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Going into the season, a lot of uncertainty surrounded the Devils group of defensemen. They lost Adam Larsson and David Schlemko and were replaced by the likes of Ben Lovejoy and Kyle Quincey, both of whom failed to have any significant impact in New Jersey. As a unit, the Devils defensemen gave up 244 goals, which was sixth-worst in the NHL and a contributing factor to Cory Schneider having the worst season of his career. Long story short, it was quite the rough year for New Jersey’s blue line.
Despite the group’s ineptitude, there were a couple of bright spots this year for the Devils defensemen and one of them would be Damon Severson, who finished the season with three goals and 31 points in 80 games to lead all Devils defensemen. New Jersey’s performance with him on the ice was better in many aspects of the game compared to when he was off the ice. The following table shows the Devils on-ice/off-ice performance with Damon Severson.
|Shot Attempts per 60||53.3||47.9|
|Shot Attempts Against per 60||52.3||55.6|
I went ahead and highlighted all of Severson’s best numbers in bold, most of which fall under the on-ice category. He was the Devils best defenseman in terms of possession (50.4%). They also generated more shot attempts per 60 minutes when he was on the ice. In addition to generating more, New Jersey also suppressed shots at a better rate when he was on the ice, as indicated by his shot attempts against per 60 minutes. The rest of his numbers are relatively close to each other from his expected goals down the rest of the table, but are mostly positive with the exception of his goals for percentage.
Another significant stat not listed in the table is Severson’s relative Corsi%, which indicates the difference in a team’s possession when a player is on the ice compared to off the ice. Severson finished with a +4.0 relative Corsi in 2016-17, which was seventh-best in the league for defensemen with 1000+ minutes, and better than notable blue liners such as Victor Hedman, Zach Werenski and Kevin Shattenkirk. That’s not to say Severson is better than any of them, but shows Severson did have a significant impact for the Devils when he was on the ice.
Severson’s even-strength scoring rates were quite solid, too. For the year, he finished averaging 0.80 points per 60 minutes. That may not seem like a lot, but it puts him ahead of players such as Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson for the 2016-17 season. Again, that’s not to say he’s better than any of those guys, but it shows he’s producing at the same or better rates as some of the big-name defensemen in the league, which is a positive thing for a defender who’s still only 22-years old.
I know a lot of detractors of Severson will look at his +/- rating of -30 and perceive him as a liability, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is the +/- statistic is an inaccurate portrayal of a player’s defensive ability. It’s a luck-based stat that doesn’t really tell you anything other than that you were on the ice for a goal against which you may’ve had nothing to do with. It may’ve told us something 15-20 years ago, but that’s because it was one of the limited stats available to analyze defensive performance.
The bottom line is Damon Severson had a pretty good year. He may not be a top-pair defenseman, but is trending in the right direction. He was certainly the Devils best defenseman in 2016-17 and at only 22-years old, there is still room for improvement. His numbers indicate he’d be a top four defenseman on most teams and he certainly is for the Devils. The key will be bringing in other defensemen around Severson to help the Devils blue line this summer. Add a couple of top-four defensemen and a scorer and all of a sudden, things may look pretty interesting for the Devils by the time the 2017-18 season rolls around.