Friday, May 23, 2008

What To Expect From Alzner In 2008-09

Now that Karl Alzner is signed, the question on everybody's mind is how much of an impact can he make for the Caps next year? Vogs takes a look at the recent history of rookie blueliners, noting the following (links added):
Last season, five rookie defensemen played in 70 or more NHL games while averaging 20 or more minutes per night: Atlanta’s Tobias Enstrom (24:28), Edmonton’s Tom Gilbert (22:11), Los Angeles’ Jack Johnson (21:41), Vancouver’s Alexander Edler and Dallas’ Matt Niskanen. All five of those defensemen were older last season than Alzner will be in 2009-10. All five also took different developmental routes to the NHL than Alzner has to date.

Enstrom and Edler are both European, although Edler did play junior hockey in the CHL. Gilbert, Johnson and Niskanen came through the U.S. collegiate ranks. Enstrom and Johnson are the only two of the five who bypassed the minors en route to the NHL.

In 2006-07, San Jose’s Marc-Edouard Vlasic was the only rookie NHL defenseman who played in more than 70 games while averaging 20 or more minutes per game. Vlasic was several months younger than Alzner will be during his rookie season. He skated an average of 22:11 for the Sharks as a first-year NHLer.

In the season immediately after the lockout, five rookie rearguards skated an average of more than 20 minutes a night over 70 or more regular season contests: Chicago’s Duncan Keith (23:45), Anaheim’s Francois Beauchemin (23:09), Phoenix’s Zbynek Michalek (22:49), Calgary’s Dion Phaneuf (21:43) and the Rangers’ Fedor Tyutin (20:33). [Note: Pittsburgh's Ryan Whitney played 68 games and averaged 23:49 per contest, Chicago's Brent Seabrook played 69 games and averaged 20:01 per, and Phoenix's Keith Ballard played 82 games and averaged 19:58 per game.]

Among the members of the class of 2005-06, only Phaneuf made the jump straight from junior hockey to the NHL as Vlasic did and as Alzner will be attempting to do.
That's 13 blueliners in the last three years who have hit the 70/20 split (including the three guys I tacked on that just missed). Out of how many, you ask? I'll keep it simple and only include rearguards that played 26 games in their "rookie" season (since that would, more or less, make them Calder ineligible for the following year), giving us... 79. So since the lockout, just over 16% of rookie defensemen who played 26 games played in 68 or more and got 19:58 minutes or more per game.

But do the Caps need Alzner to step in and play 70 games and 20 minutes a night? They had three guys do it last year - Mike Green, Tom Poti and Shaone Morrisonn - and will surely hope that that trio repeats that feat (and perhaps is joined by Jeff Schultz, who was 72/18:05 in 2007-08). More likely, should he make the team, the Caps will need 15-18 minutes per night out of Alzner - the same amount (and in some cases, the same minutes) that guys like John Erskine, Milan Jurcina and Schultz averaged last year.

Relaxing the requirements to include rookie blueliners over the past three seasons who stepped in and played 68 games and 15 or more minutes a night opens the field up a bit. Last year, for example, it adds Marc Staal (80/18:58) and Erik Johnson (69/18:11) to the list, in 2006-07 it brings in Ladislav Smid (77/19:14), Ian White (76/18:31), Johnny Oduya (76/18:30), Matt Carle (77/18:08), Lasse Kukkonen (74/17:06) and Mike Green (70/15:29), and in 2005-06 we add Chris Campoli (80/18:32), Andrej Meszaros (82/18:10), Ryan Suter (71/17:21) and Paul Ranger (76/17:07). Updating the percentage, then, since the lockout, just under 32% of rookie defensemen who played in 26 games played in 68 or more and got 15 minutes or more per game.

