Ottawa Senators Report Cards - Jacob Bernard-Docker

After a steady first half of the season, the former first-rounder struggled mightily down the stretch.

Ottawa Senators Report Cards - Jacob Bernard-Docker
Photo by Rubaitul Azad / Unsplash

Staff Grade: C; Reader Grade: C+

Five years after being selected 26th-overall in the 2018 NHL Draft, Jacob Bernard-Docker can call himself a full-time NHL defenseman. A good one? That is less certain.

JBD started the 2023-24 season as the team's seventh defenceman, filling in for injured players such as Artem Zub, before taking on a more consistent role in the new year.

He scored his first NHL goal against the Leafs on Dec. 7th, and added 3 more goals and 6 assists in his first 36 games of the season, to go along with a +8 rating and 16 PIMs. Pretty good for a third-pairing guy.

However, things took a turn for the worse in the second half. There were a lot more mistakes, and his production pace dropped to 0 goals and 7 assists in 36 games, for a total of 17 points and 25 PIMs in 72 games. Not terrible, but also not totals you’d write home about.

The more important mesure for defensemen, especially third pairing defensemen, is their impact on chances and goals. Oddly enough, his 5-on-5 expected goals share improved from 43.70% at the 36-game mark to 45.18% at the end of the year. So while some decent counting stats masked weakness in the first part of the season, he struggled to drive play throughout the campaign. A 45,18 xGF% is not a sustainable number for long-term success in the NHL.

What killed his numbers was his partnership with Jakob Chychrun. The highly-touted trade acquisition should've formed at least a viable third pair with the 23-year-old, but it materialized in all the worst ways imaginable. Here's a look at JBD's numbers alongside Chychrun, Erik Brannstrom, Jake Sanderson and Thomas Chabot, from NaturalStatTrick:

Partner TOI (Min) CF% Goal Diff xGF%
Chychrun 434 46.60 -10 41.50
Brannstrom 273 48.04 0 52.56
Chabot 147 45.17 -3 39.42
Sanderson 144 53.26 4 52.39

Sanderson, unsurprisingly, was the only partner with which JBD posted a positive goal differential, 5-on-5 Corsi% and 5-on-5 xGF%. Considering this pairing along with the steady Brannstrom-JBD combo that was used during Zub's multiple absences due to injury, which took place earlier in the year, we have a bit of a clearer picture as to why his season trajectory reflected the collective happiness of the Leaf fanbase during April.

His struggles begat the question as to why he wasn't given the occasional breather in the press box, but I think I have the unfortunate answer: Pierre Dorion giving an NMC to Travis Hamonic amidst a cap crunch.

This, combined with the unwillingness to lose JBD on waivers after impressing earlier in the season, ensured that one of these two was guaranteed a spot in the lineup every game in which LTIR relief wasn't in play. This is why they couldn't give a longer look to Maxence Guenette or Nikolas Matinpalo (both of whom had a higher cap hit than JBD) until space was freed up via the Vladimir Tarasenko trade to Florida.

All that being said, JBD is an ideal candidate for a 7th defenseman on Ottawa's roster next season. I can't get excited at the prospect of him playing 82 games, but a return to his more controlled role, filling in for injured and occasionally scratched players would be fine in my books, especially at an $805k cap hit.

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