The New Jersey Devils, off to a torrid 15-6-4 start in 2017/18, made some noise when they acquired Sami Vatanen from the Ducks this week. The primary piece they sent back was Adam Henrique – a solid 2/3C who became expendable with Zajac returning and Hischier continuing to impress in his rookie campaign.
But the big fish was Vatanen. Today, we take an objective look at Sami Vatanen and try to dissect the value he’ll bring to the devils.
Vatanen is slightly below average as a 5v5 puck mover
The X-Axis (PMF, standardized) measures the defenseman’s ability to drive the play and generate scoring chances for his team. The Y-Axis (QoC, standardized) measures the quality of competition that the defenseman faced. For example, a d-man in the top right quadrant would indicate he’s excelling as a puck mover while facing tough competition. Similarly, a d-man in the bottom left would indicate struggles as a puck mover despite facing weak opposing forwards.
As a puck mover, Vatanen is slightly below average. We looked at the past 3 seasons and scored an average PMF of -1.5 while facing fairly consistent QoC each year (2nd pairing equivalent).
While Vatanen is a smooth skating, mobile, “modern-day” defenseman, his ability as a 5v5 puck mover might be slightly overrated. Still, he should slide in to a top-4 role for the Devils immediately.
It is important to note Vatanen had off-season shoulder surgery. It’s reasonable to expect a dip in his play (evident by PMF drop off from last season) but it will absolutely be something to track as the season wears on.
Also from the Anaheim Ducks perspective, Lindholm and Manson emerged as the top pair last season and continue to perform at a strong level.
Vatanen is a high-end power play QB
Vatanen excels at quarterbacking a power play. According to our PPQB score from last season, Vatanen ranked top-5 in the entire league. Others in that range? Gostisbehere, Klingberg, Doughty, Hedman, … Good company. He posted similar numbers the year before, too. The Devils currently boast one of the top PPs in the league and the addition of Vatanen should help them be even better.
His annual cap hit of $4.9M through 2019-20 is manageable, but not ideal
Last year we looked at some of the top “value” 2nd pair defensemen. The scores in the chart above represent the player’s ability to drive possession per $ spent on their salary. This is purely based on 5v5 performance and does not consider special teams contributions among other things. But from that standpoint, Vatanen is slightly over valued. However, when you factor in his ability on a powerplay, his value is probably on par.
This summer, we looked at the New Jersey Devils blue line and felt there was a lot to be excited about. Damon Severson was excellent in 2016/17 and was rewarded with a new contract this off-season. This was a young and emerging team. Still, there was more work to be done. GM Ray Shero has been busy doing just that.
When C Nico Hischier fell in their lap at the draft, they had C depth to make a move. Dealing Henrique for Vatanen is that move, and appears to be a solid move for the team. While he will play top-4 minutes and QB the power play, expectations should be tempered as to what he can bring, consistently, at 5 on 5.