How Does Jake Gardiner’s Rookie Season Compare to Other Elite Young Defensemen?

In just his third NHL season, Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson won the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman, beating out perennial all-stars Zdeno Chara and Shea Weber.  Karlsson is an elite offensive defenseman that was the 15th selection in the 2008 draft.  Only two picks later the Anaheim Ducks drafted defenseman Jake Gardiner out of Minnetonka High School.

Being drafted in the first round of the same draft is not the only similarity between the two players.  Both defensemen are elite level skaters that play with an extreme sense of poise and each player has great vision that makes them an offensive threat.  Given the similarities, it is understandable that Maple Leaf fans might think Gardiner could develop into a similar player to Karlsson.

When looking at a player like Gardiner it’s hard not to think about his potential; there is always the temptation to compare him to other players.  Although this can be a task in futility, I thought it would be interesting to look at Gardiner’s rookie numbers compared to defensemen with similar style, Karlsson, Keith Yandle, Kris Letang and Drew Doughty.  Each of these players are unique and have their own strengths, but they all share the common traits of being elite skaters and puck movers and they all have excellent poise with the puck.

GP

G

A

P

PIM

Plus-Minus

Jake Gardiner

75

7

23

30

18

-2

Erik Karlsson

60

5

21

26

24

-5

Keith Yandle

43

5

7

12

14

-12

Kris Letang

63

6

11

17

23

-1

Drew Doughty

81

6

21

27

56

-17

When looking at the basic stats above, Gardiner’s numbers are in line with Karlsson’s and more impressive than the other defensemen listed. These numbers can only tell us so much, so I also looked at some advanced metrics to try and put these numbers in context.

TOI/60 Corsi QoC Corsi QoT Off Zone Start % Corsi Rel QoC Corsi On Corsi Relative P/60
Jake Gardiner

17.11

-0.243

-2.85

56

-0.328

0.28

2.6

0.94

Erik Karlsson

15.83

-0.325

3.956

58.9

-0.179

9.92

7.6

0.95

Keith Yandle

11.9

-1.623

-1.65

56.3

-1.136

6.33

8.5

0.47

Kris Letang

14.19

-0.041

-0.032

51.1

-0.256

-8.66

1.7

0.47

Drew Doughty

16.24

0.036

0.083

52.8

0.955

-1.14

-3.6

0.36

Anyone who looks at these types of stats knows the name Gabe Desjardins.  He is the creator of behindthenet.ca, which happens to be the website where you can find all of these wonderful statistics.  Safe to say he knows a thing or two about advanced statistics and their application.

Desjardins has said that if he only had one stat to look at when analyzing a player he would use time on ice per game. Gardiner averaged the most five-on-five ice time per game (TOI/60) in his rookie campaign compared to the other defensemen in the group and he happened to have the third highest TOI/60 on the Maple Leafs last season.

Although Gardiner did play a lot of minutes five-on-five, he was doing it against lesser competition, which is evident by his negative Corsi Rel QoC (Corsi Rel QoC is a quality of competition metric using Corsi as the reference) and his high offensive zone start percentage.  However, this is to be expected with an offensive rookie defenseman.  Only Drew Doughty had a positive Corsi Rel QoC out of the group and all five of them started their shifts in the offensive zone more than 50 percent of the time.

Another important metric is a player’s Corsi number. Corsi is often used as a proxy for possession.  Gardiner had a positive Corsi, which indicates that he was carrying the play more often than not.  Although Gardiner’s Corsi number seems low compared to that of Erik Karlsson, he was actually ranked fifth on the Maple Leafs last year, which is what Karlsson ranked on the Senators as a rookie.  Corsi tends to be affected by the quality of your teammates.

It is fair to say that Gardiner’s rookie season compares favorably with these other elite young defensemen.  This is not to say that Gardiner will go on to have the success that these other players have had, but there is definitely some reason for optimism.  It will be interesting to see how Gardiner is used this season (if there is a season); whether Randy Carlyle will continue to shelter him defensively or use him against better competition. If he does, will Gardiner continue to push the play and create offense?

Advanced statistics courtesy of Behind the Net.

Follow Tony on Twitter: @TheDailyBites

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Tony Notarianni
Tony is an experienced freelance writer who covers the Toronto Maple Leafs for Maple Leafs Central and the NHL for Too Many Men On The Site. He loves to look at the numbers behind the game and hopes to bring a unique perspective to the site. Tony also runs a Food, Sports and Culture web site at http://www.wheretheathleteseat.com/ Follow Tony on Twitter: @TheDailyBites

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