Aaron Ekblad.....Leaps and Bounds! Part I Offense
Photo: Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire
On the heels of Auston Matthews being selected first overall, and last year’s #1 pick Connor McDavid coming off a great rookie season, what better time to examine the year over year development of Aaron Ekblad. He was the #1 pick two years ago and he has not disappointed.
In his first two NHL seasons Ekblad managed to put up impressive point totals. From 2014-15 to 2015-16, his goals increased from 12 to 15, his assists dropped from 27 to 21, and his points went from 39 to 36. These totals accumulated over 78 games as opposed 81 games played in 2014/15.
Ekblad’s point totals suggest he had two very similar offensive seasons, but that is far from the truth. His improvement was quite remarkable.
Note: The results below include both % change and rankings among NHL defensemen. Refer to the Defenseman Ranking Scale at the bottom for placement on the average NHL blueline.
On a play-by-play basis from the 14-15 to 15-16 seasons, Ekblad’s Offensive contribution almost doubled, causing a rise in league defenseman rankings from 104 to 33 (mid 4th D to a strong 2nd D). Contribution improvement can be driven by an increase in positive offense or a decrease in negative offense, or both.
In positive offense created in all situations, Ekblad improved 24.9%, rising from a ranking of 76 to 47. His positive offensive improvement consisted of a marginal increase, 9.7%, in Low Impact Positive Offensive Play ('good' off plays), and a strong 37.7% improvement in High Impact Positive Offensive Play ('great' off plays), moving his ranking from 54 to 28. The numbers confirm what Panther fans can see; that Ekblad creates offense like a first paring defensman and is driven to make those great offensive plays that lead to chances.
It is important to note; an increase in positive offense often comes with a increase in negative offense, especially when a player is inclined to make high impact offensive plays. These plays usually involve more risk, like carrying the puck longer, forcing a cross ice pass, or jumping into a rush with no coverage. Let's see how Ekblad fared.
In negative offense, or ‘cost of offense’ as we like to call it, he more than doubled his proficiency with a corresponding rise in ranking of 169 to 43. This huge improvement in managing the puck is a great indication of his ability to be a ‘responsible’ offensive defenseman…… some great offensive defensemen don’t possess the ‘responsible’ gene, but they are fun to watch! Behind Ekblad’s composure with the puck was a huge reduction in High Impact Negative Offensive Plays ('bad' off plays), from a ranking of 175 to 13, yes 13…. that’s moving from an unsettled rookie to a calm veteran very quickly. This improvement is even more remarkable considering he was able to increase positive offense at the same time.
Let's take a look at his year over year offensive proficiency in specific game situations: Offensive Zone Play (OZP), Rush Attack (RA), and Breakout (BO).
In OZP his score rose 17.6% with a ranking improvement of 54 to 30, and his proficiency on the Rush increased by a huge 114%, a 132 to 18 ranking rise. It gets better. His most impressive progress was made on the Breakout. It’s not unusual for young defensemen to struggle with the pressure, speed and active sticks of NHL forecheckers. Time and space shrinks and the risky breakout passes that worked at lower levels not only get picked off more often but also end up in your net more often. In his rookie season he was in the bottom 5% of league defensemen but his ability to adapt was obvious as his Breakout proficiency increased dramatically in 2015-16. His percent increase was massive and his ranking rose to 97th among NHL defensemen, placing him roughly in the 4th slot on the average blueline with respect to Breakout.
We can continue going deeper but the results are clear, Ekblad has some of the strongest offensive improvement numbers we've ever seen! Whether Ekblad can continue his rise to the Top 10 offensive neighborhoods and how much of that offense can translate into actual points requires deeper analysis, but a note to Aaron regarding his offensive development plan...."Don't change a thing!"
Defensemen Ranking Scale
|#1 D||#2 D||#3 D||#4 D||#5 D||#6 D|
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