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.
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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Excellent waiver wire claim. The eye test alone should have been a sign early on. 2 more years on his contract. Thank you Winnipeg.
I agree great move. Along with WIFI Ghule Harris Hutson Mailloux… Edmondson Savard Wideman became trade bait…Matheson to stabilize I the next 2-3 years not bad on D.
Draft the best goalie of the draft with the panthers pick(31-32).
Take Smith or Michkov at 5
Trade Anderson, Dvorak – Evens et un choix de 2 2023 for PLD
Play the young guys Owen’s- Roy – Pinard
Your young D
Young goaler Montembeault – ( need a solution # 2 other than Allen (trade)
Retain (25 + b prospect – 50%) get ride of Gally to give speed
We would also look not to shabby
Maybe we get lucky on Tuck
Hey call me optimist
You lost me at trade Anderson!
I’m an optimist too, but I’ll wait to see which promising prospects will become successful young players. With the quality and quantity of promising prospects, there’s a decent probability that after this draft, the Habs will have all the pieces to become a contender. We just need to be patient. There’s probably no need to precipitate trades as both Anderson and Gallagher will be useful to shield rookies. Given the number of young players, many on ELC or low cost contracts, the Canadiens do not have a salary cap compliance problem that would justify sacrificing assets.
Good points. In this draft we need to acquire Smith or Michkov, at selection #5, whichever one is available, a RHD at selection #32, and a goaltender sometime thereafter in the draft.
I see Anderson being with us for a long time. I just don’t understand those who want to get rid of him. It boggles my mind.
Stats like shot control and expected goals can be misleading because of how insulated some pairings are, and because of who they’re typically out there against. Savard’s numbers are generally poor, but he was the guy facing the top lines and getting the least sheltered zone starts.
That said, Kovacevic and Harris were a nice pairing and did get much tougher assignments and zone starts than Barron/Wideman/Xhekaj, while still controlling the play better than those guys.
I totally agree. This stats need to be adjusted to the opposition that the player faces. Savard was fabulous this year, but the fact that he always faces the other team’s star players and is always on the ice for faceoffs in the defensive zone (and rarely in the offensive zone) skewers the stats to imply that he had a bad year.
And yes, I think that Kovacevic is the Habs’ second best RD man, by far.
And yet Blain Potvin at The Hockey Writers gave him a grade of C- for his season. Way off target! I love Kovacevic. The best waiver wire pickup since Byron.
Well finally, some recognition for this guy…and I don’t think he’s done yet, wouldn’t be surprised if he still improves his game.
a good article keep Josh Anderson he is a power forward something the team lacked years ago