Frozen Pool Forensics: Job Thieves on the Blue Line

by Cam Robinson on September 23, 2016

Frozen Pool Forensics dives into defencemen who can be job thieves this year.

****

In continuing a look at candidates to ruffle some feathers at camp, and potentially take the bread right out of some veteran’s mouths, this week on Frozen Pool will take a dig into the backend.

 

The blue line is a wildly difficult position to master. Second only to the goaltenders (which we discussed last week) defending against the very best in the world is a challenging task for even the most accomplished youngsters. There’s a reason that defensemen generally peak a little later than forwards, because just getting acclimated takes some time before being comfortable enough to chip in on the offensive side of the puck.

 

However, there are always a few young players capable of jumping into a prime position and succeeding. With that in mind, here are a few guys out to steal some jobs this season.

 

Ben Hutton

 

Hutton pulled off the incredible a season ago. Fresh off a three year NCAA stint with the University of Maine, the Canucks’ fifth-round selection from 2012 began his pro career by dominating play at the Young Stars tournament, impressing at rookie camp, and then blowing the brass away by saucing 50 foot lasers onto the tape of the pros once main camp rolled around. His surprise making of the team was a good enough story, but he didn’t stop there.

 

While his numbers weren’t always present, Hutton played with remarkable consistency throughout a challenging season in Vancouver and was often times their best offensive defender. His 25 points in 75 games came while seeing mostly second unit power play time with an underwhelming unit around him.

 

Here’s a look at his quarterly summaries:

 

First Quarter Summary

GP

G

A

P

PntPG

Pace

+/-

PIM

Shots

HITS

PPG

PPP

SHG

BLKS

PPTOI

%PP

%PK

TOI/G

%TOI

20

0

8

8

0.40

33

-6

4

29

12

0

2

0

22

02:07

35.9

3.2

17:43

29.0

 

 

 

Second Quarter Summary

GP

G

A

P

PntPG

Pace

+/-

PIM

Shots

HITS

PPG

PPP

SHG

BLKS

PPTOI

%PP

%PK

TOI/G

%TOI

14

0

1

1

0.07

6

-2

4

22

8

0

0

0

12

01:29

29.9

6.7

17:49

29.0

 

 

 

Third Quarter Summary

GP

G

A

P

PntPG

Pace

+/-

PIM

Shots

HITS

PPG

PPP

SHG

BLKS

PPTOI

%PP

%PK

TOI/G

%TOI

18

1

7

8

0.44

36

3

2

21

10

0

2

0

34

01:58

49.1

29.4

20:58

34.2

 

 

 

Fourth Quarter Summary

GP

G

A

P

PntPG

Pace

+/-

PIM

Shots

HITS

PPG

PPP

SHG

BLKS

PPTOI

%PP

%PK

TOI/G

%TOI

23

0

8

8

0.35

29

-16

4

32

12

0

3

0

32

03:10

58.5

31.9

22:09

36.6

 

 

 

Take out that dreadful stretch between November 23 and January 7 where Hutton recorded just the one point in 14 games and he produced 24 points in 51 games, or a 39-point pace.

 

Notice the power play time on ice for the summaries… 1:29 averaged during that poor second quarter equalled basically no production. However, Hutton saw over three minutes of ice with the man advantage for the final 23 contests as Alex Edler was on the shelf. The production wasn’t off the charts, but that is the opportunity he needs to continue building his stats.

 

This season he’ll have to usurp the aforementioned Edler and newcomer Philip Larsen in order to have the honour of quarterbacking the Sedin-led first unit. If he can do that, 40 points is achievable; especially if he can find the back of the net on more than just one percent of his shots as he did in 2015-16.

 

 

Damon Severson

 

There likely hasn’t been a similar buzz surrounding the Devils since Scott Stevens laid the boom on Paul Kariya back in the ‘03 Cup Final; the trading of Adam Larsson to the Edmonton Oilers for former-first overall pick Taylor Hall this summer threw a spotlight squarely on New Jersey.

 

The addition of Hall immediately makes the Devils’ first power play unit something poolies are very interested in, as he joins fellow-30 goal scorers, Kyle Palmieri and Adam Henrique as well as Mike Cammalleri. Who will man the point on that potentially deadly unit is very much up in the air.

 

Top 10 Point Categories – Power Play Points (sorted by PP points)

Rank

Name

Pos

Age

Yrs

Team

GR

GP

EV

PP 

SH

Pts/G

TOI

PTS/60

Points

2

SCHLEMKO,DAVID

D

29

6

S.J

 

67

7

12

0

0.28

18:39

0.9

19

3

MOORE,JOHN

D

25

4

N.J

 

73

13

6

0

0.26

19:50

0.8

19

1

SEVERSON,DAMON

D

22

0

N.J

 

72

16

5

0

0.29

18:10

1.0

21

6

GELINAS,ERIC

D

25

2

COL

 

34

2

4

0

0.18

14:02

0.8

6

5

GREENE,ANDREW

D

33

8

N.J

 

82

11

2

0

0.16

22:57

0.4

13

7

MERRILL,JON

D

24

1

N.J

 

47

4

1

0

0.11

16:54

0.4

5

9

WARSOFSKY,DAVID

D

26

0

PIT

 

10

0

1

0

0.10

16:22

0.4

1

8

HELGESON,SETH

D

25

0

N.J

 

19

1

0

0

0.05

13:57

0.2

1

10

GRAGNANI,MARC-ANDRE

D

29

1

N.J

 

4

0

0

0

0.00

14:22

0.0

0

4

LARSSON,ADAM

D

23

3

EDM

 

82

17

0

1

0.22

22:31

0.6

18

 

 

 

While no one defender has a lock on the job, Damon Severson is a strong candidate to come away with the gig as his big, right-handed shot is a true weapon and his ability to work on the man advantage has been shown in the past while suiting up for the power-house defenseman-factory known as the Kelowna Rockets.

