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2021-22 Pittsburgh Penguins – Defensemen

Next up we will look at the Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen signed for the 2021-22 NHL season. They have 10 D under contract as well as one on a pro tryout and two on AHL deals who have played in the NHL at some point over the past four seasons. The data I am using comes from Evolving Hockey and Hockey Reference and we will be looking at a 4-year average from 2017-21 as well as last year’s performance as a growth comparison.

We will have some major sample size issues with the data, for instance in the 1-year data only five of the D skated over 750 minutes and five have not surpassed 500 minutes in the 4-year data. In the 1-year data Friedman, Riikola, and Bartkowski are practically useless for our analysis and we need to take Joseph and Ruhwedel with a grain of salt. Over the 4-year it is Bartkowski, Joseph, Bigras, Friedman, and most especially Reinke who have limited minutes.

Player Usage – Time on Ice

The x-axis is power play time on ice, the further to the right the more that player is deployed in man advantage situations. The y-axis is penalty kill time on ice, the further up the more than player is deployed in shorthanded situations. The size of the bubble is even strength time on ice, with yellow bubble representing values above the league average. Players in the bottom right quadrant are PP specialists while those in the top left are PK specialists. The top right quadrant are guys who get used in all situations while the bottom left quadrant is for sheltered players who the staff doesn’t trust in special teams situations.

Both last year and over the past four seasons Dumoulin is the lone defensive D, Marino is a two-way D, and both Matheson and Riikola are offensive D. Ruhwedel, Bartkowski, Joseph, and Friedman are all in the quadrant for sheltered players with limited special teams usage and they are joined by Fedun, Bigras, and Reinke in the 4-year data. Pettersson used to see more PP time than he had last year, but last year with Matheson and Marino they didn’t need him anymore. Likewise Letang used to get more time on the PK but they didn’t need him as much last year because they had Ceci logging heavy minutes. There is an obvious delineation between the top 4 TOI last year, a little less so over the 4-year data but still gives us a good idea of who will skate with whom.

Player Usage – Zone Starts

The x-axis is offensive zone starts, the further to the right the more often the player starts a shift on an O-zone draw. The y-axis is defensive zone starts, the higher up the more often they are deployed to start shifts in their own end. The bubble size is zone start percent, with yellow bubbles meaning they are used more O-zone than D-zone situations. Players on the bottom right quadrant have sheltered zone starts either because of their offensive talent of more likely due to their defensive shortcomings. Players on the top left quadrant have tough starts with a heavy D-zone tilt, either because they are trusted to keep the opponent from scoring or sometimes because they lack any offensive ability. Those on the top right quadrant are two-way D who can be trusted to defend in their own end but also know how to contribute offensively. Then the bottom left quadrant are the most sheltered limited usage call-ups who are primarily deployed in the neutral zone.

Last year the D with a decided O-zone tilt were the top pairing of Letang and Dumoulin as well as the sheltered minutes of Joseph and the outlier Riikola. Pettersson and Marino were two-way D although still with slight D-zone preference. Matheson and Ruhwedel were defensive specialists joined by the limited TOI outlier Bartkowksi. Friedman was the most sheltered. The 4-year data was a lot different for most of them: Dumoulin falls back into the sheltered quadrant; Riikola and Ruhwedel move to 2-way; Bartkowski and Friedman move to the offensive quadrant joined by Fedun, Bigras, and Reinke.

Possession – Goals Above Replacement

GAR is primarily based upon puck possession, despite the name the on-ice team goals for/against are not used in its calculation, so unfortunately it still has problems as a catch all evaluation tool. The x-axis is the offense metric, so players further to the right are better able to generate shot attempts against their opponents. The y-axis is the defense metric, so players further up are more capable of suppressing their opponents shot attempts. The bubble size is overall GAR, with yellow bubble representing those who are performing above league average. The top right quadrant would be two-way D who perform well at both ends of the ice. The bottom right quadrant would be offensive D who excel at creating offense but are a liability in their own end. The top left quadrant are defensive D who limit chances on their own net but are less effective at generating offense. The bottom left quadrant are those who performed below replacement level and were not effective at either end of the ice.

Over the past four years there were five D who fall into the two-way D quadrant: Letang, Marino, Matheson, Dumoulin, and Pettersson. Riikola, Fedun, Ruhwedel, and Bigras are the defensive specialists while Friedman is an offensive D. Bartkowski, Joseph, and Reinke were below replacement level at both ends of the ice. Last year’s data Dumoulin and Pettersson joined Ruhwedel as defensive D, Letang and Riikola joined Friedman as offensive D, and Marino joined Bartkowski and Joseph performing below replacement level.

