Analysis

Complementing Jacob Trouba

When the Rangers acquired Jacob Trouba on June 17th, two things were very evident. First, the Rangers managed to get high value out of Neal Pionk and a first-round pick. Second, Trouba immediately became the best defenseman on the NYR roster, without question. And while the latter point was further solidified with the buyout of Kevin Shattenkirk, one of my main wonders of the summer is how Trouba will perform with likely to-be partner, Brady Skjei. Skjei is clearly the best LHD on the NYR roster and has always been lauded for his skating ability, so the pairing seems natural, even if the chance for fireworks (read: high shots and chances both for and against) exists.

With that said, I wanted to look back at Trouba’s past partners to see if there was anything we can learn from it. Essentially, have there been any trends that has led to better or worse results for Trouba? Naturally the Jets of the past three to five years have been different from the Rangers, but given the limited options behind Skjei on LHD for NYR, it might be best to know who should be next up.

To start, let’s look at the 10,000 foot level and just see which years have been Trouba’s best.

Trouba has been consistently above average to good when it comes to his overall game (measured by Wins above Replacment/Goals above Replacement). That said, he’s yet to get to the real elite levels of the NHL (the dashed line above the 2.0 WAR) of being a standard deviation above the rest. This can be visualized another way by turning his WAR figures into percentiles.

Typically about 150-155 NHL defensemen per season play over 1,000 all-situations minutes. As I alluded to, Trouba has been consistently above average when it comes to being a high-TOI NHL-level defenseman, but he’s still not in that 80-90% plus range of being great or elite. The reason I bring this up is because it raises the importance of Trouba being paired with someone who can complement and support him, thus maximizing his play for NYR.

Trouba has played 88 percent of his NHL minutes at even strength with six defensive partners (ranked in order by shared TOI):

  1. Mark Stuart (2013-16) = 27%
  2. Josh Morrissey (2016-19) = 27%
  3. Dustin Byfuglien (2015-16) = 14%
  4. Tobias Enstrom (2016-17) = 12%
  5. Tyler Myers (2015-16) = 5%
  6. Nathan Beaulieu (2018-19) = 4%

Eyeballing his WAR charts, it certainly seems Trouba’s best all-around years (despite his 50 points last year) was the stretch between the fall of 2015 and the spring of 2018. Of course this tracks from the sense of Trouba moving towards his peak playing age (~25), but it is interesting because it was a transition period between Stuart and Morrissey, where he also spent sporadic time with Byfuglien and Enstrom (better-known names than Stuart and Morrissey). So what did the shots and expected goals look like, by partner?

It makes sense that when Trouba was trotted out with Byfuglien and Enstrom, two higher-end defenders in their own right, the pairs xG and Corsi shot up higher than his career averages. To me this starts to show that while Trouba is a fine defensemen on his own, when he’s paired with equal or better talent he can potentially find another level of play. So how do those percentage results break down into shots and chances for and against?

It’s worth pointing out right off the bat that Stuart was a lower-event partner compared to Morrissey. Not by much, but it could make a difference over time. The contrast between Byfuglien (known for his offense) and Enstrom (known for his defense/efficiency) is stark. It likely indicates Trouba can adapt to higher or lower event partners, which is good. Onto the expected goals:

Once again, Stuart and Morrissey are average partners where Trouba is likely driving the bus for the most part. Byfuglien helped create a dynamic offensive pair while Enstrom could help lock down a lead. Myers, meanwhile, tended to trade chances given his history of weak defense while Beaulieu seemed like a passenger akin to Stuart and Morrissey.

In the end, the Rangers do not have talents like Byfuglien or Enstrom to pair Trouba with, so this leaves us with Stuart and Morrissey to analyze. Stuart was historically a lower-event/quieter defenseman, while Morrissey helped create more offense with Trouba (which, makes sense, given that Stuart was in decline and Morrissey was on the rise). Skjei, generally speaking, has a been a higher-event NHL player in terms of shots and chances, both for and against. While this could be good for Trouba’s point totals (especially playing with NYR’s revamped top six), it might not be the absolute best for the team, even if it is the best choice as of this moment.

As you can see, no one from the NYR Defense really stands out as an overly-interesting option from Trouba. DeAngelo of course has the offensive pedigree thus far, so that could potentially create a lesser version of what was seen out of Byfuglien-Trouba (off-hand be damned!). This will make some people shudder, but I do think Brendan Smith could be an option in the vein of the results Trouba saw with Enstrom. Smith’s zone entry defense has not faltered despite his decline with NYR, so he would actually complement Trouba well in this sense. Libor Hajek could also follow this logic, however with a small sample of games last year before his injury, we don’t fully know what NYR has in him, yet. Finally, not to exclude anyone, I do not think Marc Staal should be an option whatsoever (press box, ideally), while there are also serious doubts that Ryan Lindgren is even a decent AHL’er.