All of this is just a long-winded way of saying that, based on these stats (which don't take into account things like "talent" or "potential"), if Alzner plays in 26 games, he's got about a 1-in-3 chance of sticking and being able to do what's likely to be asked of him, at least from a games and minutes standpoint. That number includes players who were mid-season call-ups who obviously didn't get a chance to play in 68 games, so the "1-in-3" is a little misleadingly low (Rink Intern - figure out what percentage of players broke camp with the team and played 68 games), so the next question is "will he make the team?"

Of the 65 defensemen taken in the 2006 Entry Draft, three played in 2007-08, with only Erik Johnson playing more than 16 games. In 2005, 85 blueliners were drafted and so far 18 have made their NHL debuts, nine of whom have played more than 40 games. And in 2004, there were 87 defensemen taken, 22 of whom have seen NHL action and only 11 of whom have played 40 NHL games. Boil that all down and you have 237 defensemen drafted between 2004 and 2006, 18.1% of whom have gotten into an NHL game and 8.9% who have played in more than 40 games.

But many of those guys will never see an NHL game without buying a ticket, so let's look at the guys with the pedigrees - the first rounders. Four of 2004's nine first round defensemen have played more than 40 NHL games, three of 2005's 12 have, and one of 2006's nine has. That's 8-for-30 (27%) of blueliners drafted in the first round between 2004 and 2006 who have played 40 NHL games. That number goes up to 57% when you look only at top ten picks, but the point is, you've heard that defensemen take longer to develop. Believe it.

So if Alzner does make the Caps this year and plays in 70 games, what kind of numbers can we expect? Looking at some recent top ten picks who skipped the AHL, Phaneuf (9th overall, 2003) went from the WHL to the NHL and debuted with an 82-game/20-goal/29-assist season, Jack Johnson (3rd overall, 2005) went straight from the University of Michigan to the NHL and had a 74-game/3-goal/8-assist season for the Kings last year, and Erik Johnson (1st overall, 2006) went straight from the University of Minnesota to the show and had a 69-game/5-goal/28-assist season last year.

The bottom line (and if you're still reading, you probably need a hobby) is that making the jump from defensive prospect to NHLer often - but not always - takes some time. We've heard that Karl Alzner is NHL-ready, and there's little reason to doubt that. And if he does make the Caps in the Fall (and there are external-to-Alzner factors at play here, such as Brian Pothier's health, Steve Eminger's status vis a vis chez bow-wow, Milan Jurcina's lack of development, etc.), there's no reason to think he won't be able to contribute... how does 71 games, 3 goals, 14 assists and 16 minutes a night sound? Sounds realistic to me.


b.orr4 said...

It may come down to Pothier's health, or lack thereof. If Brian somehow manages to make it back, then there might not be enough room/minutes to make it worthwhile for Karl to stay in DC. The last thing you want to do is stunt his growth by only playing him every third game. But if Pothier, as expected, doesn't get healthy then the spot could be Alzner's for the taking. From everything I've heard coming from McPhee, it certainly appears the Caps really wants him to make big squad. And, from everything I've read and heard, he has the potential and temperment to be one of those few to make the direct jump from juniors to the NHL. I just don't want us to be saying in three years how he was rushed like Eminger.

Ogre said...

Add another stat to what I want from him - his quotes. Unless Ovechkin demands it, the way this kid talks, I wouldn't mind if in 4-5 years he became Captain. He's hilarious.


1) Nice synopsis(Slow Friday at work? LOL Agree that Alzner wont have nearly the kind of pressure to play 'big minutes' that he might if he were coming to a 'rebuilding'(crappy) team
2) It sounds a spot on the NHL roster is his to lose. If he makes the team the smart move would be to ease him slowly into more and more situations/time like the Rangers did with Marc Staal this past season. By season's end he was one of their more reliable defensemen.

Ogre said...

JP, would you care too terribly much if I presented a roller hockey playing opportunity to some of the other readers of your blog, or is that "out of line?" Charities are involved.

JP said...

By all means - fire away. Any post is really an open thread (as long as what you're posting is within reason).

Ogre said...

Thanks JP.

