If there’s one silver lining among the New Jersey Devils defense, then it is Damon Severson. The 22-year old defender is in his third season with the team and I think the larger issues with the squad have overshadowed what he has done. It isn’t easy for a defenseman to really stand out without being exceptional. I imagine it is even harder on a bad team. But after taking a closer look at the player, Severson has developed into a better defenseman than he may get credit for. Let’s delve into what Severson has done so far with the Devils as the 2016-17 season winds down.
A few weeks back, I wrote about whether Jon Merrill has improved. In that post, I noted the following as a bit of background:
It was not that long ago that Jon Merrill was one of the young defensemen that led New Jersey Devils fans to be excited for the future of the blueline. The hope back as, say, 2012, was that Merrill, Adam Larsson, Alex Urbom, Eric Gelinas, and Damon Severson would form a solid defensive core. Now we know better. Gelinas proved to be only a shooter and was dealt. Urbom didn’t make it. Larsson became good, but he wasn’t the stud one hoped when he was drafted. At least he was worth enough to get Taylor Hall. Severson is still in progress.
Severson has been in progress as a player since this is his third NHL season and he’ll turn 23 in August. While defensemen do take a longer time to develop, it’s about by now that we can get an idea of what he’s about. Severson has played in Fortunately for the Devils, it’s something far more exciting than what Urbom, Gelinas, and Merrill have turned out to be. (And this is to say nothing about other defensive prospects of the past like Brandon Burlon, Reece Scarlett, Josh Jacobs, etc.) It does require looking at several stats – all pulled on March 18, so this doesn’t include yesterday’s loss to Columbus, which was a good game for Severson – to get it, but I assure you, it’s worth it.
First, let’s look at something the Devils defensemen really haven’t been so strong at: production. Severson is currently the Devils’ leader among defensemen in points with thirty. He’s also their leader in shots on net with 103 among defensemen. To put that in some more perspective, #2 in points is John Moore with seventeen and #2 in shots is Ben Lovejoy with 72. With respect to the whole team, Severson’s thirty points places him in a tie with Michael Cammalleri for fifth in points.
Severson has improved in his total points in each of his three seasons. In this season, Severson has been more productive on the power play and that has driven his total points up. Still, it’s a notable improvement as Severson played significant minutes on the power play as a rookie and a sophomore, but never generated much. Curiously, he really has not been much of a shooter on the man advantage. Twenty shots isn’t a lot. In fact, he’s never scored a power play goal in the NHL. Perhaps that will change soon. Still, he’s averaging close to 1.5 shots per game right now and 1.1 in 5-on-5 hockey. So he’s involved moreso than the other Devils defensemen, even if the majority of his points comes from assists.
All the same, some additional perspective shows that this season’s production is pretty good. At NHL.com and at Corsica, Severson’s total and 5-on-5 points places him in the top 50 defensemen in the NHL in those categories. OK, he’s on the lower end of each; he’s tied for 40th in total points and tied for 42nd in total points. For a not-so-successful shooter like Severson on a low-scoring team, that’s still notable to among other productive defenders. No, it’s not at an all-star level or to the point that it would make him a stud. But since that Severson has been involved in creating goals in both 5-on-5 and power play situations for the Devils, this suggests that a more potent offense would feature more points from Severson among others. If you want to see growth as an offensive defensemen, then Severson has the points and the shots already to show that in his third season.
5 on 5 Stats
5-on-5 is the most common situation in hockey. For a NHL player to be considered good, I strongly believe he needs to be good in this situation. Besides, Severson has not played enough on the penalty kill (a total of 23:37 so far this season, or an average of twenty seconds per game) to be concerned with that aspect of the game. And we already know that he’s been racking up assists but not shots and definitely not any goals on the power play. All the more reason to focus on what Severson has done in 5-on-5 hockey.
The Devils as a team are 47.22% in Corsi For percentage, which is near the worst in the NHL. So for Severson to beat that number is a good thing. In fact, only Yohann Auvitu has put up a better CF% than Severson. Among regular defenders, Severson has been the best for possession. Further, look at that relative Corsi For percentage (RelCF%) That’s the difference between the team’s CF% when Severson is on the ice compared to when he’s off the ice. For it to be positive means that Severson has had a positive effect when he plays in 5-on-5. And this season’s RelCF% is higher than the previous two seasons so he’s been a bigger factor for the team’s possession than before. It probably helps when he’s following Andy Greene (more on that later), but the point is that this shows that Severson has been positive factor.
Unfortunately for Severson, the good things in terms of Corsi hasn’t fully translated to shots against. His shots for percentage is still better than the team’s 47.18% SF%, but instead of flirting with the breakeven point, it’s still low. In other words, Severson has been out-shot. Worse, Severson’s SA/60 has risen. The mitigating factor is that relative SF% value. It’s still positive as it has been in previous seasons. Again, this means that when Severson is on the ice, the Devils improve in SF%. It’s not all because of Severson, but with three straight seasons of positive values, it’s hard to not think he’s a factor.
It is a bit concerning that Severson has faced a higher number of attempts and shots against. Let’s go a little deeper and look at chances and goals in 5-on-5 play.
After a somewhat rocky 2015-16, Severson has had his best season yet in terms of scoring chances – the most dangerous kinds of shooting attempts. While he’s still below 50%, Severson is second on the team among regulars throughout this season in SCF%. Only Andy Greene has been better in that percentage. However, it’s not because he’s allowing so few chances. In fact, Severson (and Greene) have two of the higher SCA/60 rates on the team (it’s better than 2015-16, though). But when Severson (and Greene) are out there, the team is generating more scoring …
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