When trying to explain to someone what a defensive defenseman is in 2019 what do you tell someone to look for?
Over the past 10 years, the term defensive defenseman has changed in the very way we view the description. When you think back to 2009 some names you may think of when describing a stay-at-home defenseman might be Shane O’Brien, Luke Schenn, Hal Gill, etc. The one thing all these players have in common is their size and physicality.
Jump forward to 2019 and try and think of some of the best defensemen at shutting down other teams. Some of the names that jump out right away are players like Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Anton Stralman or Mattias Ekholm. Between the three of them, they had a total of 65 penalty minutes last season. In comparison, the three players mentioned before had a total of 320 penalty minutes in the 2008-2009 season.
One might argue that it is because the league has changed within the past decade. Focusing on skill and speed over grit and physicality, and well this is true I like to look at it from a different point of view. Think of it this way, if you rely on a defenseman to shutdown teams wouldn’t it be better to have him on the ice instead of in the box?
It’s no secret that the way we view shutdown guys has changed, but how does one describe what they are looking for? One player currently on the Windsor Spitfires has been a go-to example of what I feel the modern-day shut-down guy is.
The player I’m talking about is Connor Corcoran, drafted in the 5th round by Vegas in 2018. Over the past three seasons, I’ve had the opportunity to watch Corcoran be a mainstay on the Windsor Spitfires. His numbers on paper have never jumped out at you, with 10, 24 and 32 being his point totals over the past three seasons. Add in the heavily overvalued plus-minus stat and it doesn’t look good at all.
However, one thing people seem to discredit is the fact that Corcoran is a high usage player. While facing other teams top players he continues to be one of Windsor’s best players according to his advance stats.
Throughout the season Corcoran has averaged over 25 minutes a night, including big minutes on both special teams for the Spitfires. On top of this, he has seen an increase in his minutes over the past ten games since Thomas Stevenson went down with an injury.
“He is our best player and our most important player for sure,” said Spit’s Head Coach Trevor Letowski. “He logs a lot of minutes and plays the right way. He’s really developed into a good player and he is going to be a pro.”
What makes Corcoran so effective his ability to limit the other teams shot attempts by being positionally sounds and using his stick to take away passing lanes. This is evident by his positive Corsi percentage on the season while facing top players.
Unlike shutdown defensemen of the past, Corcoran rarely looks for the big hit. Instead, he uses his gap control and skating ability to defend, therefore taking away any high danger opportunities.
There has also been improvement this season in his offensive game. Heading into Windsor’s season there was a real question about who on their back end would score. After the trade of Nathan Staios, it left a big hole in terms of puck-moving ability, with Corcoran being the only returning defense who had over 25 points last season. However, this season Corcoran has gotten off to the best offensive start of his career with 25 points in 24 games. What makes this so impressive is the number of primary points he has put up this year. With nine goals and 11 primary assists, 80 percent of points have come with him directly involved in the play.
“He had a small role to begin with, he played forward in his first year sometimes and he’s just grown into the player that he is now,” said Letowski. “I think he is one of the better two-way defensemen in the league.”
This is a great sign if you are a fan of the Vegas Golden Knights as it is showing that he has put in the time to improve some of the weaker aspects of his game. He has also set a trend in terms of improvement with each season totals improving upon the last.
“I think we have him in a good spot on that second power-play unit. We’re tempted to put him on the first unit but it’s just too many minutes for him there. We like him on that flank, he can just rip pucks,” said Lewtoski.
While nobody will confuse Corcoran with an offensive defenseman the solid improvement throughout the years bundled with his rock solid defensive ability is a good sign for him going forward into his pro career.
“He’s pretty good at everything,” said Letowski. “He’s not a specialist, but his offense is coming now. His shot has really developed and we trust him that why he plays so much.”