Who is the Ottawa Senators’ Best Center?

As everyone knows on November 6th, 2017 the Ottawa Senators acquired Matt Duchene to improve at the center position. This leaves them with two veteran top six centers in Derick Brassard and Matt Duchene. On the surface these two are relatively comparable, so let’s take a deep dive on these two to find out which one should be relied on as the Senator’s number one center going forward.

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First, I should note that all the data is from Corsica.hockey. From here the sample being used will compare these two over the past three seasons relative to the other 317 forwards who had at least 1500 minutes played in this time. Then we will look at their percentile rank in a variety of metrics from there. Before we start there is one argument I want to get out of the way. I’ve seen suggested a few times online that perhaps Duchene’s offensive numbers of the past seasons are suppressed because he played on the avalanche that was Colorado last year, and thus the numbers underrate him. There is possibly something to this, however, we must also consider the flip side of the coin. Brassard has been playing in Guy Boucher’s infamous trap for part of the sample so his numbers likely aren’t improved by his context either. So, with this in mind let’s dive in and see who is the Ottawa Senators’ best centreman.

So here is the two of them across the 5 most important metrics for evaluating centremen in the NHL, let’s begin with their point production. In points per hour (P/60) Matt Duchene has been a much better point producer over that span. Duchene ranks in the 87th percentile, making him a slam dunk first line point producer, while Brassard is in the 72nd percentile which is ideally a second line level.

Duchene being the superior point producer is likely a large part of the reason he has a better reputation around the league than Brassard, but when we transition to their play driving abilities the water gets muddy. In 5 on 5 shot attempts relative to team (Corsi Rel), Brassard blows Duchene out of the water. Brassard ranks in the 89th percentile here while Duchene only sits in the 51st percentile. So, when it comes to tilting the shot clock Brassard is borderline elite while Duchene is only league average.

When we transition to expected goals (weighted by danger shot attempts) there is a similar picture. Here Brassard ranks in the 73rd percentile while Duchene is only in the 61st. So the gap is smaller when the shots are weighted for danger, but all in all Brassard is the far superior play driver which should make up for the weaker point production and make them roughly equals. Next up there is an often overlooked but still important aspect, penalty differential (Pim Dif/60). In this hidden value Duchene is elite sitting in the 93rd percentile while Brassard adds very little value from the 40th percentile. Meaning that when it comes to drawing more penalties than you take, Duchene has a massive edge tilting the scales back in his favour.

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Finally, we have faceoffs. Typically, faceoffs don’t actually matter a tone. It’s been shown that it takes a positive faceoff differential of +76.5 to be worth a single goal. This means that there is only value here if there is a gigantic gap, which is exactly what we have here. Duchene is a monster as he is the 10th best in the entire league in draws over the past three seasons, and again Brassard doesn’t look good ranking below average in the 41st percentile. So while they generally don’t matter much, the chasm between these two cannot be ignored as Duchene is far superior at taking draws. This tips the scales even further towards Duchene being the Senator’s new number one center. All in all, this means that while Brassard is much better at driving play, Duchene’s better point production, penalty differential, and faceoff abilities make him the new number 1 center on the Ottawa Senators. Now that we know that Duchene should be Senators’ undisputed number one center, let’s dig into Ryan Stimpson’s micro stats to look at why.

 

The results here are a little surprising. What sticks out immediately is that when it comes to passing Brassard blows Duchene away. He is superior in Primary Shot Assists, Secondary Shot Assists, Dangerous Shot Contributions, and overall passing. The raw volume Brassard generates from passing is likely a large reason of why Brassard shows so much better at tilting the shot clock in his teams’ favor (Corsi Rel and XG Rel). This means while Duchene is the better player overall, nobody should be expecting him to be an elite playmaker.

To see where Duchene thrives we can look to his shooting and transition game. Duchene is much better at contributing to personal shot volume meaning we should expect more individual goals out of him. Finally, we have transition play, or how players contribute to offensive zone entries. Here Duchene thrives again. He is the better transition player which is probably a result of his game-breaking speed allowing him to cleanly enter the zone without defencemen being able to challenge him.

Now that we have all the information we should know what to expect from the Senators’ top centers. Brassard will be the better play driver because of his passing, while Duchene will be the better point producer, penalty drawer, and faceoff man because of his individual shot volume, speed and transition game which will make him the best center on the Ottawa Senators.

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