Canadiens Defenceman Kovacevic Shouldn’t Be Ignored

canadiens defenceman kovacevic shouldn’t be ignored

Canadiens Defenceman Kovacevic Shouldn’t Be Ignored

When the Montreal Canadiens acquired Johnathan Kovacevic off waivers from the Winnipeg Jets, the hope was that he could act as a bandaid solution to a blueline that lacked depth.

Fast forward to the end of the year, and not only has Kovacevic handled himself with aplomb, he quickly established himself as the most reliable player on the right side of the blue line.

Earlier this week, we discussed the possibility of the Canadiens, who have made it clear they are looking to improve their roster, signing a right-handed defenceman who could bolster their options on the right side.

One of the biggest criticisms of the article was from those suggesting the Canadiens should avoid adding talent to the roster at all costs, seeing as they’re in a rebuild.

But we must never forget there’s value in insulating your young talent with teammates who can help them grow into elite players.

And there’s also value to be found by removing the veil of hopelessness from the equation. Tanking for five or six years may work out well in a video game simulation, but it’s a much harder sell to these professional athletes who are well aware they have a very short shelf life in the NHL.

Nick Suzuki is known to be a player that wants to win at all costs, and though he said all the right things throughout his first season at the helm of the Canadiens, it was rather apparent the endless stream of losses weighed heavily on his mind.

Without a clear path forward, signing extensions with players such as Cole Caufield can be rendered much more difficult, as well.

Simply put, it’s time to dissuade yourself from the idea that improving the on-ice product is a sin for a team that is about to pick in the top 5 of the NHL Entry Draft for the second consecutive season.

Kovacevic’s Impact

The other issue that some brought up was the praise for Kovacevic, and that will be the focus of this particular article.

While it may not seem that way based on their experience or pedigree, once you take a moment to delve into the numbers, it’s rather clear Kovacevic quickly became the most valuable RD on the roster.

To get a better idea of the results on the right side of the defence, we can verify Kovacevic’s underlying metrics relative to those of his teammates who also primarily played on the right.

No other defenceman made a greater impact in shot control than Kovacevic.

To put that another way, with Kovacevic on the ice the Canadiens controlled more shots than with any other defensive combination that did not include Kovacevic.

But shot control is not enough to proclaim Kovacevic is a hidden gem.

To get a better idea, we have to take a look at the high-danger scoring chance control while he’s on the ice. And once again, no other RD defenceman came close to matching his numbers.

It’s worth noting the Canadiens took a huge step back this season in terms of how many quality chances they control, which puts Kovacevic’s numbers in an even better light.

And finally, to project whether his results, which are rather impressive considering it was his first season with the team, are sustainable, we can evaluate his expected goals for percentage relative to his teammates. This measures shot quality, shot location, and shot types when a certain player is on the ice.

This is going to shock you, but Kovacevic reigns supreme. Not only among right-handed defencemen but also among the entirety of the roster.

One of the main reasons Kovacevic found so much success was his chemistry with cerebral defenceman Jordan Harris. Of course, long term, Harris projects as the type of defenceman that has the potential to play an important role in the top 4, but for him to do that, he’ll need a partner that can adjust to Harris’ penchant for jumping into the play.

That’s where Kovacevic comes in.

He’s not flashy.

He rarely takes the risky route.

And that’s exactly what a player like Harris needs on his defensive pairing.

Think of Brett Kulak, if you will.

Kulak played on the left side, but the concept remains the same. Without Kulak playing a responsible brand of hockey, a player like Jeff Petry could not have afforded to take so many chances.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the player the Canadiens acquired for free off waivers wasn’t just a good surprise for the team, he was easily the most reliable blueliner in the organization last season.

All statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted, via NaturalStatTrick.

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