Columnist image
Scott Cullen Analytics


Young defencemen stepping up, Mathieu Perreault is an efficient point producer; Pavelec, Bernier and more in Scott Cullen’s Statistically Speaking.

One of the biggest challenges for NHL teams is developing young defencemen, getting that player from being simply an NHL player to a contributor, especially in the top four, can make a big difference for the team.

But it’s not easy to make that jump. Sometimes players are thrust into that role even if they aren’t ready and the measurable results indicate that the player isn’t ready for that change in responsibility.

Looking around the NHL this season, here are some defencemen, aged 24 or under, who are not rookies and are handling a more significant role this year.  

Morgan Rielly – Already in his fifth NHL season, the 23-year-old Maple Leafs defenceman is playing less overall than he has in the past couple of seasons, but is getting more power play time and has been turned loose offensively, putting up 20 points in 31 games after finishing with 27 points in 76 games last season. He also has the best possession stats (51.8 CF%, +3.5 CFRel%) of his career.

Darnell Nurse – After taking a reduced role last season, Edmonton’s 22-year-old defenceman has been moved up to the Oilers’ first pair. Even though he’s playing 4:46 more per game, compared to last season, Nurse has held his own (57.1 CF%, +5.1 CFRel%), generating more shots (2.57 per game) and contributing more offensively.

Ivan Provorov – This is hardly unexpected, as the Flyers put their 2015 first-rounder into a big role as a rookie last season, but his ice time is up three minutes per game this season and the 20-year-old has increased his point production (14 in 29 games), shot generation (2.28 per game) and is starting even more shifts in the defensive zone.

Derrick Pouliot – A perennial prospect in Pittsburgh, the 23-year-old is finally getting a chance to play in Vancouver, and not only has Pouliot recorded a career-high 10 points in 28 games, and his ice time has been steadily increasing (over 20 minutes per game in the past 13 games). Even with relatively favourable deployment, Pouliot is pushing play (52.0 CF%, +5.1 CFRel%).

Brandon Montour – The 23-year-old Ducks defenceman had a strong showing last season, and hasn’t missed a beat this year, despite an increase in ice time of more than three minutes per game. He’s getting more shots (2.2 per game) and has put up 16 points (6 G, 10 A) in 30 games.

Noah Hanifin – Although he’s not playing much more than in his first two seasons, and still gets sheltered usage, Carolina’s 20-year-old blueliner has been more productive, tallying 15 points in 29 games, is generating more shots and has the best possession numbers (58.3 CF%, +5.1 CFRel%) of his career.

Joel Edmundson – St. Louis’ 24-year-old defenceman is up to nearly 20 minutes per game on the blueline and has increased his offensive productivity, putting up 12 points (6 G, 6 A), all at even strength, in 31 games.

Esa Lindell – Dallas’ 23-year-old blueliner isn’t playing an especially different role than he did as a rookie last season, but he’s been much more effective, going from poor relative Corsi (-3.2 CFRel%) to strong relative Corsi (+3.8 CFRel%), and he has 12 points in 31 games after finishing his rookie campaign with 18 points in 73 games.

Markus Nutivaara – Columbus’ 23-year-old defenceman has already exceeded the seven points in 66 games that he had last season, and while Nutivaara still plays less than 14 minutes per game, he’s pushing play the right way (53.6 CF%, +2.2 CFRel%) in a way that he did not as a rookie.

Adam Pelech – The 23-year-old Islanders defenceman has seen his ice time increase by a couple of minutes per game over his rookie season and he’s holding his own possession-wise despite starting more shifts in the defensive zone. Mix in a career-best 11 points in 26 games, and he’s quietly making a difference for the Isles.

Brady Skjei – Although he’s not scoring at the rate he did as a rookie, and continues to have his shifts tilted towards the offensive zone, the Rangers’ 23-year-old blueliner has seen his ice time increase nearly three minutes per game.

From Monday’s games…


Embedded Image
Mathieu Perreault has been an efficient point producer this season.

Mathieu Perreault – The Jets winger scored two goals and added an assist to pace the attack in a 5-1 win against Vancouver. He’s been stuck on the fourth line in Winnipeg, but he remains productive, one of the most efficient scorers in the league this year.



