Connor Carrick is good at hockey

When Connor Carrick was traded to Toronto along with the remains of Brooks Laich and a second-round pick in exchange for Daniel Winnik and a fifth-round pick at last season’s trade deadline, most Leafs fans didn’t know much about Carrick.

A quick hockeydb search revealed Carrick to be a diminutive, 21-year-old defenceman who was drafted in the fifth round of the 2012 NHL entry draft by the Capitals. He also scored at a good rate for a young, AHL defenceman and was quickly proclaimed an “A-level prospect,” by Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello. He had made the Capitals a season after being drafted, which is impressive for a fifth-round pick, but only played about half the season before being sent down to their AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, for the next two and a half seasons. The comment by Lamoriello turned a lot of heads, but the early returns point to the conclusion that he is, in fact, a very good NHL defenceman already.

Carrick was paired with Jake Gardiner for just under 130 minutes and they performed pretty well together, posting a positive shot attempt differential (1.51 Rel.CF%) and very good expected goals totals (3.74 Rel.xGF%). Carrick didn’t put up great relative stats individually, though, as his individual Rel.CF% in his 19 games and 236 5v5 minutes with the Leafs was -1.68%. Carrick also played 61 minutes with Martin Marincin where they operated at a very solid 4.32 Rel.CF%, but a very bad -6.75 Rel.xGF%. The only Leafs defence pairing to post a worse xGF% who played 50+ minutes together last season was a nightmare inducing Roman Polak-Matt Hunwick pairing who also posted the worst Rel.CF% of the 17 pairings who played enough time together to qualify. The Carrick-Marincin pairing, predictably, posted very impressive shot suppression numbers, but pretty unimpressive shot creation numbers.

 

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The statistics above show the 2015-16 Leafs defence pairings with 50+ 5v5 minutes in order of Rel.CF%. Notice the two defencemen on the top pairing are arguably best defencemen on the team while the two players on the bottom pairing are objectively the worst defencemen on the team. Funny how that works.

With the Leafs season over, Carrick was sent to join the Marlies during their playoff run where he went on a tear. He scored seven goals and added 11 assists for 18 points in 15 playoff games, leading the Calder Cup playoffs in scoring while being a defenceman on a team who didn’t even make the Calder Cup Finals. Early on this season, Carrick seems to have picked up with the Leafs where he left off with the Marlies last spring. While he isn’t scoring a tonne like he did with the Marlies, posting only one goal and one assist through 14 games played, he is second among Leafs defencemen in Rel.CF% and first in Rel.xGF% by a significant margin. His 2.51 Rel.CF% trails only Morgan Rielly’s 3.41% and his 8.34 Rel.xGF% almost doubles second place Jake Gardiner’s mark of 4.8%. Realistically, though, Carrick would probably rate behind Gardiner in Rel.CF% if Gardiner wasn’t being submarined by being deployed with Roman Polak for 110 minutes so far, but his underlying numbers are impressive nonetheless.

The driving force behind Carrick’s solid start has been his shot suppression abilities. While most wouldn’t expect that to be his strength due to his small stature and short reach, he leads Leafs defencemen suppressing shots a rate of -8.12 Rel.CA60. For context, the second best Leafs defenceman in that department is noted shot suppression beast Martin Marincin, who currently owns a -2.86 Rel.CA60. He is also third among Leafs defencemen in terms of shot creation, trailing only Rielly and Gardiner, although he is still a -2.10 Rel.CF60. The reason Carrick is third in shot creation, but still a relative negative is that Rielly totally blows every other defenceman on the team out of the water in that department, as the Leafs create 11 more shot attempts per hour with him on the ice than without him on the ice. That is quite significant for a defenceman.

Despite all of this, Carrick only averages the fifth highest ice time per game among Leafs defencemen both at even strength and all situations and he was even a healthy scratch on Saturday night versus the Penguins. The healthy scratch really doesn’t sit well with me, but hopefully it was just due to the fact that the Leafs were playing on back to back nights with travel in between. The concerning thing to me is that Carrick and Corrado were the odd men out at Monday’s practice, with Polak and Hunwick in the lineup.

This is highly questionable, to say the least, and if Babcock starts to scratch Carrick along with Corrado in favour of playing Polak and Hunwick it won’t be good for the Leafs or my health.

While the sample size is still relatively small, I am very encouraged by his performance thus far and I will be keeping a close eye on it along with his usage.

*all stats are at 5v5 and are adjusted for score, zone and venue.

*all stats via corsica.hockey.

 

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