When it’s all said and done, Trouba’s results in the NHL have come by the way of being paired with left-handed defensemen who I would describe as “stable.” Mark Stuart and Josh Morrissey are certainly fine NHL-level defensemen, but they were/are not great or elite players by any means. With the long-term signing of Trouba by NYR, the next major step will be finding a complementing partner for him that can maximize his value (and replace the hole left by Ryan McDonagh). While I hope the results with Skjei go well, I also think that given this year will likely be a non-playoff season, experimenting playing Trouba with players such as DeAngelo, Fox, Smith, and Hajek (assuming he’s in the NHL) should occur. We may not learn more about Trouba in those cases, but NYR can certainly learn more about the youth, which should be a serious part of any non-playoff year.

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20 Comments

  1. Skjei better start picking it up! and quick!

    starting to wonder….?!?!?!?!! traded Skjei and kept Shatty!!!!?????!?!?!

  2. again, what was gorton thinking with that BS contract? skating isn’t a be all end all, you also need puck skills and he doesn’t have a lot there. Sometimes you wonder what these execs are watching. I cringe when people call this the top pair bc at least half of it isn’t.

  3. “… while there are also serious doubts that Ryan Lindgren is even a decent AHL’er …”

    I don’t get the Lindgren hate.

    1. Lack of rabid support and even questioning potential is not hate. Hate on BSB is reserved for management, veterans, and other commenters (though I don’t think any particular commenter is attacked by a significant number of people)

      JFTR, my impression was that Lindgren was a more trusted defenseman in Hartford than Hajek, contrasting sharply with his abysmal short trial performance in NY. Sadly, even being the best Pack defenseman last year would not necessarily guarantee he was a decent AHLer.

      1. Questioning potential? Are you kidding? Suggesting he might not even be a “decent” AHLer pretty much borders on hate when he seems to actually be on the cusp of being an NHLer. I don’t think his 3 game audition last year was a disaster (not even close), especially given the circumstances — and his play so far in the preseason has actually been pretty good

        1. Hate is a very strong word and questioning ability in a polite fashion does not come close. The most it seems fair to accuse Rob of is hyperbole. Incidentally, what is pretty clear from the results about last season is that a number of Wolfpack players were not decent AHLers. I can’t firmly specify which ones with the information I have though some of us can fairly speculate. That speculation does not constitute hatred. Pointing out for example that Ranger signee Chris Nell (2017-2019) was a horrible goalie and a wasted signing is not hatred, just fact. And of course, he was actually an excellent tender – just not one who could play in a league as strong as the NHL or AHL, a pretty high bar in fact. He’d be awesome in a club game and might even be a decent ECHL goaltender.

          Not even decent at the AHL level is not the same as incapable of holding down a minimum wage job.

          In my view, the hatred on this site in recent memory has mostly been directed at Sather, AV, Girardi, Staal, Glass, perhaps Ruff. A few other enforcers have been derided, but they haven’t lasted as Tanner Glass did. Derek Stepan got some grief, but not to the extent of those I named. Hank has also gotten criticism, but there has not been real hate on BSB. The way that people like Dave react, that may not be true on other venues such as twitter.

          1. Chris Nell? This is the comparison you want to use? An undrafted free agent signing which was more for Hartford than the Rangers against a 2nd rounder that has actually played in the NHL and has looked pretty good in 2 camps in a row. This isn’t apples and oranges, this is apples and tree bark.

            1. What are you talking about? Who was comparing Chris Nell to Ryan Lindgren? I chose Nell for my example because IN HINDSIGHT, we can all agree on the wisdom of that signing. My point was that criticizing the ability of a player was not akin to hatred. It is simply making an observation, which is what fans do. And, observations are not hate just because you disagree with them. Nor are they hate just because they are wrong (as many will prove to be).

              Seriously, why would anyone hate Ryan Lindgren? Some may hate ADA because of his conduct and his politics (though frankly I have seen almost none of that here). Some may hate Staal because of his contract and his NMC. Some hated Glass because he was playing ahead of better players (in their opinion of course) and hurting the team. Some players get hated because of lack of effort. Lindgren is none of those things.

              Ryan Lindgren is a player who may or may not make it and is just the sort of asset who invites honest opinions. JFTR, my own primary metric of choice is coach’s trust. If a coach uses a guy in key situations, he is likely good. Of course, it is not foolproof (see Pionk, Neil). last year, Lindgren played first pair in Hartford, suggesting a good player. Sadly, the coach in question was clearly not good so the evidence is not as strong as it could be. But I am not personally running down Lindgren, just defending those who do, just as I would defend Walt, who believes Lindgren will be a major contributor.

