Matt Niskanen’s second season as a Capital was pretty terrific. You want defense? Niskanen delivered. How about offense? Nisky checked that box, too. Even strength, shorthanded, man advantage–Niskanen is the hockey version of an all-you-can-eat buffet. He’s got it all.
|24.5||time on ice per game|
|52.0||5v5 shot-attempt percentage|
|57.8||5v5 goal percentage|
About this visualization: This series of charts made by Micah McCurdy of hockeyviz.com shows various metrics for the player over the course of the 2015-16 season. A short description of each chart:
Last season, Pat wrote that he wanted to see more from Niskanen. Perhaps Niskanen read his season review and/or downloaded the entire Pearl Jam discography, because he rose to the challenge. Barry Trotz increased Niskanen’s role in all situations this season, and I was not disappointed. I’d even say that he gave John Carlson some serious competition for the coveted title of the Caps’ No. 1 defenseman.
Niskanen was a positive possession player at 5v5, posting a 52-percent possession score. That number isn’t dazzling, per se, but hold onto your hats. Niskanen posted 32 points in 82 games, a slight increase from last season’s total of 31. His offensive output was second of all Caps defensemen (behind Carlson, who else?) But Niskanen really shone in his increased role on the Caps’ special teams. Niskanen’s power-play ice time more than doubled; this is likely due to the departure of former power-play fixture Mike Green, in addition to Carlson’s injury woes. We also saw an increase in Niskanen’s power-play production, up six points from the previous season. Boo-yah.
So Niskanen slayed on the power play–but what about the Caps’ penalty kill, which finished the season ranked second in the league? For starters, Niskanen played more minutes shorthanded (235 of them) than any other Capital. This was an increase from last season’s already substantial 187 minutes. While on the penalty kill and at even strength, Niskanen was among the Caps’ best at limiting opponents’ shots.
As the season wore on, Niskanen was a welcome constant as the Caps’ tides turned. The team’s blueliners faced some notable ups and downs: Dmitry Orlov occasionally struggled to find his place, Carlson missed 26 games due to injury, and Nate Schmidt was benched in favor of Mike Weber come playoff time. Yet, Niskanen was unwavering in his remarkable consistency at both ends of the ice.
Niskanen’s strong play furthered his reputation as a defensive stalwart and an integral part of the Caps’ defensive corps. He, like fellow American standouts John Carlson and TJ Oshie, earned a spot on Team USA for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey. I couldn’t have asked for more from Nisky this season–he’s a reliable, consistent defender who’s capable of the occasional flashy goal. For what it’s worth, he’ll turn 30 in December–and he’s locked up for the next five seasons.
What lies ahead for Niskanen? Given John Carlson’s recent struggles, is Nisky poised to cement himself as the Caps’ top defenseman? Furthermore, don’t you just wish we could clone Nisky and replace Brooks Orpik with the clone?
Read more: Japers’ Rink
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