I’ve been thinking about writing a fan post on the Islanders’ prospect depth charts for a few weeks. After the Islanders drafted an unprecedented seven defensemen in a draft exceptionally weak at the forward position, I decided to focus on the Dmen and revisit some of my old fan posts.
This post was particularly influenced by a fan post I wrote early March 2011, “Next Years' Defensive Pairings: Snow's Defensive Rebuild Master Plan?” It is a fascinating read of many of our frequent posters’ views last offseason on the state of the franchise’s D.
In this updated fan post, I’ve provided definitions for each of the three defensive pairing units, plus two prospect depth charts for your analysis, followed by my analysis. The first list is based on projected potential per pairings, while the second list is based on each prospect meeting their ceiling.
In plain language, the former list is both the projected ceiling and basement per prospect, meaning a prospect’s name can appear in more than one projected pairing, while the latter lists each prospect in one pairing only, where they are most likely to be as Islander Dmen if they pan out.
Definition of Pairings
I am a hockey traditionalist by nature, and I use the traditional definitions. In its simplest terms, a 1st pairing D unit is the one that a coach deploys in all situations. It is the pairing you’d like on the ice all the time if possible. 1st pairing averages 24 minutes or more per game, and receive heavy zone starts in both the offensive and defensive zones. It is important to note that you do not necessarily have to have a superstar defenseman to have an elite 1st pairing, although that is obviously a coveted weapon for a coach to have at their disposal.
This is best demonstrated by reviewing advanced stats. A surprise to the average fan that does not follow either of the Columbus Blue Jackets (Nikita Nikitin and Fedor Tyutin) or the Rangers (Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi), both those clubs iced an elite 1st pairing D minus the superstar.
Second pairing is traditionally an offensive unit. This pairing is the unit that sees primarily offensive and neutral zone starts, plus PP time. This unit, traditionally, would rarely see defensive zone starts. Depending on the team’s depth, this is where teams will sometimes “hide” or “shelter” an offensive specialist who is a defensive risk.
Not everyone can afford Brian Campbell, arguably one of the best 2nd pairing Dmen in the NHL. Depending on the team, some will ice two offensive defensemen, while others will have one who is more defensively oriented, but skates well and makes the coveted outlet pass, if they can do it on the fly, that is a major plus. An elite second pairing generally excels in the neutral zone as well as the offensive zone, causing turnovers, puck possession and zone coverage.
3rd Pairing sees primarily defensive zone starts and PK time. They average about 16-18 minutes per game. They are not expected to produce offensively, but whatever they provide is gravy. In the new NHL, you can no longer hide slow skaters on your third pairing.
Also, since rule changes have literally changed the defensive zone job description for Dmen (players were once required to physically clear the crease using your stick in front of you with two hands and pushing opposing players away), positional defense has taken on a greater role. Size does matter in the NHL, although not every player has to have size, a balance is needed to win.3rd pairing D is a role where size can be an advantage, particularly in the playoffs, where the better teams tend to have larger forwards.
As previously stated, skating is a prerequisite in the new NHL, as is positional D and the ability to make that first pass, block shots, particularly in the shooting lanes. If you have two large, physical 3rd pairing D with all the above skills, the goalies will be very happy.
Prospect Depth Chart: Ranking Defensemen Based on Projected Potential Per Pairings
Left D Right D
Griffin Reinhart 6’4 207 (2012/1-4) *Travis Hamonic 6’2 208 (2008/2-53)
Calvin DeHaan 6’1 189 (2012/1-12) Scott Mayfield 6’4 203 (2011/2-34)
Griffin Reinhart Scott Mayfield
Calvin de Haan Ville Pokka 6’0 196 (2012/2-34)
Aaron Ness 5’10 170 (2008/2-40) Brendan Kichton 5’10 175 (2011/5-127)
Andrey Pedan 6’4 201 (2011/3-63) Jesse Graham 5’11 170 (2012/6-155)
Jake Bishchoff 6’0 178 (2012/7-185)
Adam Pelech 6’2 210 (2012/3-65) Scott Mayfield
Andrey Pedan Robbie Russo
Doyle Somerby 6’5 220 (2012/5-125) Loic Leduc 6’6 194 (2012/4-103)
*-Hamonic is the only D prospect drafted in the rebuild who's a proven NHL commodity.