Long and short is this - a charity roller hockey tournament in Winchester VA at the Sportsplex, as it's called. A decent roller hockey arena, it's where the VA Wings play. It would be on May 31st.

A few friends and I are building a team (It's Ironman style, 4v4 with a goalie) and we've got 3 skaters and one goalie (Who played minor leagues with Pothier, actually).

So, we need 3 more skaters. At least, one more skater.

The entry fee is $50, and it goes to some charity that our captain made it sound like to me was for some VA Tech fund.

Our team colors will be red/white, and we're just likely wearing blank t-shirts unless they demand numbers, and then we're apt to sharpie them on. So, basically bringing a red shirt and a white shirt.

The equipment required is leg pads, cup, helmet+full face shield, elbow pads, gloves, skates, yadda yadda.

For more details you can talk to me at AIM Whitermage or here, or email me at

Two of our current skaters are already posters on this blog, myself being one of them~

JR said...

If you're good enough, it's easier to jump in at defense when you're a young player, simply because you're allowed to be one-dimensional.

So much of the NHL game, especially on defense, is intelligence. Alzner has this in spades. I think JPs prediction is pretty good. He'll take 2-3 years to develop his offensive skills but that doesn't mean he can't be out there 20 minutes a night keeping the net clear.

~Mark said...

I expect Alzner will be in the Phaneuf/E. Johnson class as far as ability to transition (basically) seamlessly. Since Phaneuf is a different player than Alzner, I certainly expect lower point totals for Alzner, but no one expects him to contribute big numbers (maybe ever).
If we were to get a dependable SAH d-man who rarely coughs up the puck, makes smart plays, and can kill PPs, than we are a better team. I utterly expect Alzner here from hereon out.

breed16 said...

I'm not sure Eminger was rushed so much as he was "Hanlon-ized." Being forced to be a mindless defensive drone on a crappy team can certainly stunt development. I don't see that problem happening to Alzner under Boudreau's aggressive tactics and our generally improved squad.

I hope he makes the team and ideally you put him with Poti. Much like Shultz this past year, the rookie could benefit from a sound positional partner and veteran guide. Shultz can pair up with Eminger on the third pairing. That sounds good. Almost as good as the ice cream cone I just ate. HOORAY MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND!

bill ball said...

I didn't love Hanlon's system (It worked ok with a squad of grinders in 05-06), but I think lack of quality veterans on the blue line hurt guys like Emmy most of all. Lest we forget, Eminger wasn't looking too bad until Witt left town. Management replaced Witt with a revolving door of journeymen-du-jour. A Heward type could lead from the bench, but the game had mostly passed him by on the ice. Pothier was misjudged as a 2 or 3 when he was a 4 at best. Forcing a bunch of green players (no pun intended) to fend for themselves out there did no one favors. That was the most egregious error by management in the course of this rebuild, and the primary reason why the 06-07 roster couldn't surpass the lowly 70pt mark.

bigonetimer said...

I hate to crap in the tub, but I think the expectations posted so far are too high for the kid.

His makeup sounds great, he's got size and two way skills, but anyone who thinks that the jump from juniors to the bigs will be an easy one for him may be disappointed. He needs to play, so despite what GMGM hopes I expect him to get plenty of time in Hershey next year, which is exactly what he needs. I look at any time in Washington as gravy.[...and if he's the next Elisha Cuthbert-banging Dion Phaneuf, I'll be happy to eat crow!]

renstar said...


The hockey tournament is to help raise money so that the rec rolle rhockey club at VT can build a new rink, since the school is tearing down the old one.

I played in their league for 2 years and it was a ton of fun, the money is for a good cause.


ps- if anyone wants to make a donation (anything will help), see:

They have raised over 5 grand of the 10 that they need

Ogre said...

There you go - awesome. Didn't know the exact cause. If anyone's interested, skill level is not an issue. Contact me by the means listed above. Thanks :D

Renstar, thanks for the more defined info.