I know I speak for all of us when I hope that the Ottawa Senators’ efforts to rebuild into a cup contender go a lot more smoothly than their last attempt to do so. Despite some success, including a deep playoff run in 2017, the current state of the team is a clear sign of the 2011 rebuild being a mastodonic (sorry, thedaigle1) failure. Most people look to the Sens’ mismanagement of their roster, as well as the frugality of owner Eugene Melnyk as the main factors, and while I concur with those people, a factor which doesn’t get talked about enough is the extremely poor drafting during the early stages of that rebuild.
2011 was decent enough. Ottawa may have missed the mark on 24th overall pick Matt Puempel, but they made up for it with their scouting of 4th rounder Jean-Gabriel Pageau and 7th rounder Ryan Dzingel. The next three years, though? Ugly. They made a total of nineteen picks in those three drafts, including six in the first three rounds and two in the first round. The fruits of their labour? Andreas Englund (2nd round), Ben Harpur (4th round), Curtis Lazar (17th overall) and Cody Ceci (15th overall). The stuff of legend, right there. Thus, with a lack of youth to supplement the talented core, the Senators were unable to address the weaknesses on their roster, which led their painful decline in the 2017-18 season.
However, if you went looking through the rubble, you probably noticed a sparkle, for there exists a gem that’s gone relatively unnoticed over the years. Today, we know him as Marcus Hogberg.
The 25-year old, 6’5 goaltender from Orebro, Sweden was selected with the 78th pick of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Hogberg spent the next four seasons playing for Linkopings HC in the SHL, notably posting a .931 SV% in the 2016-17 season, before signing his entry-level deal with the Senators. He struggled in his first season, hopping between the Belleville Senators and the ECHL’s Brampton Beast before coming alive in his second pro season; Belleville went on a monster run in 2019, nearly making the playoffs on the back of his .917 SV%. Although viewed by some as a prospect at the start of this season, the upcoming draft will mark his seventh anniversary with the organization.
This year, an injury to Anders Nilsson has allowed Hogberg to get some quality starts with the big club. In the 21 games he’s appeared in, he has a save percentage of .908; nothing to sneeze at, but at the same time it doesn’t scream “NHL starting goaltender”. Let me tell you why those numbers are misleading, in a good way.
First off, Hogberg has all the basic tools of an NHL goaltender, he uses his frame well, his lateral movement is good for one with that frame, and his reflexes are solid. That’s incredibly generic but that’s what Hogberg is: a safe, reliable option in net who will win a game for a team that provides him with an honest defensive effort. His rebound control was lackluster in his first game this season but he’s been very good in the majority of games he’s started since then. He’ll also occasionally bail out the team with a save like this one:
Marcus Hogberg's reaching stick save on Sam Bennett last night was incredible. Very comfortable with a Nilsson-Hogberg tandem heading into 2020-21. pic.twitter.com/UitpsMQzPz— 1. Ottawa (via San Jose) (@Sens_Army_) January 19, 2020
It’s no secret that a hockey team’s defence and goaltending are intertwined in a symbiotic relationship, and in many cases a bad defence can completely tank a goalie’s numbers. Another well-known fact is that Ottawa’s defence is one of, if not the worst in the entire league. In 1160 minutes of play, Hogberg’s faced 651 shots, or a rate of 33.6 shots per sixty minutes. In comparison, Nilsson, who also has a save percentage of .908, faces 34.4. Craig Anderson, with a .901 save percentage, faces 32.5. All three goalies have evidently done some heavy lifting this season. However, these numbers don’t account for shot location; a goalie would much rather face shots from the point, as opposed to from a few feet away.
HockeyViz.com is a great website for tracking shot location, among other things. Let’s try to make some sense of the following lava lamp:
To put it as simply as I can, red represents areas where the team allows more shots than the average team, and blue represents areas where the team allows fewer. This is summarized in the Threat level; a positive number on defense like Ottawa has is not good.
Handily, the site offers these charts for individual players as well, tracking the team’s performance while they’re on the ice. It’s important to be aware of the fact that a skater’s stats are influenced by their linemates, competition, and deployment, however we don’t need to worry about this for goalies, as they play with and against all players, and in all situations. Here are the charts for Nilsson, Hogberg, and Anderson respectively:
The first thing that will jump out at you is according to HockeyViz’s model, the Ottawa Senators are an above-average defensive team in front of Nilsson, allowing the bulk of shots from the right point and left face-off dot. Hogberg, with an identical save percentage, has to deal with more shots from around twenty feet from the net, as well as the middle of the blue line and left circle. It’s just as scary for poor Anderson, who’s had to deal with a huge volume of shots from ten feet out.
Compared to Nilsson, Hogberg has not received much help from the Senators on defence, and yet he’s kept the team in numerous games that, frankly they didn’t deserve to win. When the defence corps features Thomas Chabot, Christian Wolanin and Erik Brannstrom, Hogberg hopefully will get more support next season, as he’s on a one-way deal in 2020-21 and is expected to battle Nilsson for the #1 job.
With an abundance of goalie prospects in the system, most notably Joel Daccord and Kevin Mandolese both in the midst of great seasons, there’s not too much pressure on Hogberg to emerge as a starter for the Senators, but it’s good to see one of our young goalies emerge in the way that he has. Hopefully, that’s one less core player the team has to worry about.
Buckle up, Ottawa. We’re going on a Hogburglar run next season.