As we await the beginning of the new NHL season, I’ll be previewing each of the players in the Minnesota Wild system who will be on the roster, or competing for a place this year. My subject for this edition is Clayton Stoner.
Stoner spent most of last season on the Wild’s 2nd pairing with Jared Spurgeon due to Marco Scandella’s (questionable )exile to the AHL, and the lack of defensive depth on the team. He was mediocre but reliable all year playing in a role that he really wasn’t cut-out for. His game is centred around face-punching and gritty play, which he did well, but as a defenceman he just didn’t have the puck-carrying or passing ability to be anything but a 3rd pairing guy. He had some high-profile turnovers and received a lot of flak from fans during the year.
-Here are some of his regular season numbers from last year:
|SHOOTING %/SHOTS ATTEMPTED||0.0/47|
He actually had a surprisingly good year on the score-sheet, chalking-up 10 assists. As I mentioned earlier, he played 2nd pairing minutes, averaging nearly 20 a night last year. He also contributed to the penalty kill.
-Here are his underlying numbers from last year:
|OFFENSIVE ZONE START %||47.4|
|OFFENSIVE ZONE FINISH %||49.4|
|QUALITY OF COMPETITION||-0.32|
|SHOTS FOR/20 MINS||8.013|
|GOALS FOR/20 MINS||0.745|
|SHOTS AGAINST/20 MINS||9.504|
|GOALS AGAINST/20 MINS||0.719|
|5v5 1st ASSIST/60||0.160|
Stoner played a reasonably defensive role, with offensive zone starts below 50% and against fairly soft competition. He was awful at puck possession, posting terrible Corsi numbers. His Corsi Rel number shows how he negatively impacted the team. Opposition teams averaged 1.5 more shots on goal than the Wild per 20 minutes with Stoner on the ice. His PDO of 1018 suggests he benefited from some above-average luck during the year too.
-Here’s the player usage chart for all Wild D-men who played at least 20 games:
(Click To Enlarge) (Bubble Size=Corsi On Rating. Blue Bubble=Postive. Red Bubble=Negative)
As an NHL defenceman, Stoner is extremely limited in what he can do. He’s big, he’s tough and he’s willing to drop the gloves when necessary, but these things don’t make him a legitimate top-6 defenceman, not on a team that wants to contend anyway. He is indicative of the prototypical “good at blocking shots and hitting, bad at puck possession” NHL player. He led the all Wild defencmen in hits last year, which is no surprise as bad puck possession players normally do, but, weirdly, he also led Wild defencmen in giveaways, which is normally led by players who are good in puck possession. Stoner had the rare combination of almost never having the puck, but having a ton of giveaways too. Truly remarkable.
He often gets lauded for being great at “clearing the net” and “making sure nobody messes with Backstrom or Harding”, and it’s true, he is good at that and it’s definitely the most noticeable aspect of his game, which is why everyone says that about him, all the time. The problem is, he is noticed for this skill because, whenever he is on the ice, he spends most of his time trapped in his own zone while the opposition control the puck and create scoring chances, thus the puck often ends up in the goalie’s crease and Stoner has a chance to knock guys over. If this is a defenceman’s signature skill, then he’s probably really bad at defending seeing as he is constantly letting the other team get the puck into the crease.
Jared Spurgeon or Jonas Brodin, while not as tough as Stoner, don’t need to be because , instead of having to spend every shift knocking guys around in their own crease, they are more likely to be moving the puck up the ice and trying to create pressure in the opposition’s crease through good puck possession.
-Looking at last year’s 5v5 WOWY numbers, you can see how Stoner negatively-affected his two regular partners:
|TOI Stoner Apart:||
|CF% Stoner Apart:||
|TOI Teammate Apart:||
|CF% Teammate Apart:||
Both Spurgeon and Gilbert performed better away from Stoner than with him. Stoner performed worse away from both players than with them. He caused a clear drag on their possession numbers.
I don’t think much more analysis is required for Stoner. Anyone with eyes could tell you that he doesn’t have the passing, skating or puck possession abilities required to be a versatile, possession-driving defenceman. This aside, I don’t think he’s completely useless. I just don’t think he should be in the top-6 of a team that has aspirations of competing with the best teams in the Western Conference this year.
Stoner’s a useful guy to have in the press-box who you can dress to cover any short-term injuries. In limited, 3rd pairing minutes he’ll do a reasonable job as long as he’s matched-up with soft competition. His contribution to the penalty kill is reasonably valuable too.
I think he starts this year as the 7th defenceman, seeing as Matt Dumba appears to be making the opening night roster for sure. This is a good move for me. What worries me is that if the team starts poorly and Dumba gets sent back to junior, I could see Mike Yeo panicking and putting Stoner on the 2nd pair with Spurgeon because of fears that Spurgeon needs protection from bigger players or something. I’m hoping Yeo is more sensible than that, but I get the feeling that he likes Stoner a lot as a player (judging by the minutes he played last year) and wouldn’t have any qualms about getting him involved again at the first opportunity.
His Season Is A Success If…
His Season Is A Disappointment If…
…he spends most of the year in the press box and/or ends up in Iowa via waivers.
Okay, that’s it for Stoner. Next, I’ll be taking a look at Justin Fontaine and previewing his 2013/2014 campaign.
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Previous articles in this series:
*Numbers in this article courtesy of: