When the Vancouver Canucks signed Windsor Spitfires defenceman Jalen Chatfield, the reaction from their fan base was muted at best. Just like Chatfield’s quiet, efficient brand of defensive hockey. At his absolute best, you hardly notice him.
— CanucksArmy (@CanucksArmy) March 14, 2017
Increasingly, there’s room for these types of players in the contemporary NHL. We used to think of defensive defenceman as road clearing bruisers, but that’s not the case anymore. In today’s game, even a defensive defenceman has to be able to move the puck efficiently and skate it out of trouble.
Chatfield checks off all the right boxes for a modern stay-at-home defender. That’s why in spite of his poor counting stats, the Canucks were wise to bet on the 21-year-old with an entry-level contract.
We’ve changed the qualifications up just a little bit this year. Being under the age of 25 is still mandatory (as of the coming September 15th), but instead of Calder Trophy rules, we’re just requiring players to have played less than 25 games in the NHL (essentially ignoring the Calder Trophy’s rule about playing more than six games in multiple seasons).
Graduates from this time last year include Brendan Gaunce, Troy Stecher, and Nikita Tryamkin, while Anton Rodin is simply too old now, and Jake Virtanen is not being considered solely as a result of his games played.
I think, as much as anything, the way people reacted to Chatfield was a byproduct of it coming from seemingly out of nowhere. There wasn’t much buzz about Chatfield as an undrafted free agent (unlike Zack MacEwan, who the Canucks also signed) and as an overage defenceman, his stats don’t suggest to the lay observer that there really should have been any.
If you didn’t follow the Ontario Hockey League, it would be easy to mistake Chatfield as a poor decision at first glance. Certainly, our analysis in this space over the years could easily lead someone to that conclusion. Players like Chatfield rarely, if ever, turn out based on what we know at this stage of our research.
When we look at Chatfield’s last season in the OHL, pGPS only gives him an Exp. Success rate of 1.9% base on a sample of 263 skaters with a similar statistical and stature based profile. One worthwhile caveat is that pGPS doesn’t generally place players in a bright light when we view them through the lens of their overage season. I think, in this instance, Chatfield’s likelihood of NHL success is significantly undersold by the pGPS model.
The Vancouver Canucks also signed OA D Jalen Chatfield to an ELC. Not an OFD, but underlying numbers compare favorably to Mikhail Sergachev. pic.twitter.com/rZEYfnHCSb
— Zac Urback (@Zac_Urback) May 20, 2017
Modest scoring rates be damned, Chatfield contributed in a lot of ways for the Spitfires last season. Chatfield was a force in transition, efficient at carrying the puck up ice and denying opposition entries alike. The Spitfires held a near monopoly of the neutral zone with Chatfield on the ice.
— CanadianHockeyLeague (@CHLHockey) May 22, 2017
The way Windsor dominated between the blue lines with Chatfield on the ice reflects itself in his gaudy 57% Corsi For. According to www.Prospect-Stats.com, the Spitfires controlled 4% more of the goals at five-on-five with Chatfield on the ice as opposed to the bench.
Jeff Marek on #Canucks prospect Jalen Chatfield: "When you look at shot suppression, he's one of the, if not the, best in the entire OHL."
— Canucks Now (@CanucksNow) May 20, 2017
Chatfield might not score often, but what he does well contributes to a healthy environment for his team to produce offence with him on the ice.
— Canucks Prospects (@NucksWatch) May 29, 2017
In his last year with Windsor, Chatfield played on their first pair and the first unit penalty kill; he was a co-captain for a Memorial Cup winning team. I don’t think it an exaggeration to suggest he did everything but put up big points.
Assuming a steady transition to the Utica Comets next season and continued development thereafter, the Canucks could reap the rewards of their due diligence on a player that might have otherwise gone overlooked because of his surface level shortcomings.
I don’t see Chatfield as someone who has game-breaking potential, even as a high-end defensive defenceman in the mould of a Chris Tanev-type of player. His intelligence without the puck and his pose with it suggest he just might have what it takes to crack an NHL lineup in a third pairing role at some point. If you can find those types of players for nought but the cost of an entry-level contract, that’s a win every time.