Listen, I don’t know if I like him because he’s a little bit wild or because his fancy stats stand out to me — it’s probably both — but I would love to see Yohann Auvitu back with the Oilers next year as their seventh defenseman.
Auvitu will be 29 years old next season and he’s played all over the world. Born in France, Auvitu’s path to the NHL is certainly non-traditional. He outgrew the French league before he turned 19, then played for their U-20 and World Championship teams. He then found himself in Finland as a young professional.
Finland is where he stayed until he finally found a chance in North America with the New Jersey Devils. He was up and down between the NHL and the AHL and it’s easy to see why when you watch him. He looks like the kind of player that gives coaches ulcers. When I watch him, he’s all action. In the context of North American expectations for third pairing defenders, that doesn’t fit the mold.
Now, I’m not saying he should be splitting time between the NHL and AHL. I’m just saying that I understand that an NHL coach would want safe plays off the glass and blocked shots from his number 6/7 defender. It’s basically an NHL tradition to not be able to play with the puck. If that’s what you want, Auvitu is not your man.
That said, good things happen when Auvitu is on the ice. More good things than bad things.
Now, before I start going through some of the numbers, there’s one I want to start with — PDO. The closest thing we have to quantifying a skater’s luck shows that Auvitu is riding a huge wave of good fortune. He’s sitting at a 104.1 PDO, which is the hockey equivalent of being King Midas. Everything this guy touches turns to gold. His on-ice save percentage is in line with the other defenders, but his on-ice shooting percentage is 11.6%, which is 3-4% higher than everyone else.
The next thing I want to point out is that Auvitu gets placed in offensive situations as much as possible. Maybe expressed in a different way, he is kept out of defensive zone faceoffs more than any other Oiler defender. He sees 14.1 defensive zone faceoffs per 60 minutes, which is a fair bit lower than the one-legged Sekera and the lead-footed Gryba. So the coaching staff is deploying him in a way that is definitely avoiding the areas of his game which give them concern.
The results are fantastic.
Yohann Auvitu is second on the blueline in raw shot attempt percentage at 53.0%. He is second in unblocked shot attempt percentage at 53.9%. He is second in scoring chance for percentage with 52.3%. He is fourth in shots for percentage at 51.4%. Finally, he is number one with a bullet (see PDO) in goals for percentage with 61.9%. Even if we discount some of the outcomes because of the sky-high shooting percentages, more good than bad is happening.
Auvitu doesn’t have a long history of NHL play for us to look into, but in his brief time with the Devils last season, he established himself in the top-four of all the categories I just mentioned. Like the Oilers, the Devils played Auvitu in as many offensive situations (least defensive ones) as possible and they were rewarded for it.
This year, with Auvitu on the ice, the Oilers are scoring 4.12 goals per 60 minutes 5v5 and only giving up 2.54 against. It is a full goal per 60 higher than the next closest Oiler defender. By number, when the Oilers need a goal, it’s probably Auvitu who should be on the ice.
Naturally, Auvitu is also the highest scoring defenseman on the Oilers on a per 60-minute basis, generating 1.43 points per 60. Darnell Nurse is second at 1.06 P/60. So he isn’t just leading, he’s leading by a wide margin. Similarly, he is heads and tails ahead of the pack in individual shots per 60 minutes 5v5.
For $700,000 on the cap, this player is delivering a lot for very little. The only thing that the team needs to ask is if they can envision themselves playing Auvitu more than the 35-40 games he will likely finish the season with. He’s averaging just 13:35 a night in an “every other game” kind of role and will be 29 next season. I’m not advocating he get $4M for four years with no movement clauses, but I would love to see him reprise his role at the bottom of the order again.
It seems there’s a definite right way to use this player that can very positively impact an NHL team. He might not be an all-situations top four defender who can calm the game down as well as he can make the first pass, but he can do more good than bad and it appears he can play with quality players in offensive situations. It’s hard to account for all the shine coming from his inflated on-ice shooting percentage, but I think he brings a different, up-tempo style to a position that is usually reserved for slow bruisers and to a team that desperately needs that jolt of energy.
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