Matt Niskanen has become one of the most consistent defenders in the entirety of the NHL and was the Capitals most dependable defenseman in all situations, at all strengths during the 2016-17 season.
|22:11||time on ice per game|
|56.1||5-on-5 shot-attempt percentage, adjusted|
|60.3||5-on-5 goal percentage, adjusted|
About this visualization: This series of charts made by Micah Blake McCurdy of hockeyviz.com shows various metrics for the player over the course of the 2016-17 season. A short description of each chart:
For my money, Matt Niskanen is the most underrated defenseman in the entire league. If his numbers from the 2016-17 season were to be put under names like Ryan McDonagh, Ryan Suter, Mark Giordano, Alex Pietrangelo, etc. they would continue to be touted as premium, number one defensemen. I don’t think Niskanen will get that credit nationally, but us Capitals fans know just how good #2 was for 82 plus games this season. I genuinely think that one of the players missing out the most on the NHL being idiots and not playing in the Olympics is Niskanen. He has hit his peak as an NHL defenseman, would have made Team USA by result and probably introduced his name to more hockey households not only nationally, but internationally as a stud top pairing NHL defenseman. Shame on you evil hockey overlords.
Moving onto some numbers and immediately we see that from a point standpoint (39), Niskanen just had his best output as a Washington Capital since signing in 2014. Niskanen’s 5-on-5 shot-attempt percentage (56.1) was also best among Capitals defensemen and only behind possession darlings Andre Burakovsky and Lars Eller overall. There are only two players out of the fourteen that Niskanen played 200 plus minutes with 5-on-5 this season that saw their possession numbers not improve when on the ice with #2. Those two being Jay Beagle and Daniel Winnik and the difference in numbers being so minuscule it’s almost irrelevant.
This is finally where I think we should bring Dmitry Orlov’s name into the discussion. Barry Trotz freeing Niskanen from Karl Alzner and putting him with Orlov was probably Trotz’ best coaching decision of the entire season. He created a bonafide shutdown top pairing that dominated game in and game out. The two played together a little over 750 minutes 5-on-5 and came out of the year controlling 56.3 percent of the shot attempts taken when they were on the ice and 61.7 percent of the goals. All things considered including those numbers, this pairing was arguably one of the three best in the entire league. Yes, that good.
In an offseason that should just be titled “Contract Hell”, one player that the Caps do not have to worry about is Niskanen. The deal he signed in 2014 where he’s making an annual average of $5.75 million until 2021 is going to look even more fantastic when we see the numbers some defensemen will be getting this summer and in the coming summers. This is a player that plays heavy minutes at even strength, on the power play and on the penalty kill and Caps general manager Brian MacLellan has him on a bargain deal.
The amount of times I can remember Niskanen having a “bad” game over the last couple years is about the same amount of times that the guy has smiled. Very few. Keep it up Nisky.
Is there really anything negative you can say about Niskanen’s time in DC so far? How does your initial reaction to his signing compare to how you think of him now?
Headline photo: Amanda Bowen
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