Erik Gudbranson‘s rookie season was considered a success by many: he managed to hold on to a roster spot for most of the year, he showed glimpses of his fantastic potential on defense, he was fine in the offensive zone, and he turned into one of the best fighters in the NHL. For a 19 to 20-year old, his performance was right about where most people would’ve liked it.
Others weren’t as pleased. Statistically, they said Gudbranson was the weakest defenseman on the team, did not outplay Keaton Ellerby, and should even start the next season in the AHL to tune things up. Although a few numbers and statistics were provided to prove this, there are quite a few more to suggest that Gudbranson is turning quickly into a top flight NHL defenseman.
First, let’s looks at Corsi, what was used to suggest that Gudbranson was a liability on defense. (Corsi by the way is the average +/- of shots attempted while a player is on the ice for 60 minutes)…
Relative to his teammates and quality of his competition, Gudbranson gave up a little less than a shot (-.991) more per 60 minutes than his team took while he was on the ice. Not great, but for a rookie that’s not all that bad either. He stayed pretty close to average in that category, receiving only a little more shots than his team. And considering he started with faceoffs in the offensive zone about half of the time (51.1%), that isn’t all that bad either. So let’s recap: Erik Gudbranson had almost as many shots shot at his net as his teammates shot towards the other team’s net, and he played about equally in the offensive and defensive zones all year. Despite all the negative signs and comparisons with his teammates, Gudbranson’s performance was pretty close to the mean.
What isn’t close to the mean is the most telling stat of all, which has been ignored to this point. It is Erik Gudbranson’s PDO, the sum of the opposition’s shooting percentage and your goalie’s save percentage while you’re on the ice. It is driven mostly by luck (since scoring a goal is very often luck coupled with talent) and the stat shows that Gudbranson really had no luck last year. His PDO last year was 970, a very low number. It shows that his goalie didn’t save as many shots as the average suggested he should have, and that unfortunately means a poor plus/minus for Gudbranson. However, he inventors of the statistic are quick to say the stat should almost always return to the mean (1000) in the long run, so that bodes well for Gudbranson having a strong season next year.
But don’t forget how much Gudbranson was sheltered in the few months of the season, and how much he has improved over that time. Coach Kevin Dineen saw it, and it was telling by Gudbranson’s ice time in the postseason. It got a big jump, from 13:25 to 14:59, even as guys like Brian Campbell sucked up 30 minutes of ice time. Even more telling than solely ice time is the confidence Dineen had in Gudbranson against the Devils: Gudbranson started his shifts in the defensive zone about 59.8 percent of the time, proving Dineen had faith in Gudbranson’s defensive ability. Certainly by the end of the season, Guds was no longer being sheltered – he was being thrown right in the thick of it.
So if you only look at a few statistics, Gudbranson might have had a disappointing year. But as the season progressed and Gudbranson began taking on new roles, he made some great improvements, both on the ice and the stat sheet.
But more than anything I like it when the hockey people like what they see from a guy. Dale Tallon had this to say about Gudbranson at the end of the playoffs last year:
“We saw this young guy develop into a man right before our eyes. He got better and better, and am so glad we kept him through World Juniors [in December]. He had a great finish to the year. I thought in the playoffs he didn’t take a back seat to anyone.”
With Kevin Dineen and Dale Tallon both firmly in support of Erik Gudbranson, certainly next year we will see him develop into a great defenseman on the NHL level.
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