Production – Point Shares

Point shares is a goal based metric, but the major downside is that it uses plus/minus to calculate the defensive point shares, which unfortunately makes offensive D seem more defensively competent than they really are and underscores the ability of defensive D. It also is based on overall production rather than just even strength, so power play specialists get an additional boost while penalty killers are not rewarded for their talent. Lastly because it is based on the amount of points in the standing the player contributed to it does mean a really good player on a team with few wins doesn’t stand out as much as an average player leeching off a President’s Trophy candidate team. The x-axis offensive point shares, the further right the more goals their team scores. The y-axis is defensive point shares, the higher up the more a player outscores their opponents. The bubble size is overall point shares, with yellow bubbles telling us they are above average. The top right quadrant should be two-way D, but because of the plus/minus thing it really only tells us a player scores more than they give up. The bottom right are offensive D who are defensive liabilities. The top left are defensive specialists who lack the ability to contribute offensively. The bottom left are poor performers who got outworked at both ends of the ice.

Over the past four years Marino and Fedun were the two-way D; Letang, Friedman, Matheson, and Joseph are offensive D; Dumoulin, Pettersson, and Riikola are defensive D; and then Bartkowski, Ruhwedel, Reinke, and Bigras were ineffective at both ends of the ice. Last year on the other hand the two-way D would be Letang, Matheson, and Dumoulin. Ruhwedel and Pettersson are the defensive D while Friedman and Joseph are offensive D. That leaves Marino, Riikola, and Bartkowski as having performed poorly overall.

Depth Chart

1st Dumoulin-Letang

2nd Matheson-Marino

3rd Pettersson-Joseph

#7/8 Riikola-Ruhwedel

Based on TOI% the top 4 would obviously be Letang, Dumoulin, Matheson, and Marino and looking at that and zone starts, particularly during the 2020-21 season, and because of this we have a good idea of what the pairs should look like. It seems obvious that they will keep the top pairing of Dumoulin-Letang together as they have played together for a number of years and remain successful. However, a second pairing of Matheson-Marino could be problematic as they weren’t that great together and Marino was the worst D on the team last season. However, none of the rest of the D have much experience with Matheson, he mostly skated with Ceci last year, and the rest of the ones who skated significant minutes are not right-handed D so I’m not sure who is good at playing on their off-hand side. So they are hoping that last year was a fluke and that Marino will play more like he did during his rookie season, although it would be quite difficult to play as poorly as he had last year.

The 3rd pairing is a lot more difficult, it is obvious that Pettersson will be in the lineup but it may be difficult to decide who to pair him with. Based on TOI% the obvious partner would be Joseph, but the problem is that they both play on the left side, Joseph is used to more sheltered starts, and Joseph is still waiver exempt so it would make sense for him to return to the AHL. Ruhwedel has the most similar zone starts, and over a 4-year span Riikola is fairly similar as well, but neither of them have skated top 6 minutes only been used as as limited TOI fill-ins with sheltered minutes. Friedman should also but an option, he spent the entire season in the NHL last year, but the fact that he only played 9 games and when he was dressed only skated 11 minutes a night suggests he is destined to be waived to the AHL and would have been last year if doing so hadn’t meant that the Flyers could reclaim him. Bartkowski and Fedun can also both play on the right side but have even more sheltered starts and limited TOI so I’m not convinced either of them are a better option. My gut says to take a chance on Joseph and see if he has what it takes to be an NHL D this year, he could possibly even outperform Marino and move up to the Top 4, although with how terrible Pettersson-Marino was last year I am less than willing to reunite them.

PP1 Letang

PP2 Marino

PK1 Dumoulin-Marino

PK2 Matheson-Letang

Quite obviously Letang quarterbacks the top PP unit and has done so for years. The question is what to do with the 2nd unit. Based on the PP TOI%, both last year and the 4-year average, the most likely choice is Marino which as mentioned in my post on the 2021-22 forwards would give them a balance of two right-handed shots on each unit. Based on TOI the next option in line is Riikola so he would be dressed in games when one of the offensive D is out and get work on the 2nd PP unit when he is needed. However, Matheson also had a significant TOI% last year and over the past four seasons and both him and Pettersson are tertiary power play options that can be used when they want to have 2 D on the PP, which may well happen at the start of the season with both Crosby and Malkin out of the lineup for the first month or two. Matheson actually has solid PP numbers, better even than Marino, so using him on the 2nd unit may well be a good idea.

The top PK TOI% over the past four seasons would be the top 4: Dumoulin, Letang, Marino, and Matheson. However, last year Matheson barely skated shorthanded minutes and they used Letang less than they had in past seasons so its not out of the question that they would try to make is so they use all of their D in special teams roles and like forwards try to limit the number of players who play on both the PP and PK. Ruhwedel is the next in TOI%, so he would be dressed in games they need to replace a defensive D and would spend time on the PK. Bartkowski, if he is signed, is also a tertiary option on the PK, he played a good deal shorthanded last year. However, they may need to take a chance on giving Pettersson and Joseph more time on the PK so that they don’t have to overwork Letang. For now though based on TOI% we will presume it will be and overworked top 4 while the 3rd pairing is primarily used at ES.


Author: TKNoodle

I write about hockey, mostly focused on the Pittsburgh Penguins and Vegas Golden Knights. NHL, AHL (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Chicago Wolves), ECHL (Wheeling Nailers), and various prospects from my teams playing in Europe (SHL, Liiga, KHL, etc...), the Canadian Major Juniors (OHL, QMJHL, and WHL), and in the NCAA (and some in lower tier juniors prior to joining the NCAA).

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