea whether there’s room for OEL to score at (or above) a 45 point pace without his spectacular 2015-16 Ice Times.


Secondary Categories




(per game)


(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)


(per game)

PP Points

(per game)


0.00 (J.C.)

0.65 (OEL)

0.89 (J.C.)

1.52 (OEL)

1.43 (J.C.)

1.02 (OEL)

2.43 (J.C.)

2.02 (OEL)

0.20 (J.C.)

0.27 (OEL)


0.25 (J.C.)

1.28 (OEL)

0.82 (J.C.)

2.05 (OEL)

2.03 (J.C.)

0.89 (OEL)

2.21 (J.C.)

3.04 (OEL)

0.25 (J.C.)

0.36 (OEL)


0.34 (J.C.)

0.48 (OEL)

0.90 (J.C.)

2.03 (OEL)

2.44 (J.C.)

0.94 (OEL)

2.35 (J.C.)

3.22 (OEL)

0.19 (J.C.)

0.25 (OEL)


0.27 (J.C.)

0.62 (OEL)

0.78 (J.C.)

1.67 (OEL)

2.16 (J.C.)

1.00 (OEL)

2.53 (J.C.)

2.48 (OEL)

0.28 (J.C.)

0.27 (OEL)


Looking at SOG and PPPt numbers for Carlson, ask yourself this - if you didn’t know the two seasons in which he had a 55+ point scoring pace, could you guess them from among these four? Probably not, as there’s no apparent indication why his points spiked in those two seasons versus the other two shown in the table. In fact, his SOG rate was lowest in his two most productive seasons and his PPPt rate was either lowest (2014-15) or only third best (2015-16). It’s looking even more like if there are answers for Carlson’s up and down production, they’d lie with (or at least be better explained via) luck metrics.


As for OEL, his offensive-affecting numbers are worrisome. Most notably, his PPPt rate last season was much higher than in past years. In fact, if it had been 0.26 per game (i.e., the rough average of his other two full seasons shown in the table), that would’ve meant seven or eight fewer points, bringing him to 47 or 48 in 75 games. Beyond that, OEL’s SOG rate for 2016-17 is down by one per game versus last season and is his lowest since his first full campaign. Given this, plus what we saw above, it appears that for OEL to be able to score above a 45 point pace he needs his usual one PPPt per four games, and 5:00 per game in PP Time (which, let’s face it, is unlikely to recur) and three SOG per game (which occurred twice but otherwise has never been approached). That’s a tall order, although perhaps there’s room for a middle ground of more than 45 points but less than 55; we’ll know more once we look at luck below.


Their other numbers have been fairly consistent, aside from a PIM outlier for OEL in 2015-16. This season Carlson is firing blanks in PIM and blocking fewer shots; but those numbers still have time to go back at least somewhat toward normal. Overall, however, OEL is the better multi-cat option; but poolies know this, so the added cost to get him in kitchen sink leagues might not be worthwhile.


Luck-Based Metrics



Team Shooting% (5x5)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5x5)

IPP (5x5)

IPP (5x4)


9.67% (J.C.)

7.53% (OEL)

52.4% (J.C.)

43.8% (OEL)

41.4% (J.C.)

32.0% (OEL)

66.7% (J.C.)

57.1% (OEL)


8.02% (J.C.)

9.77% (OEL)

49.2% (J.C.)

48.1% (OEL)

50.0% (J.C.)

33.3% (OEL)

54.4% (J.C.)

62.5% (OEL)


8.92% (J.C.)

6.47% (OEL)

50.5% (J.C.)

45.2% (OEL)

54.2% (J.C.)

42.2% (OEL)

80.0% (J.C.)

53.3% (OEL)


7.56% (J.C.)

6.84% (OEL)

51.2% (J.C.)

48.8% (OEL)

22.2% (J.C.)

44.2% (OEL)

55.0% (J.C.)

51.2% (OEL)


Finally there’s a clearer explanation for Carlson’s vastly better production in 2014-15 and 2015-16 - his 5x5 IPP, which put him in the top six each season among 160+ defensemen who played over 750+ minutes at 5x5. The good news is, it would be one thing to have only finished with a super high 5x5 IPP once; but he did it in two separate seasons. Also, his extremely high 5x4 IPP in 2014-15 (fifth among 78 rearguards who skated 100+ minutes at 5x4) is less of a concern since he finished with an even higher scoring pace in 2015-16 despite a more realistic 5x4 IPP. Also, there aren’t areas of notable concern among his OZ% and 5x5 Team Shooting %. While this doesn’t necessarily mean Carlson will once again be a 55+ point scorer, given his age and the team he plays for it is more realistic to envision.


