Twelve games into the season, not much has gone as planned for the Caps. Among other factors, injuries to important players and struggles on home ice have the Caps at just eleven points, putting the team on the outside looking in on the Eastern Conference playoff race.
But there have also been bright spots. One such spot is Christian Djoos. Through nine career games, Djoos has shown he’s capable of holding down a full-time job in the NHL, which is remarkable for a team as thin on the blue line as the Caps.
The general scouting report on Djoos has been that he’s a solid but not necessarily flashy puck-mover with offensive upside, and that his lack of size could be an issue. There’s more nuance possible, but through nine games Djoos has pretty much lived up to this scouting report.
His vision and ability to move the puck, as well as his steady play (a.k.a. solid and sometimes not noticeable; he may not constantly wow you, but he also isn’t all that likely to frustrate you with a lot of ill-advised plays) have played a big part in Djoos leading all Caps defensemen in shot-attempt percentage. The team has performed well in both the offensive and defensive zone when Djoos is on the ice, as evidenced by the fact that the Caps take more and give up fewer shot attempts when he’s on the ice than any other defensemen on the team.
Djoos didn’t wait long to show off his vision in the offensive zone. In his first game with the team, he set up Alex Ovechkin with this beautiful pass. The poise here, from a guy in his first NHL game, should not go unnoticed.
— Washington🎃Capitals (@Capitals) October 12, 2017
Djoos has also been impressive in the defensive zone. As I said above, his steady but sometimes unnoticeable play has been a big reason why he’s been so reliable. For example, here’s Djoos in just his second NHL game, defending against Marcus Johansson attacking down the wing with speed.
While Djoos doesn’t completely halt the Devils’ attack, he does force a talented skater coming with speed to the outside, all without the benefit of a Caps forward putting pressure on Johansson from the backside. Johansson doesn’t get a shot off and doesn’t even bother with a potentially dangerous centering pass, largely because Djoos’ skating, as well as his body and stick positioning, are sound.
Plays like this are why Djoos has been one of the best players on the team at limiting opponent scoring chances when he’s on the ice.
On the Ovechkin goal above, Djoos’ vision and ability to move the puck in the offensive zone were on full display. But typically when we think of puck-moving defenders, we think of their ability to move the puck up the ice, out of the defensive zone. A player’s ability to make a quick, precise first pass out of the defensive zone is important in today’s NHL and Djoos has had many of these tape-to-tape passes in his first nine games.
But what’s also been impressive is his ability to know when not to force a pass or hold onto the puck too long waiting for an opportunity for that pass to open up. In the clip below, Djoos gathers the puck behind the net and realizes he has two Devils in pursuit. Seeing this, Djoos knows that if he can get the puck passed the two Devils players, TJ Oshie is likely to have time to settle the down the rim-around and move the attack up ice.
Again, this was not a dump out of the zone that just happened to work out for Djoos. He saw the play developing and made a decisive play that got the puck to TJ Oshie and moving up ice.
Djoos still has some work to do before he cements a job in the NHL. But thanks to a strong first nine games in which he’s show off many of the strengths we heard about before he arrived in DC, he’s well on his way to doing that.
Headline image: Cara Bahniuk
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