I didn't think I'd ever say this, but I'm okay with the Oilers signing Eric Gryba to a Professional Tryout (PTO) agreement. The 28 year old, right shooting defencemen is expected at training camp, with a pretty good shot at making the team. It's a low risk move that creates competition for one of the depth spots on the roster. And it should, in my opinion, make it harder for both Darnell Nurse and Griffin Reinhart to make the opening night lineup I have no hesitation in saying that both Nurse and Reinhart, who I think are good prospects, need extended time to develop at in the AHL. There is no harm in having these two play top pairing minutes, in all situations, against AHL-level competition in Bakersfield, until they're ready to contribute on a consistent basis.
Back to Gryba, the things that he has going in his favor are his performance numbers from last season playing with young Brandon Davidson. They were one another's most common defence partner, having played a total 279 minutes together at even-strength, predominantly as the third pairing on most nights, but did move up into the top four on occasion. Their 53.48 CF% at even-strength was second best among all Oiler defence pairings that played more than 50 minutes together (18 defence pairs in total). Source: Corsica Hockey.
Gryba and Davidson also posted the second lowest rate of shot attempts against (CA/60) at even-strength with 48.84. Worth noting that Davidson shows up third and fourth on this ranking paired with Oscar Klefbom and Jordan Oesterle, which suggests that he might be the one driving the partnership with Gryba, based on his success away from him. Additionally, Gryba's CF% when he was away from Davidson dropped down to 47.49%, while Davidson's dropped slightly to 51.16% when away from Gryba.
When it came to the rate of expected goals against, which gives a weight or a value to shot attempts based on the type of shot and the location of the shot, Davidson and Gryba ranked 2nd among the 18 defence pairs with 1.86. What this metric tells us is that the duo limited not only the number of shot attempts generated by the opposition (i.e. Corsi), but also the number of quality chances against when on the ice together. Again, Davidson and Gryba played mostly on the third pair against lesser competition, but did receive more ice time on occasion. When it came to actually preventing goals, Gryba and Davidson ranked fifth among all the different defence pair combinations with a goals against/60 rate of 1.72. Worth noting that three of the four defence pairings better than them played less than 70 minutes together and had PDO's greater than 104, so there's some luck to consider.
@sunilagni What was Gryba's penalty diff with Davidson?— Cameron Thomson (@ThomsonCam) September 20, 2016
This is a great point by Cam, as we know that Gryba took a tonne of penalties last season. He's not a fast skater and relied on his size a lot to prevent plays, which left him susceptible to taking bad penalties. At an individual level, Gryba had a -11 penalty differential (i.e., the number of penalties drawn subtract the number of penalties taken at even-strength), which was the worst among all Oilers last season. What we can also look at are the penalty differentials for each defence pairing, which are listed below.
Here we see that when Davidson was with Gryba, the Oilers had a penalty differential of -5, which is one of the lowest differentials among the different defence pairings. The issue here is that while the pair can put up good possession numbers and can prevent shots and scoring chances, the team is more likely to get penalized, likely because of Gryba, which can have a direct impact on goals and points in the standings.
Now this isn't to say that Gryba should be kept away from the Oilers altogether. What may be best for him, and the team, is to still be paired with Davidson, largely due to their strong performance together, but to remain as a depth pairing against lesser competition. Sekera and Fayne would remain in the top four, as they played well together last season, while Adam Larsson could be paired with Klefbom.
As always, curious to hear what the community thinks.