OEL’s data makes his 2015-16 season look more like an outlier. His 5x4 IPP was atypically higher, plus his 5x5 Team Shooting % was significantly greater than what he posted in these other seasons despite the team around him being pretty comparable. There’s some solace in that his 5x5 Team Shooting % was very low in 2013-14 and 2014-15 yet he still managed to score at a 40-45 point pace, giving hope that even if he isn’t a 55-60 point player he still could realistically climb back to 50+.


Who Wins?


Before getting to a winner, it’s important to emphasize how rare a 55+ point d-man is in today’s NHL. Since 2000-01, only 39 different defensemen have posted 55+ points in a season; and of those 39, fewer than half did so more than once within that time frame. Plus, as crazy as it might seem that a player who just turned 27 and another who’s only 25 could be “one and done” members of the 55+ point club, consider that since 2000-01 each of Drew Doughty, Dion Phaneuf, Kimmo Timonen, Ryan Whitney, and Keith Yandle hit the 55+ threshold before age 25 then never tasted 55 points again. At the time, did you think each of those five already had his best season? Probably not.


For this season and next, I’m taking Carlson in all leagues except those with a premium for goals and/or PIM; and even in those leagues, Carlson still could be the choice if OEL’s value is too inflated. OEL’s one season of top production (versus two for Carlson) came with multiple circumstances that likely cannot again be duplicated, plus Carlson plays for a team with a better offense for the here and now.


For keepers, I think their UFA status is somewhat of a red herring, as most likely their respective teams will do whatever they can to keep them. As such, that might give the edge to OEL because he’s not only the younger of the two, but the Caps are also at risk of declining over time whereas the Coyotes project to be a team on the rise. Plus, although OEL might be a longshot to duplicate his 2015-16 totals, 50-55 points seems possible. I’m also concerned that although Carlson’s 55+ point seasons appear to be more legitimate based on the analysis here, his “real life” situation (particularly in the area of SH Ice Time) could continue to hurt his fantasy output as it had in the past, whereas OEL doesn’t come with that risk.






  • Cory

    One thing I think is missing here is how pathetic the Coyotes are this year, and how that has affected OEL.

    You say he scored 55 points last year even though his team ‘just’ scored 208 goals. Well, his team is on pace to score 176 goals this year. Putrid.

    If the Coyotes were even a league average offence, I think you’d see OEL with 55 points and 220 shots. I think OEL is about as consistent as they come, but his future production depends on whether those young Coyotes turn into real NHLers.

  • stevegamer

    Nice matchup. I think the easy answer is, of course, both!

  • 99rules66isafatbum

    how do you rank the following 5 dmen in yahoo rotisserie keeper league with G, A, +/-, PIM, PPP, GWG, SOG:
    Subban, OEL, Klingberg, Fowler, Werenski. I can keep anywhere from 2-4 of them (2 if i keep Kuznetsov and Cam Atkinson) but our league plays 6 d and 3C 3LW 3RW so big premium for dmen. Thanks. I kept Subban, OEL, Klingberg last year and gave up Schiefele. Ouch.

    • Rick Roos

      Fowler is the odd man out. The other four have strong points, but also risks. The safest bet is to keep Subban and OEL, since no matter what they do for the rest of this season they still have major “name” value and can always be traded for a good return.

      I believe that Klingberg is a lot better than what we’re seeing, but you might be able to let him go and them redraft him, thus allowing you to keep Kuz and Atkinson.

      As for Werenski, I think you owe it to yourself to try and trade him while his value is sky high. Look no further than Klingberg or Ghost – you could’ve had HUGE returns for them in their breakout seasons. But now, probably not. Also, Columbus has Jones, so Werenski might end up being the Shattenkirk to Jones’ Pietrangelo, and as good as Shattenkirk is, he’s probably not as great as you’re hoping Werenski could be, which again brings it back to trading him to truly sell high.

  • Santo Manna

    Awesome cage match! Really tough call between these two, but tend to agree that at least for the near future, it’s Carlson. I made a trade this year where I moved Carlson for Seth Jones in order to get upgrade elsewhere – will be very interested to see how Jones ends up stacking up against these two in a few years.

    • Rick Roos

      Thanks for the kind words. Part of what’s so great about running the tournaments is it can give me ideas for actual matches – like this – which I might not have otherwise landed on. Jones is holding his own in Columbus and things should only improve for him, especially if he can sniff more PP Time.