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Photo Credit: © Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Loving Auvitu

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.

Dec 9, 2017; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Yohann Auvitu (81) during the warm-up session before the game against Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

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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  • About time someone gave praise to this gem of a player!
    When the Oilers got Auvitu and the coach played him, he raised some eyebrows. Quick, smart, and focused.
    He gets high praise on his work ethic and attitude. His numbers are amazing.
    Heck, he played on the 4th line for a snidge there too!
    I’m not just viewing Auvitu as a 7th d-man, but much cheaper Sekera replacement now, and he may trigger Reggie’s buyout.

    • BrandieBear

      I don’t know if I would buy out Sekera. I think trading him and retaining salary would be the better option. I think if we are prepaired for, and can convince other fans, that we have some growing pains I’d run 25-6, 77-74, 4-83 and run Auvitu as one of our 7th. I’d then take some of the Sekera signings and go find a good 6-7 D as well. I’d be ok with this and being patient if we can find a vet 6-7 kind of guy that can swap out with the young guns if needed. This would help us balance our lines with 3LD and 3RD and give our guys time to progress

      • McRaj

        Patience? We have missed the playoffs in 11 of 12 years, don’t talk about a rebuild. Another season like this and we may be saying goodbye to McDavid. No time for patience.

        • LAKID

          Do you think the Oiler’s could get back their 2018 4th round pick for Montoya for him or the 2019 3rd round pick to the Flyer’s that Chia has just taken a huge gamble on? Chia is making save his job decisions.

  • Kepler62c

    I agree! Bring him back, I like having him and Gryba as those depth options. Injuries, as we are all well aware, happen – and it’s nice to have solid players to step in to take those minutes.

  • crabman

    I would sign him to a simular 1 year contract. But Unless Klefbom, or another defenceman, is moved to address the teams need for a top 4 RHD I would expect Auvitu to be more of a depth defender splitting his time between the AHL and being an injury call up. I expect the Oilers to address their RHD need and without moving another D out Benning becomes the #7. At this point considering age and development curve I would prefer they invest in Benning over Auvitu.

  • TKB2677

    So what you are saying is as long as you don’t put him out for anything remotely defensive, he’s fine. Great. If he wants to sign for league minimum playing spot duty, sure, why not.

    • BringitbacklikeSlats

      Yeah what insight this guy has into the nuances of the Defensive position. Surely this newfound treasure trove of offensive accumen combined with no defensive upside is what every NHL executive has been waiting for.
      Jeez you know… maybe Matt should make an annual trek down to the annual meetings and hold court. Enlighten these men about just what kind of Defenseman they should be looking for to win cups.

  • Burns14

    Love his story about how he made it to the NHL, but he’s nothing more than a 7th defenseman. I wouldn’t mind seeing that spot next year being a younger fringe guy that’s been in the system.

    • MillHoodsHockey4Life

      I would rather pay Auvitu $7-800k to play sparingly when needed than to have a fringe prospect sit when they could play big minutes and progress in Bakersfield. He’s far from perfect but he’s cheap and versatile which is needed in a spare part.

  • Ginbaby

    Serious question: How is goals on ice per 60 different from plus minus? Isn’t it just measuring how good players around him are and the fact he gets an offensive push ?

  • Corbs

    How on earth do you think he is an NHL dman? Guys like him are why we so far out of the playoffs. If we continue to play guys that belong in the AHL we will be near the bottom again next year.

    • MillHoodsHockey4Life

      NHL dman sure. Regular NHL dman, not yet, or ever. But there is only so much money to go around and tweeners like Auvitu are the sacrifices made when there are some expensive (but needed) salaries for the top performers and bloated, careless contracts that won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. If you get rid of him who do you bring in cheap to play every fifth/tenth game? If the 7/8 slot is a prospect would you be equally upset if they don’t play to your expectations?

  • Glencontrolurstik

    I think he’s great. Has good hockey sense, very good speed, with effortless skating transitions.
    He has an excellent shot to boot. Opposite situation to Byfugelin, has anyone thought to try Auvitu at forward?
    This maybe a valuable off-season project?

    • The Puck

      I really enjoy seeing a well balanced analysis/opinion. Nicely done. I tend to the “keep Auvitu” thinking at this point but think this should be reassessed as things evolve over the next few months.