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Potential Defensive Pairings

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How might the defence pairings shake out in training camp?

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

WIth training camp kicking off, it'll be interesting to see how the defence pairings shape up for the coming season. The defence remains a weakness as the club is placing a lot of faith in young players like Oscar Klefbom and Justin Schultz, as well as veterans like Andrew Ference and Nikita Nikitin, who are aiming for a better performance compared to last season.

With Peter Chiarelli moving into the GM role, there were expectations that the defence core would be overhauled and improved by acquiring legitimate NHL players. The addition of Andrej Sekera is huge for the Oilers, but the rest of the acquisitions are largely unproven assets that have to earn a spot on the opening night roster.

To get a better read on how McLellan might handle the pairings, I looked into his history with the Sharks to see how he handled his offensive defencemen, and who they would be paired with. I used the high danger scoring chances (HDSC) when the score was close (Source: War On IceHockey Analysis) and took the top two players who had the highest proportion of those chances when they were on the ice for each season. I also looked at the age of the players and what hand they shot to see if there were any patterns when it came to determining partners. Please note, Brent Burns is excluded from this table since I couldn't confirm which games he played forward or defence.

San Jose Sharks (2008-2015), Even-strength, 5v5 (All Scores)

Season Player Gm TOI/Gm Points P60 CorsiFor% %HDSC (Score Close) Common Partner
2008/09 D. Boyle (32) - R 77 16.77 6-14-20 0.93 56.27 (3.13) 6.90 B. Lukowich (32) - L
2008/09 C. Ehrhoff (26) - L 77 15.59 1-11-12 0.60 54.37 (0.45) 4.40 D. Murray (28) - L
2009/10 R. Blake (39) - R 69 15.04 2-15-17 0.98 50.02 (-2.36) 7.07 M.E. Vlasic (22) - L
2009/10 D. Boyle (33) - R 75 18.15 6-20-26 1.15 53.63 (3.96) 3.23 D. Murray (29) - L
2010/11 D. Boyle (34) - R 76 18.63 5-15-20 0.85 52.84 (-0.63) 4.72 D. Murray (30) - L
2010/11 D. Murray (30) - L 73 16.58 1-11-12 0.59 51.98 (-2.75) 4.21 Dan.Boyle (34) - R
2011/12 D. Boyle (35) - R 81 18.70 4-24-28 1.11 51.72 (-0.12) 5.88 M.E. Vlasic (24) - L
2011/12 J. Demers (23) - R 57 14.14 2-6-8 0.60 50.55 (-3.04) 5.37 B. Burns (26) - R
2012/13 D. Boyle (36) - R 46 16.75 1-4-5 0.39 55.45 (6.42) 6.40 M. Irwin (24) - L
2012/13 M.E. Vlasic (25) - L 48 17.00 3-3-6 0.44 53.82 (3.9) 4.32 J. Braun (25) - R
2013/14 D. Boyle (37) - R 75 16.37 4-8-12 0.59 52.98 (-0.99) 4.96 M. Irwin (25) - L
2013/14 J. Demers (25) - R 75 15.39 4-17-21 1.09 54.93 (1.74) 4.76 M.E. Vlasic (26) - L
2014/15 M. Irwin (26) - L 53 15.20 7-8-15 1.12 51.49 (0.01) 4.05 S. Hannan (35) - L
2014/15 B. Dillon (23) - L 60 17.20 1-5-6 0.26 51.64 (1.18) 3.31 J. Braun (27) - R

Thoughts

  • One thing to note is that McLellan's teams did not often have one player taking a major bulk of the high danger scoring chances similar to what Schulz had been doing in the past with the Oilers. Chances appear to be spread around, so plays aren't nearly as predictable.
  • The average proportion of HDSC for defenceman with over 35 games is about 2.5%. Schultz was over the 7% mark, which is ridiculous, but such is life when you don't have any other options.
  • Dan Boyle, a right-side, right handed shooter, got a lot of high danger scoring chances when the score was close and was often paired with steady stay-at-home defencemen. He himself was an established player at this point, so it'll be interesting to see how much McLellan will trust the instincts of the young defencemen on the Oilers.
  • Jason Demers is really the only young guy that got a higher proportion of high danger scoring chances, but he was often paired with Vlasic, one of the best defenceman in the world.
  • That Rob Blake guy was pretty damn good.
  • I can definitely see Justin Schultz getting a lot of high danger scoring chances, but not nearly as much as he's had in the past. I think he and Sekera, who was third in HDSC proportion in the entire league a few seasons ago, will get plenty of offensive chances both at even-strength and on the powerplay.
  • The pairings are really anyone's guess. I'm thinking Sekera gets paired with Fayne (puck mover with steady hand), Schultz paired with Klefbom (risky, I know) and Nikitin paired with Gryba/Reinhart (whoever makes the team). This might be another long season.