One of the major concerns with Adam Larsson as a candidate for the top pick in this year's entry draft is his lack of offense. Those in favour of taking Larsson first overall usually counter with three important points, namely that he's playing in the third best professional league in the world, that he hasn't been getting much time on the power play, and that he's been taking on tougher competition at even strength. The first statement is obviously true, but the last two are based on eye-witness reports, which may be right, but may also be either exaggerated or just plain wrong. As a way of testing the last statement, I decided to calculate some quality of competition numbers for Skellefteå HC's defensemen during the 2011 playoffs.
The method I'll be using is pretty much the same as the one I used to track quality of competition for the Regina Pats last summer (so that we might better understand the context of Jordan Eberle's and Brandon Davidson's ice time) and for the Oklahoma City Barons earlier this season (I'll have some final numbers for the Barons out sometime after the draft). To measure quality of competition, I looked through the boxscores and identified all of the opposition forwards on the ice for every goal scored both for and against while a player was on the ice at even strength (excluding empty net situations). The final "quality of competition" number is the average points per game of the opposing forwards when a given player is on the ice. For example, a player with a "quality of competition" score of 0.500 would be facing forwards who, on average, have scored 0.500 points per game in the SEL during the 2010-11 season (including both regular season and playoffs). I like the method because the final number should be pretty understandable (we're all pretty familiar with points per game).
Here are the results for Skellefteå HC's top six defensemen (they usually dressed eight, but these six played the most by far) during the 2011 playoffs:
There are a few things of note here. First off, it does seem that Adam Larsson was taking on the tough competition alongside his partner, Tim Erixon, during the playoffs. Fredrik Lindgren and David Rundblad were also a very common pairing, and they come in next, after which there's a big step down to the third pairing, both in terms of quality of competition and in terms of ice time. This evidence, combined with the eye-witness reports, makes it seem very likely that Larsson was in fact being used in a shut-down role.
But there are other interesting things here too. The most interesting thing to me is just how much Larsson's number of events lags the rest of the group, given that his ice time per game is the second highest. I'm not sure if there's anything to it (it might just be chances), but at least in this sample of games, Larsson was a pretty low-event player, especially compared to his regular partner.
The other interesting thing to note is that Larsson's point totals is well back of the rest of the top four defenders, even at even strength. In other words, it doesn't look like the lack of offense is just a power play thing. That said, his on-ice shooting percentage was almost certainly terrible over this stretch (just four goals!), which no doubt hurt his point totals (and plus-minus). And what of the power play? Larsson actually had two power play assists during the playoffs. Was Larsson getting more power play time than we'd previously thought? Although we don't have the ice time available, we can track events to try to find out:
So the conventional wisdom wins again! Rundblad and Erixon were getting the top power play minutes, and Larsson was relegated to the second unit. It's not possible to say whether or not this was the case during the regular season with these numbers (although we could count it up!), but it is good to know that, at least in the playoffs, Larsson wasn't completely jettisoned from the power play, and that he also played a significant role when the team was short-handed.
I don't know that any of this information challenges most of what we'd thought before (tough competition at even strength, second unit power play, and top four penalty kill), but it's always nice to see the statistical record line up nicely with the eye-witness reports. Even though I have Larsson third on my list going into the draft, seeing that agreement leaves me feeling quite a bit better about the possibility of Larsson being an Oiler.