No. 4: Fredrik Claesson (Reader rank: 5, last year: 15)
One year ago, it was looking like Freddy Claesson might be heading back to Sweden after the 2016-17 season in Binghamton/Ottawa. He had played 16 decent games in the NHL, but he was at best the 7th defenseman on the depth chart, and nobody was expecting him to crack the main roster.
In fact, he was ranked fifteenth in the Top 25 Under 25, behind guys like Gabriel Gagne, Matt Puempel, Nick Paul, and Curtis Lazar, simply because they seemed like better shots to stick at the NHL level.
Fast forward to present day, and Claesson looks like one of the better defensemen on this Senators team, and is the third biggest riser (11 spots) in this year’s rankings.
I know I am one of the high guys on Claesson, but I am not alone. I truly think he can seamlessly replace Marc Methot on the first pairing with Erik Karlsson, because he plays a similar brand of hockey. And although he is defensive minded, he was surprisingly good with the puck last season.
He’s also a rare defensive defenseman who is loved by both the traditional hockey community as well as the stats community. You can tell he has great defensive instincts and can cover for someone more offensive, but the advanced numbers also back up the eye test. He’s right in the ideal sweetspot between Cody Ceci and Patrick Wiercioch, because all kinds of fans can appreciate his play, whereas the two aforementioned are extremely polarizing.
It’s interesting looking at his HERO charts (measuring ice time, goals, first assists, shot generation, and shot suppression), as he grades out very well compared to a “typical” second pairing defenseman. Like I said, his offensive skills rank surprisingly well here, with shot suppression being another strength.
If you’re wondering how a defenseman with 11 points in 33 games can have such a high offensive rank in this graph, just take a look at his ice time. That certainly sticks out, and I pray that Guy Boucher trusts him more this coming season. Even if he isn’t going to put up many points or generate a ton of shots/chances, his shot suppression is fantastic, and he is a perfect compliment to the greatest defenseman in the game.
I don’t think anyone is expecting him to be that #2 defenseman, but Marc Methot didn’t fit that bill either. Plus, Claesson seems like a better fit on that first pairing compared to Dion Phaneuf or Thomas Chabot (or hell, even Mark Borowiecki) right now. The fact that I am making this argument one year after I thought he wouldn’t be having much of an NHL career is mind-boggling to me.
In a season with not many surprises, Claesson was easily the best one. Nobody had any expectations for him coming into the season, yet he made the most of his 33 games. His +5.3% corsi relative was 5th on the team, and it’s not as if his on-ice play was full of luck, since his PDO was at 100.5.
33 games may not seem like much, but every time I saw him play I would say something along the lines of, “man, they can’t keep scratching him.” A lot has been talked about Ottawa’s inability to develop defensemen since Erik Karlsson, but it sort of went under the radar that they have a top-four defensemen right in front of them.
I feel like Boucher won’t give Claesson the amount of ice time that I would like, but if he continues to play like he did in the regular season, it’ll be impossible to keep him out of the top-4 (or at least the lineup).
If Claesson can build on his last season, and Chabot can give a boost at both ends of the ice, then all of a sudden Ottawa’s d-corps isn’t looking too shabby.