Team Canada's Defencemen

Josh W
December 29 2014 12:00PM

As our analytics knowledge continues to expand we can use what we know at the NHL level and start to apply it at the junior level. 

The Canadian Hockey League (CHL) comprises of the Western Hockey League (WHL), Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). The data they provide in box scores is minimal compared to the NHL play by play sheets but we can still derive plenty of useful advanced CHL Statistics.

Continue past the jump as we analyze Hockey Canada’s selection of defencemen.

Advanced statistics have already been used to analyze Canada’s goalie situation.  It’s ridiculous that Hockey Canada brought only two tenders to camp which included the average QMJHL goalie, Zachary Fucale, and the WHL elite goalie Eric Comrie.  In doing so they left out other elite goalies who have won championships including Tristan Jarry with his .920 sv%.

But the die has been cast by Hockey Canada so we can only analyze who has been selected. 

wjc defencemen ppg

Above are the seven defencemen currently named to Team Canada. Most of the data is self-explanatory.  

The NHLE column is NHL Equivalency points; Quality of Competition (QoC) is how tough their opponents are; Quality of Teammates (QoT) is how strong the players they play most with are; the Estimated Even-Strength TOI (Est. ES TOI) shows us how often these players are on the ice a game for while the ES rel Gf% shows how often their team gets outscored while they are on the nice (positive is better).

QoC and QoT are known in the NHL. Here they are represented as z-scores within their leagues so we can compare players across distributions. 

From a quick glance, most of the choices by Hockey Canada within the defence corps seem pretty reasonable. The only choice I would question is Dillion Heatherington. 

At the junior level defencemen don’t need to be high scoring, but good defencemen usually cause the puck to move go to the offensive end of the rink which in turn causes scoring. Thankfully, Heatherington has been sitting out so far but there are literally tens of players better than him including: Jordan Subban, Trevor Murphy, Mason Geertsen, Ryan Pilon and Jason Fram to name a few.

wjc defencemen usage

We can also turn these statistics into a similar usage chart as we would see in the NHL to give us a better picture of these players. Joe Hicketts continues to stand out as one of the better players, despite being the smallest defencemen which some pundits have issue with. 

Following is a break down of each individual choice.

Darnell Nurse – OHL – Sault Ste. Marie

6’4” 189 lb Darnell Nurse is currently penciled in as the top pairing for Team Canada and at 19.89 years-old is one of the oldest players on the team. He was drafted 7th overall in 2013 by the Edmonton Oilers from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.  

He is still with the Greyhonds (currently 3rd in the OHL in Est. Fenwick Close) and through 19 games he is scoring at 1.00 PPG, good for 4th in the OHL Defencemen Scoring Rate. Nurse faces slightly above average competition while he is getting help from very strong teammates. The elder statesman on the blueline has very heavy special teams time with middling even strength ice time while sporting a  slightly negative -5.04% even-strength relative goal-for%.

Shea Theodore – WHL – Seattle

Nurse’s defence partner is currently penciled in as Shea Theodore. This 6’2”, 182 lb defencemen is also 2013 1st round pedigree having been drafted by the Anaheim Ducks at 26th overall.   

Theodore plays for the Seattle Thunderbirds, currently a slightly below average team in the WHL, and is scoring at a 0.80 ppt rate (11th amongst WHL defencemen).  He plays middling even-strength time against above-average competition, along side above-average teammates, with approximately 5 minutes of special teams per game. As a result he has very strong even-strength relative goal-for % numbers at +25.75%. He only has 10 games played so we are the least sure about his statistics compared to his peers given sample size issues.   

Josh Morrisey – WHL - Kelowna

Morrisey is another 2013 1st round stock having been drafted by the Winnipeg Jet 13th overall. The 19.75 year-old 6’ 0”Morrisey is currently on Canada’s second pairing. Morrisey also plays in the WHL for the Kelowna Rockets, having been traded from the Prince Albert Raiders. 

Through 25 games played this season he is scoring at a rate of 0.84 PPG. On average, Morrisey plays 22 minutes at even-strength, and almost 9 minutes of special teammates, a game.  He faces average competition but he’s the only Canadian defencemen being brought down by his teammates and still comes ahead in even-strength relative goal-for % at 1.65.

Madison Bowey – WHL – Kelowna

Madison Bowey is the defensive partner of Josh Morrissey back in Kelowna as well as on Team Canada.  Currently the third oldest defencemen and listed at 6’1” and 195 lbs, he has scored at a rate of 1.18 ppg through 28 games played.  Bowey has had the benefit of playing with strong teammates, currently better than 93% of the WHL while facing weak competition – the plushiest assignment of all members on the team.  While playing almost 17 minutes at even-strength, and 8 minutes of special teams, Bowey has only has walked away with a +2.50% even-strength relative goal-for % so far.

Samuel Morin – QMJHL – Rimouski

The sole QMJHL defence men is the giant 6’ 7” 224 lb Samuel Morin from the Rimouski Oceanic. Like most defencemen this year, he came from the 1st round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft selected 11th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers.  

So far this season Morin only played 12 games and is scoring at a 0.75 points/game rate, an improvement from last season. Morin plays against above average competition while skating with extremely strong teammates suggesting he should be producing higher than he is. Morin also plays some of the lowest even strength ice time and has a negative -4.65 even-strength relative goal-for %. ESPN scout Corey Pronman says he has been decent defensively but seen nothing offensively. 

Joe Hicketts – WHL – Victoria

Joe Hicketts would be a good player if he was bigger, said every Hockey Canada management. Listed at 5’ 8” and 186 lbs Hicketts is statistically the best and youngest defencemen on the team. He went undrafted and was signed as a Free Agent to the Detroit Red Wings in September 2014.  

Through 31 games in the WHL he is scoring at a 1.23 points/game rate which is better than many forwards.  Hicketts is able to score at that rate while playing against slightly below average competition and is receiving some of the least help from his teammates. Hicketts plays about half the game for Victoria and spends around 10 minutes on special teams and still walks away with a +21.63% even-strength relative goals-for %.

Dillon Heatherington – WHL – Swift Current

The 7th defencemen Canada named to the roster was Dillon Heatherington from Swift Current out of the WHL. Listed at 19.61 years old, 6’ 3” and 196 lbs he has played 30 games so far this season scoring at a rate of 0.37 points/game. He faces above average competition while playing with above average teammates. Heatherington plays around 25 minutes a game with 19 minutes of that time at even strength and posts a -2.08% even-strength relative goal-for %.

I'm just an hockey statistics analyst with a focus on hockey prospects. I currently live in Victoria, BC. In my free time I am either programming, writing, working on or working out. While I spend too much free time in front of a computer I enjoy rowing, running and weight lifting.
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