**-Matt Donovan is a left shot who has had success playing the right side.
Projections Based On Each Prospect Meeting Their Ceiling
1st Pairings (Left D, Right D)
Griffin Reinhart, Travis Hamonic
Matt Donovan, Scott Mayfield
Calvin DeHaan, Ville Pokka
Aaron Ness, Robbie Russo
Andrey Pedan, Brendan Kichton
Jake Bishoff, Jesse Graham
Adam Pelech, Loic LeDuc
Deep in quality and quantity. Has a mix of everything. While there is no guarantee any prospect will pan out, on paper at least the Isles Defense Prospect Chart is loaded in all pairings and roles. I like the fact that the team has stockpiled insurance players, preparing for inevitable busts, which we know statistically the team must be prepared to weather. Statistically, 50% of NHLers were drafted in the first two rounds or top 60. Recently, some have calculated 4-7 round picks as having a 10% chance of producing an NHL player [namely LHH’s DpsKnee and vallay]. These are important facts when viewing the names on the Isles depth chart per position.
Travis Hamonic is the only proven player out of the 15 Dmen drafted from 2008 to 2012 ranked within. Reinhart is a solid prospect but still requires development. If he pans out as a legit 1st pairing left D, the Isles will be in an enviable position. Reinhart and Hamonic will not be an easy 1st pairing for opposing forwards to play against in any zone. De Haan and Mayfield both have ceilings that could be first pairing, but de Haan has had his development delayed by injuries, while Mayfield, who had a very success year development wise, is much closer to being a legit 3rd pairing D than a first. If Mayfield pans out, he probably starts as a 3rd pairing, and maybe in time gets promoted as his play improves. If Mayfield is NHL ready in two to three years, he’ll be on schedule.
The second pairing obviously is the pairing with the most depth. If a prospect with a projected ceiling of 1st pairing doesn’t pan-out as such, they may very well make the show as a second pairing. This is where I see DeHaan landing, if he can stay healthy. With DeHaan’s skating and saucer passes, and his ability to actually play defensively, I see DeHaan as an ideal 2nd pairing with high potential.
The other prospect I see as an ideal 2nd pairing is Donovan, a PP specialist with a hard shot. Isles need goals from the point, and if Donovan pans out, PP time and offensive zone starts should give Donovan favourable minutes for the Isles to maximize his assets. Of course Pedan and Mayfield would be ideal 2nd pairing D if they panned out as well, given their size and physical play. By contrast, Russo is a more defensive puck mover with less of an offensive ceiling, but smallish. Russo, however, should not be underestimated. He plays a very good positional game. If I were betting on the long-shot prospects drafted in rounds 4 through 7, I’d bet Russo makes the show some day.
Kichton and Jesse Graham are both smallish, fleet-footed offensive puck movers who have put up points in the CHL. Graham played with Strome in Niagara, while Kichton was one of the top Dmen point producers during his tenure in the WHL. I confess I do not know much about Ville Pokka or Jake Bishchoff yet, as I haven’t watched either play. Bob Mackenzie ranked Pokka 31st so he wasn’t an off the radar pick. His stats are very good playing against his own age group, while predictably nothing to write home about while playing against men. Pedan, Mayfield and Russo, if any of the three do not pan out as 2nd pairing, could very well be successful NHL 3rd pairing Dmen.
The Islanders drafted three large Dmen late in the 2012 draft that project as 3rd pairing D. Adam Pelech, Doyle Somerby and Loic Leduc. If you look closely, the reader will notice that I’ve ranked Pelech ahead of Pedan for 3rd pairing left D, even though Pedan has a ceiling as a 2nd pairing. The reason is simple: Pelech is one of the smartest Junior hockey Dmen, while Pedan, obviously better offensively, takes a lot of bad penalties. Pelech was a very solid pick by the Isles in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft. He has to correct some issues with skating, which is why he dropped to the 3rd round in a draft deep in D. But if we’re being honest, all prospects by the 2nd round or earlier have flaws to their game, or they would have been drafted earlier. If Pelech can correct his skating, he will never put up the points, but he does everything else in the defensive zone at a high level. He’s physical, block shots and is rarely out of position.
Doyle Somerby is huge, just huge, second largest prospect in the 2012 draft. He’s a converted forward, which explains his fluid skating. I really like rolling the dice with a low pick on a prospect like Somerby. If he pans out, what Islander fan wouldn’t love him on their 3rd pairing? At worst, he might be moved back to forward and make the NHL as a goon, but obviously the hope is for a lot more.
Loic Leduc is built like Chris Pronger in his draft year, only Leduc (194 pounds) isn’t as scrawny of a 6/6er as Pronger was and Pronger obviously had far more upside. Leduc is a project, no question about that, but again, worth gambling a late pick on a player with his upside. The Isles scouts have done well in late rounds, they’ve earned my respect in that right. It will be interested watching this chapter unfold in the rebuild.