In his first season with the Vancouver Canucks, Ryan Stanton could be counted on for a predictably uneventful 15-minutes of ice time per game, and leave in the black for possession more often than not. It was the breakout campaign needed to launch Stanton from stud AHL defenceman to NHL regular.
I can count the Canucks who thrived under John Tortorella on one hand and Stanton is among them. Nothing was asked of Stanton offensively and even less was delivered. No qualms were to be had with this, as Stanton’s value was always measured in the offense kept from his net. All substance, no flash.
It’s been a precipitous fall from third-pairing grace since then and many are left wondering why. Injuries might be a likely suspect, if not for the fact that Stanton’s return from his most recent ailment was delayed due to his desire to not rush it. Had he been more hasty in his return, there might be some validity to this.
So if injuries aren’t to blame, then what has gone wrong for Stanton and what can we reasonably expect going forward? Well, you know the drill…
Before we delve into Stanton’s brief NHL career, a little context is needed to find out what exactly the Canucks were getting when using their waiver claim on him just one season ago. With the help of hero, family and visionary, Josh Weissbock, I was able to compile some of Stanton’s underlying numbers from his last campaign with the Rockford IceHogs.
|ES On-Ice GF%||ES Off-Ice GF%||ES GF% Diff|
It’s not hard to see why the Canucks jumped on the opportunity to grab Stanton. The Ice Hogs outscored their opponents when Stanton was on the ice, but couldn’t break even when he was on the bench. A case can easily be made for Stanton having been Rockford’s best defenceman during that season – Nick Leddy, who was only there for 31-games, withstanding.
This AHL success translated quickly to the NHL. Now that said, while there was no shortage of boosters for Stanton last season, there was a growing community of fans who remained cautious in their appreciation. This stemmed from the knowledge that much of what he was accomplishing was against peewee level competition, in favorable settings. Of Canucks players who appeared in 42-games or more last season, only Yannick Weber had a lower Corsi QoC. I imagine much of that is muddied by Weber’s time on the fourth-line, too.
For those less initiated in the world of #FancyStats, the bottom-right corner would indicate “easier” minutes, while the top-left more difficult ones. Nothing to see here. It’s more or less what one might expect from a third-pairing NHL defenceman. His carefully managed minutes were spent mostly against the bottom-half of opposing lineups, but Stanton wasn’t so sheltered that this was of big concern. All in all, his deployment was fairly neutral.
Things get really ugly this season, though. While the ToI Competition% chart on this graph doesn’t indicate a steep incline in competition, his Corsi QoC rises dramatically while he gets bumped into the mid-60’s in offensive zone start percentage. In 2013-14, Stanton’s Corsi Rel. QoC is -0.573; in 2014-15, it’s fourth on the team at 1.417. It seems too much is being asked of Stanton, and it shows. That red is ugly.
At the 67 mark in games is where this season starts. It’s difficult to remember at times, but Stanton’s played only 13-games this year. Some of what we’re seeing might be related to Stanton struggling with the new system. I feel it’s safe to say that Willie Desjardins asks considerably more of his defensemen offensively and this is especially true of breakouts from their own zone.
I might even be a little optimistic that this is short-term variance and not indicative of Stanton’s ability on the whole. Judging defencemen on 12-game spans is wholly cruel and maybe a little unfair when applied solely to Stanton – Dan Hamhuis was doing terribly before his injury, too.
As bad as the underlying numbers are, the tape on Stanton is considerably more disconcerting. Foot speed has never been his strong point, but positioning made up for that last season. This year he’s several feet behind every play and doesn’t seem to be able to make a breakout pass to save his life.
There have been small improvements in recent games. Baby steps, if you will. But much of this is due to Stanton’s rise in zone-start%. The last handful of games have all seen Stanton start in the offensive zone far more than the average Canuck. Willie Desjardins seems to be doing his best to shelter the hell out of the struggling defender.
The Canucks are going to need more from Stanton going forward. Dan Hamhuis appears to be out for the long haul, and if the Canucks passing on an opportunity to acquire another defender such as ex-Medicine Hat Tiger David Schlemko on waivers indicates anything, it’s that Desjardins will have to work with what he’s got. And of course, Ryan Stanton will have to be much better.