Young Defensemen Comparisons, League-Wide

Click here for the high-res image - click this link, not the picture.

Editor's Note: The title of the linked graph has the axes reversed.

Even before the Oilers fully tanked and well before they lucked out and won the NHL Draft Lottery, I was pressing the idea of trading the second-overall pick for a young defenseman capable of playing top-pairing minutes (I'm assuming that it may take additional players or picks on both sides to consummate such a deal). My suggested targets include Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Cam Fowler, P.K. Subban and John Carlson. I've had a number of discussions on the topic and others have suggested different targets and trades to land the defenseman the Oilers desperately need.

Each bubble in the graph above represents the the possession metrics of a young defenseman (or an alternative suggested in those various discussions, or a data point for comparison's sake only) in the NHL. This chart is limited to defensemen with a minimum of 40 games played in 2011-12. Those players include Karl Alzner, Zach Bogosian, Matthew Carle, John Carlson, Carlo Colaiacovo, Jared Cowen, Michael Del Zotto, Drew Doughty, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Keaton Ellerby, Justin Faulk, Cam Fowler, Cody Franson, Jake Gardiner, Josh Gorges, Erik Gudbranson, Carl Gunnarsson, Travis Hamonic, Victor Hedman, Erik Karlsson, Dmitry Kulikov, Adam Larsson, Nick Leddy, John-Michael Liles, Ryan McDonagh, Tyler Myers, Nikita Nikitin, Dmitri Orlov, Theo Peckham, Jeff Petry, Alex Pietrangelo, Roman Polak, Kyle Quincey, Kevin Shattenkirk, Luca Sbisa, Luke Schenn, Andrej Sekera, Ladislav Smid, Jared Spurgeon, P.K. Subban, Slava Voynov, Shea Weber and Ryan Wilson

The horizontal axis shows qualcomp, specifically Corsi relative quality of competition taken from the venerable and terrifying Gabriel Desjardins' behindthenet.ca. The vertical axis shows percentage of percentage of faceoffs taken in the defensive zone, again from the venerable and terrifying one. The bubbles are color-coded: blue means the player in the bubble has a positive zonestart-adjusted Corsi, white a negative. Finally, the size of the bubble indicates absolute value for zonestart-adjusted Corsi. All of the caveats about comparing these numbers between teams stand, but the chart is still a useful jumping-off point for analysis and discussion.

  • Luke Schenn has been mentioned a number of times as a player that makes sense on Edmonton's blueline. The problem with Schenn is...he's not very good. His closest comparables are Luca Sbisa and Theo Peckham. Would anyone in their right mind trade the #1 overall pick for Luca Sbisa and the #5? Schenn is a defense-first (and only right now) defenseman thrown to the wolves at age 18. It's the worst possible way to develop any defenseman, but especially one lacking a transition game and puck-handling abilities. Compare Schenn to Justin Faulk, the Carolina rookie to see how far behind the curve Schenn is right now.
  • "The Oilers need to get a steal like John-Michael Liles." That isn't difficult - Liles didn't face quality competition and though the Oilers chose Cam Barker, a competent team should not find it difficult to sign veteran who can move the puck and allow him to beat bottom quality competition. Jake Gardiner put up a similar performance to Liles for $3.1 million less.
  • If you must trade with the Maple Leafs, Carl Gunnarson is the guy handling difficult assignments for just $1.3 million and is still an RFA.
  • Cam Fowler is just 19 years old, yet he won the battle while playing on the top pair with Francois Beauchemin. In a 2010 redraft, Fowler would be a top five pick without question.
  • Last year at this time, I would have been crazy to suggest that Oliver Ekman-Larsson move up from his #6 spot in the 2009 redraft. But he's well clear of #5 Brayden Schenn and better than both Evander Kane and Matt Duchene. His work on the top pairing in Phoenix with Rostislav Klesla places him comfortably at #3 behind Victor Hedman.
  • Tyler Dellow asked last night if he's crazy because he would trade Jordan Eberle + for Drew Doughty. The answer is "no". Doughty, just 22 years old, has the best results in the group and drives the power play. He's already one of the best in the league. Oilers fans on Twitter thought Dellow was crazy anyway, and responded very negatively to his suggestion.
  • P.K. Subban and Josh Gorges are handling similar assignments in Montreal, with Subban getting better results. Subban is just 22 years old and on the power play - he's going to land himself a huge contract very soon.
  • One major surprise on the list is Nikita Nikitin. I don't know how much of his success was Blues-based, but he's worth watching next season.
  • Two veterans who makes sense are Matt Carle (UFA) and Andrej Sekera from Buffalo, but what you're getting from each of them is essentially peak performance. Though they might come at a significantly lower price, the four young defensemen mentioned above have yet to reach their top end and at least in the cases of Ekman-Larsson, Fowler, and Subban are already outperforming the two veterans. John Carlson is lagging, but he's playing top-pairing minutes in Washington with Karl Alzner, another young defender.

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