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The Year of the Defenseman

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Matt Dewkett/SB Nation

When writing about Michigan’s Quinn Hughes yesterday, I was looking up some background stats, and something jumped out at me: Defensemen seem to be scoring at a truly prolific rate this year.

With 15 points in 13 games, Hughes is averaging a very impressive 1.15 points per game this season, and yet Hughes is only ranked tied for sixth nationally among defensemen in points per game. Currently ahead of him are Harvard’s Adam Fox(2.12), UMass’ Cale Makar(1.33), UMD’s Scott Perunovich(1.33), Quinnipiac’s Chase Priskie(1.23), and Notre Dame’s Bobby Nardella(1.17). Robert Morris’ Eric Israel is also at 1.25, but just misses the eligibility cut-off by only playing in 8 of 12 games.

That struck me as a lot of guys, and it turns out that it was. In fact, no defenseman has scored more than 1.15 points per game for a season since Wisconsin’s Justin Schultz averaged 1.19 pts/gm in the 2011-2012 season.

There are also currently 19 defenseman averaging a point per game or better. Admittedly, we’re only just past the quarter pole of the season. Early season non-conference games are a little more open and can be more lopsided. One or two big games can sway things. Etc. etc. Many of those guys will drop as the season progresses. But I decided to look at how things stood as of December 1 in previous seasons just to show that the numbers as they are now are still very impressive.

2017-2018

Season leader: Princeton’s Josh Tevis(1.06)[Note, Tevis is back at Princeton for his senior year and currently averaging 1.14/gm]. No other defenseman averaged over a point per game.

On December 1st: St. Cloud State’s Jimmy Schuldt led with 1.46. Six total players were at 1.00 or better.

2016-2017

Season leader: Harvard’s Adam Fox(1.14). Minnesota State’s Daniel Brickley was the only other D at 1.00 pts/gm

On December 1st: Fox led at 1.22. Twelve players were averaging 1.00 pts/gm

2015-2016

Season leader: St. Cloud State’s Ethan Prow led with 1.03 points per game. Michigan’s Zach Werenski was the only other player above 1.00 pts/gm. Providence’s Jake Walman finished at 1.04, but didn’t play in enough games to qualify due to injury.

On December 1st: Jake Walman led at 1.50. Will Butcher was the only other player at 1.00 pts/gm

2014-2015

Season leader: Denver’s Joey LaLeggia and Minnesota’s Mike Reilly(1.08 each). Notre Dame’s Robbie Russo is the only other above 1.00.

On December 1st: Harvard’s Patrick McNally led with 1.30. Four others topped 1.00 pts/gm

2013-2014

Season leader: Bentley’s Steve Weinstein(1.03) was the only player with more than a point per game.

On December 1st: Weinstein and Union’s Shayne Gostisbehere led with 1.15. Five others were above 1.00, including future NHLers Trevor van Riemsdyk, Jake McCabe, and Joakim Ryan.

2012-2013

Season leader: Nobody average a point per game from the blue line this season. St. Lawrence’s Georgie Hughes led with 0.97

On December 1st: Weinstein led with 1.08, while three other were 1.00 or better.

All those stats should give you some idea of how rare this is. 19 defensemen averaging a point per game at this point in the season looks crazy when you consider that only 36 players have done that in the last six seasons combined.

It’s also worth noting that the list of those 36 players is an extremely impressive one. The list basically breaks down to: 1) NHL players(Gostibehere, Werenski, van Riemsdyk, McCabe, Ryan, Butcher, Russo, Reilly) 2)Guys that signed NHL contracts but stayed in the AHL(Joey LaLeggia a bunch of times, Ethan Prow, Mat Bodie, Jeff Taylor, Jake Walman, Patrick McNally) 3)Guys still currently playing(Jimmy Schuldt, Josh Teves, Adam Fox) or 4) A couple guys from St. Lawrence and Bentley

There aren’t too many guys(outside of St. Lawrence/Bentley types) that show up as false positives in terms of being really good, NHL contract-worthy type players.

So why the explosion this year? Part of it is the way the game has changed. Things have shifted more towards relying on smaller, quicker puck-moving defensemen to generate offense.

But I also that is exacerbated by an extremely unique group of talent playing in college hockey this year.

Among the group averaging 1.00+ per game this year are a pair of top ten NHL Draft picks in Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes, both of whom opted to return to school for their sophomore season this year, somewhat of a rarity for picks that high. There’s another first round pick in Dante Fabbro, a junior, which again, is rare. There’s also a pair of second round NHL Draft picks in Adam Fox and Scott Perunovich and five other players that have also been drafted.

It’s a fun group of players to watch, and one that is performing on a near historic level this season.