              Oh, and Lindgren’s NHL stint was a statistically insignificant three games – but it was awful by all standards except the mother test.

          2. Oh and there are degrees of hyperbole, the greater the hyperbole the more the bias and the more it starts seeming emotional. Perhaps it isn’t HATRED, but it sure evidences dislike.

  4. I think it remains to be seen how it goes with Skjei and Trouba if they are paired. I am optimistic that Brady’s talents will now bloom with a pairing with another smooth skating and skilled defenseman. They might allow more chances than some top defensive pairs, but I suspect that they will generate a great deal of offense, especially if the forward group plays well.

  5. What I don’t get is piling on the accolades for anyone on our defense. Sure Trouba is the best we got, but that is not saying much about the rest. We really need to play better as a defensive unit, which just is not happening. After just 3 pre-season games, I see the same poor defensive style of play that we exhibited all of last year. Where is the improvement?

    DQ and the coaches need to concentrate on the defense. Lindy seems invisible.
    All the defenders need to not hang our goalies out to dry, because that is what is going on already. Tony D, Fox and Trouba seem to worry about the offensive side of defending, so who is concentrating on actually playing defense? – Staal? OMG!

    1. Accolades? Where did you see accolades in this post? Rob describes Trouble as above average to good, but not elite — and pretty much describes his partner options as unattractive. This post was far more likely to inspire thoughts of “why did we give him so much money?” than thoughts of “the Ranger defense is great now”

      1. Defined as a “compliment” – Second, Trouba immediately became the best defenseman on the NYR roster, without question. Is that meant to be a criticism or an accolade?

  6. First let me say excellent analysis Rob. It doesn’t matter in the least whether I agree or disagree with your conclusions. You presented all the information clearly and informed our judgment. Second, I generally agree with your conclusions.

    I do have two quibbles. The minor one is that one must also consider the other right defensemen. I suspect that we would prefer a low event defensemen to pair with DeAngelo for example to provide safety — and possibly Fox as well. So in the end, one might pair Trouba with the high event guy in order to use the low event guys elsewhere.

    The second concerns Marc Staal. Looking at your chart, it is quite clear that it is very unclear as to who is better – Skjei or Staal. Marc Staal will never again be the player Marc Staal once was. Sadly though, that level will also likely never be achieved by Brady Skjei (and perhaps not even by Trouba). Even in decline, it is simply not clear that Marc Staal is not the best left defenseman the Rangers have. The majority here view that thought as too sad to contemplate and so simply deny it.

    Personally, BTW, I would primarily use Trouba with Skjei BUT when I really felt the need for a shutdown pair, my present choice would be Staal-Trouba. Of course, I am factoring in a relatively small decline in Marc’s play from the recent past. A major decline changes the calculus completely.

    1. Agreed on your DeAngelo point about low-event. Honestly as much as we have no NHL data on Fox I’d probably feel more comfortable with him in a high-event pairing than DeAngelo at this point. We know Tony can play 3rd pair minutes and put up offense, and sometimes the known is the best option.

      Skjei needs a step-forward year, hands down. The fact he’s not separating himself from a fully-declined D-man like Staal says it all, at least for me. He will for sure have a chance to do so from night one with Trouba.

      To your last point: I’d still rather go Smith-Trouba for a shutdown pair. Smith, for all the snuff he gets (most of it rightly so), still has performed better than Staal the last few years.

  7. Thank you Rob for the analysis. The numbers are interesting and can be useful, but, they need to be viewed in context. Staal is an older, established player whose skills have been diminishing. Brendan Smith will never be better than he is, but he hasn’t been declining noticeably, yet. Brady Skjei, though around a while, is still learning some aspects of his own game. Tony DeAngelo is just beginning to find himself and improved greatly last season, but is still a work in progress. The stats on Hajek and Lindgren are almost useless because of their small sample size and because they are kids just getting their feet wet in the NHL. Fox is yet to play his first NHL although he has looked like he can step right in.

    Drawing conclusions from the charts is risky and I doubt Rob means to invest them with as much validity as some commenters might appear to say. Rightly, Rob says that experimenting with the pairings is probably a good way to go because of the youthfulness of some of the players.

  8. Can someone remind me again who the shutdown pair of the NY Ranger team is? Is Trouba part of it?

  9. I’ve been following hockey for close to 50 years but I don’t understand anything written in this article. I know “Analytics” are important in today’s NHL but this is a bit of overkill. All you “Stat” guys forget the main component of hockey. THE PLAYER IS HUMAN!!! How do you figure a guy like Brandon Lemieux presence. I’m sure you have a chart about him somewhere but he was brought in for his toughness. Do you think his teammates are counting on him to score? No! They just know that if someone messes with any of his teammates, that person will be held accountable.
    HOCKEY is way more about people then any statistic you can come up with.

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