 

The 22-year-old won’t necessarily be stealing a job from someone as David Schlemko has gone to San Jose, while Jon Merril and John Moore had plenty of cracks at the position with limited results. Despite not having a true quarterback last season, New Jersey surprisingly still produced the ninth-best conversion rate in the league. Tossing Hall into the mix should only help matters further, and will boost the stock of whichever blue liner gets the honour of manning the point.

 

Severson is in line to chew up a big portion of the 22 minutes that Larsson ate up and if he can lock down that top spot on the power play, 35-plus points could be attainable.

 

 

Ryan Pulock

 

The Islanders have long lacked a quality defenseman capable of setting up or converting on John Tavares’ greatness. Nick Leddy has done an admirable job of late, but he’ll never be mistaken for Bobby Orr. Nor will Ryan Pulock, but he does have a certain quality that stands out above the rest.

 

Pulock’s main weapon is his blistering slap shot that is often seen turning steady shot-blockers into flamingos. He displayed that skill in a brief 15-game stint with the Islanders at the end of last season and looked comfortable on the point on the second power play unit.

 

Power Play Line Combinations

Frequency

Line Combination 

38.3%        

HICKEY,THOMAS – PULOCK,RYAN

25.5%

HAMONIC,TRAVIS – PULOCK,RYAN

14.9%

BOYCHUK,JOHNNY – PULOCK,RYAN

12.8%

PULOCK,RYAN

8.5%

LEDDY,NICK – PULOCK,RYAN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 13th overall pick from the 2013 entry draft has been coming along the right away. Establishing dominance at the junior level and then consistently developing over 100-plus AHL contests. He’ll enter into this season taking aim at a full-time position in the team’s top six and a spot on the top power play grouping. If he can do so, expect a 30-point season with room to grow. He’s a must-draft in keeper leagues.

 

 

Shea Theodore

 

The 2013 first round pick has been steadily improving on his stock since draft day. He was a standout in the WHL, World Junior tournament, and then produced exceptional numbers as a first year professional in the AHL.

 

Theodore earned the trust and respect of his coaches by seamlessly transitioning to the pro ranks, running the top power play in San Diego and producing 37 points in just 50 games. He also got his feet wet in 19 contests for the Ducks, recording eight points and did not look out of place at either end of the rink. He was given an average of 2:17 on the man advantage and displayed his poise and offensive flair with consistency.

 

Power Play Line Combinations

Freq

Line Combination

63.6%

   THEODORE,SHEA – VATANEN,SAMI

18.2%   

LINDHOLM,HAMPUS – THEODORE,SHEA

14.1%

FOWLER,CAM – THEODORE,SHEA

3%

MANSON,JOSH – THEODORE,SHEA

1%

STONER,CLAYTON – THEODORE,SHEA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theodore comes into training camp this season with a new coaching staff at the helm, and attempting to crack a deep backend on a team with Stanley Cup aspirations. Things could easily shake out with him beginning the season in the American League once again, but if he makes the team, it’s because they feel his offense will be a boon. If that’s the case, look for him to begin quarter backing the second unit with an eye for Cam Fowler’s spot next to Sami Vatanen on the top corps.

 

Theodore offers a slick combination of speed, smarts and wildly impressive IQ. A defender’s ability to walk the line and get shots through is key in producing points, and he does those things in spades. Even if the recently-turned 21-year-old doesn’t manage to steal the job early this season, he is a must-own in keeper leagues, and will one-day be the Ducks’ top offensive weapon from the blue line.

 

 

Quick Hits

 

A few more defensemen capable of snaking prime duties next season:

 

Phillip Larsen (VAN) – Should be better prepared during his second time around in the NHL. Silky offensive skills, an opening on the top unit, and a one-way contract.

Morgan Rielly (TOR) – Fourth-year pro is ready to make an impact. Coaching staff should feel the same.

 

Colton Parayko (STL) – Tough group to beat out, but tons of upside and a cannon of a shot.

 

Nathan Beaulieu (MON) – PK is gone and Markov is aging quickly. Could find a home next to Weber.

 

Colin Miller (BOS) – Chara is a fitness freak, but age gets us all. Miller could slot in beside Krug on the top unit.

 

Mathew Dumba (MIN) – Ryan Suter can’t play all the minutes and Dumba has shown all the right skills to be a big-time producer.

 

Oscar Klefbom (EDM) – Should see an uptick in power play time this season. Needs to make the most of it.

 

***

 

Thanks for reading and feel free to follow me on Twitter @CrazyJoeDavola3 where I often give unsolicited fantasy advice that I’m sure at least someone is listening to.

Last week's Frozen Pool: Job-Thieving Goalies