Nick Leddy is the most important player on the New York Islanders. At least, from a puck-possession standpoint.
Leddy is far and away the Islanders player who best exemplifies the club's new-found puck-control mentality; as he goes, so go the Isles' Corsis and Fenwicks and controlled zone entries and score-adjusted metrics.
Yes, there are guys like Johnny Boychuk and Anders Lee and Ryan Strome and oh yeah, John Tavares, all of whom are also putting up the kind of positive shot attempt differentials that are buttressing the Islanders' resurgence this season. But Leddy has been absolutely dominant in the shot attempt department: both in recording shot attempts for and suppressing shot attempts against.
Which is exactly what you want from a top-pair defenseman if you're building an NHL team today.
We know that shot differential is a strong indicator of a team's future performance, which means players like Leddy are finding themselves more in demand than ever before. That's not to say that puck possession didn't matter before 2008, when Corsi and Fenwick were added to the hockey lexicon—it's only that people are now more acutely aware of how important puck possession is. Leddy is the prototypical "new" NHL defensemen because he can play 20-plus minutes a night and drive the bus, so to speak.
Leddy is no passenger. Not by a long shot.
Leddy's Corsi and Fenwick numbers are off the charts. Almost literally.
In 5-on-5 close situations—when the score is within one goal in the first or second period, or tied in the third—Leddy has recorded some of the best possession numbers of any player on the Islanders. His shot differential rates are well above the 50-percent mark (read: break-even point), meaning when he's on the ice, the Islanders are dominating the puck possession battle.
When Leddy's on the bench, the team's possession stats take a hit, as evidenced by his ridiculous relative possession rates.
His 57.90 Corsi for percentage (CF%) ranks second on the team behind Lee, a player who averages eight fewer minutes of ice time per game than Leddy. Leddy's 6.18 Corsi for percentage relative to when he's not on the ice (CF% Rel) is good for first place on the team. What's more, his 59.30 Fenwick for percentage (FF%) and 5.43 relative Fenwick (FF% Rel) are good for third and second places, respectively.
Remember: we're talking about a defenseman here, not a forward. We'd expect guys on first or second NHL lines to be posting these kinds of numbers, not D-men who are responsible for securing the back end. Then again, Leddy tends to break the mold when it comes to what blueliners should and shouldn't be able to do.
For fun, let's compare his 5-on-5 close Fenwick numbers (on-ice and relative) to some of the NHL's big-name defensemen:
Fenwick for percentage, relative rates (FF% Rel)
A quick glance tells us that Leddy is having what the analytics community would call "a monster possession year." (Note: analytical terminology unconfirmed, but probably pretty close.) The only player within range of Leddy is Chicago's Duncan Keith.
Yes, the same Duncan Keith who won the 2014 Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman. That Duncan Keith.
worlds neutral zone traps
Not only is Leddy driving possession for the Islanders by out-attempting his opponents and denying those same opponents the ability to record shot attempts of their own, but he's among the best in the league (certainly on the team) when it comes to controlled zone entries.
If you haven't read Garik's game-by-game neutral zone tracking posts—or his 34-game summary post here—take the time to do so. What Garik has charted and what we've all seen is that Leddy is fantastic at gaining entry to the offensive zone with possession of the puck.
Instead of dumping the puck in and having to chase it into the corner, more often than not Leddy elects to carry the puck across the blue line or make a controlled pass to a teammate. And not only does he elect to do it, but he finds room on the ice to make the actual play. (Which is always easier said than done.)
This allows the Islanders to retain control of the puck and ultimately generate more shot attempts per offensive zone trip.
Since controlled zone entries lead to roughly twice as many shot attempts as dump-ins do, they're obviously preferable to chip-and-chase plays—sorry, Butchie. Having a defenseman like Leddy, who's able to generate offense simply by skating up ice and keeping his head when he reaches the blue line, is a benefit to the Isles that can't be overstated.
Leddy's controlled entry rate of 59 percent is, as Garik puts it, "[P]retty good for a forward, but is absolutely elite for a D Man."
All this to say: the days of the lumbering, crease-clearing, traditional defenseman are numbered.
Much like how goons are being phased out of the league because their roles as enforcers are all but extinct, slow defensemen who can't skate won't have a place in the NHL much longer. The game is too fast and too intricate nowadays.
As a result, teams have shifted toward relying on quick, mobile blueliners who have good vision, a strong first pass out of the D-zone, and the ability to activate and join the rush.
You know, guys like Nick Leddy.
(Corsi and Fenwick stats courtesy of NaturalStatTrick)