5-on-5 PTS/60 LEADERS (MIN. 100 MINUTES)

Jaden Schwartz St. Louis LW 401:09 25 3.74
Mathieu Perreault Winnipeg LW 177:37 11 3.72
Jakub Voracek Philadelphia RW 420:37 24 3.42
Steven Stamkos Tampa Bay C 403:34 22 3.27
Brayden Schenn St. Louis C 427:07 23 3.23
Nikita Kucherov Tampa Bay RW 450:34 24 3.20
Brad Marchand Boston LW 269:12 14 3.12
Adrian Kempe Los Angeles C 321:58 16 2.98
Mathew Barzal N.Y. Islanders C 369:27 18 2.92
Claude Giroux Philadelphia LW 425:18 20 2.82

Ondrej Pavelec – The Rangers netminder had 44 saves on 45 shots in a 2-1 shootout loss vs. Dallas. He has a .914 save percentage in eight appearances for the Blueshirts this season, a save percentage he’s exceeded once in his career (.920 in 2014-2015).

Jonathan Bernier – Colorado’s goaltender turned away 39 of 40 shots in a 2-1 win at Pittsburgh; he had a .886 save percentage in his previous nine games.


Jimmy Vesey, Boo Nieves, Paul Carey – The Rangers’ fourth line was buried (2 for, 16 against, 11.1 CF%, 1-6 scoring chances) in a 2-1 shootout loss against Dallas.

Carl Soderberg – The Avalanche centre was stuck in his own end (5 for, 25 against, 16.7 CF%, 2-14 scoring chances) for much of the night in a 2-1 win at Pittsburgh.

Haydn Fleury – Carolina’s rookie blueliner had a tough night, and was on the ice for all three goals against in a 3-2 loss at Anaheim.

Braden Holtby – Washington’s goaltender allowed three goals on a dozen shots before getting pulled in a 3-1 loss at the Islanders. He had a .926 save percentage in his previous six starts.

Jacob Markstrom – The Vancouver netminder surrendered five goals on 24 shots in a 5-1 loss at Winnipeg. He has a .904 save percentage in his past dozen starts.


Ryan Getzlaf – Anaheim’s star centre returned to the lineup against Carolina, his first game since October 29.

Jakob Silfverberg – The Ducks winger returned to action for his first game since November 29, out with an upper-body injury.

Corey Perry – By rule, though, any favourable injury news for Anaheim this season must be countered, and Anaheim’s veteran winger suffered a lower-body injury against Carolina.

Alexander Kerfoot – Colorado’s rookie winger suffered a lower-body injury at Pittsburgh and was forced to leave the game.

Dominik Simon – The 23-year-old centre was called up from the AHL, where he had 16 points in 20 games, over the weekend and he’s contributed two assists in two games for the Penguins.


Hurricanes D Trevor van Riemsdyk had a couple of assists in a 3-2 loss at Anaheim; he had four assists in his first 25 games…Ducks RW Logan Shaw produced a goal and an assist in a 3-2 win against Carolina. He had one assist in his previous 20 games…Stars D Esa Lindell had a stellar showing (33 for, 8 against, 80.5 CF%, 19-4 scoring chances) at the Rangers…Capitals rookie RW Jakub Vrana had solid possession numbers (12 for, 3 against, 80.0 CF%, 7-2 scoring chances) in a 3-1 loss at the Islanders…Skating on the fourth line, Penguins LW Carl Hagelin had a strong game (10 for, 1 against, 90.9 CF%, 7-1 scoring chances) in a 2-1 loss to Colorado.

Panthers G James Reimer had 34 saves on 35 shots in a 2-1 overtime win at Detroit. He had a .867 save percentage in his previous nine games…Islanders G Jaroslav Halak stopped 31 of 32 shots in a 3-1 win against Washington, giving him a .929 save percentage in his past seven games.


Andy Welinski – Drafted by the Ducks in the third round in 2011, the 24-year-old made his NHL debut for the Ducks, and recorded an assist, in a 3-2 win against Carolina. The right-shot defenceman had 17 points (6 G, 11 A) in 21 AHL games before getting promoted.

Many of the advanced stats used here come from Natural Stat TrickCorsica and Hockey Reference.

Scott Cullen can be reached at