Oilers D-men: Passing and Shooting

Photo credit:Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
1 year ago
The Edmonton Oilers have performed very well in 2023. They are tied for the most points and they have the highest points% in the Western Conference since January 1st. Their 30 points and .714P% is ahead of Colorado (26 and .650P%), Los Angeles (24 and .632P%), and Seattle (30 and .625P%). Their only struggle has come in overtime and the shootout where they are 0-6.
We’ve discussed the improved play of the depth forwards, and the excellent production from Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Zach Hyman quite often, so today let’s look at the defenders. Specifically, their passing, shooting and transporting of the puck.
This idea came about from a tweet I posted during the Flyers game.
Evan Bouchard’s best attributes are his puck skills. He has a great shot, and last season he was much better at getting his shot on goal and moving the puck effectively. He still has those qualities in his game, but he’s going through a tough stretch in his sophomore season. Many players do. This doesn’t mean he won’t rebound in the future. I’d be surprised if he didn’t, but at this moment, Bouchard’s best attributes haven’t been as noticeable as last season.
When I mentioned he is struggling, some fans said he isn’t and that they believe his passing has still been great. I disagree and went looking for some data to see what has unfolded in the games. Bouchard and Philip Broberg had an excellent month of January. Bouchard’s minutes were reduced, as was his ice time v. Elite players, and he played better. It was smart coaching. Putting players in positions to succeed is the most important thing a coach can do. Because Bouchard isn’t ready to be a first pair right defender today, doesn’t make him a bad player — far from it, just like Cody Ceci. He is being asked to play top-pair minutes, and he isn’t a top-pair defender. I don’t blame him for struggling in a role that is above his capability long term.
Back to Bouchard.
How many sophomores/rookies are playing top pair minutes on competitive teams? Moritz Seider in Detroit comes to mind, but it is rare. Don’t take Bouchard being placed in a pairing better suited to his experience and capabilities today as a demotion or a sign he isn’t good. Just because in his second NHL season he isn’t ready to play top-pair minutes doesn’t mean he’s a bad defender.
It also isn’t a negative to suggest he’s struggling in the areas he is usually best at. Courtesy of SportLogiq, here are four different passing categories for the Oilers. These do not include last night’s game as I asked for the data yesterday and received it during the Oilers/Penguins game. It includes the first 58 games of the season. SportLogiq has a team of people reviewing the plays via video. It is quite accurate, and they actually provide many NHL teams with data for their own teams.

Outlet Passes: An outlet pass is a defensive zone pass that drives the play north but is received before the red line.

**Outlet PA= outlet pass attempts.
**Passes Comp = completed passes.
PlayerOutlet PAPasses CompSuccess Rate
Tyson Barrie49238478.05%
Darnell Nurse59342471.50%
Vincent Desharnais775571.43%
Brett Kulak45131569.84%
Evan Bouchard56438468.09%
Cody Ceci42628466.67%
Philip Broberg16711065.87%
Tyson Barrie has been the most accurate by far, which isn’t a surprise. He’s been an elite puck mover for years. Darnell Nurse is a solid outlet passer. Vincent Desharnais, in a small sample size, has been quite effective.

Stretch passes: Stretch passes are defensive zone passes that travel past the red line. They are received in the neutral zone after the red line.

**Stretch PA= stretch pass attempts.
**Passes Comp = completed passes.
PlayerStretch PAPasses CompSuccess Rate
Tyson Barrie17211667.44%
Vincent Desharnais9666.67%
Philip Broberg593966.10%
Evan Bouchard15810063.29%
Darnell Nurse17310862.43%
Brett Kulak1378159.12%
Cody Ceci1196756.30%
Barrie is at the top again. Stretch pass completion % drops for all the players, which makes sense as it is a longer pass to make. Interesting to note how many fans repeat how Nurse can’t pass and Bouchard is very good, yet Nurse is higher in outlet passing and only 0.86% lower in stretch passes. I think missing one or two wide-open winger/centres can lead people to believe that is the norm. Nurse misses some you’d like to see completed, but he also attempts the most. The gap between him, Bouchard and Barrie in attempts and completions isn’t very big.
In the long term, it would help the Oilers to have a more efficient right-shot passer paired with Nurse. (Hello Erik Karlsson. I know it is a difficult trade, but it would be the best option). Cody Ceci is more suited to play second pair minutes.

Defensive Zone passes: Passes to forwards in the defensive zone.

** DZ PA= pass attempts in defensive zone.
**Passes Comp = completed passes.
PlayerDZ PAPasses CompSuccess Rate
Tyson Barrie102480178.22%
Brett Kulak86361971.73%
Darnell Nurse120986571.55%
Evan Bouchard97968770.17%
Vincent Desharnais1349470.15%
Cody Ceci86060069.77%
Philip Broberg34623668.21%
Barrie leads by a large percentage again, and then there’s a less than a 2% margin between Kulak, Nurse, Bouchard and Ceci. I’d expect to see Broberg increase his percentage to over 70% moving forward.

Defence to defence pass in the defensize zone: Passes to defense partner in the defensive zone.

**D2D PA in the DZ= defence to defence pass attempts in defensive zone.
**Passes Comp = completed passes.
Player D2D PA in the DZPasses CompSuccess Rate
Tyson Barrie36030183.61%
Brett Kulak27422381.39%
Cody Ceci31424979.30%
Evan Bouchard25620379.30%
Darnell Nurse44233375.34%
Philip Broberg1198773.11%
Vincent Desharnais483368.75%
It is interesting how Ceci shows better here than Bouchard and Nurse. And very small sample size, but Desharnais having lower success rate on these passes than outlet passes is interesting. Barrie and Kulak being 1-2 and playing together has me wondering if they are better at giving their partner a more supportive outlet? Just a thought, and something to watch for.

Total Passes: All four pass categories combined.

**Stretch PA= stretch pass attempts.
**Passes Comp = completed passes.
PlayerTotal PAPasses CompSuccess Rate
Tyson Barrie2048160278.20%
Brett Kulak1725123871.76%
Darnell Nurse2417173071.57%
Evan Bouchard1957137470.20%
Vincent Desharnais26826870.14%
Cody Ceci1719120069.80%
Philip Broberg69147268.30%
Any suggestion Barrie isn’t the most accurate and efficient passer this season is simply incorrect. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. He has been an elite offensive defender for years. He is excellent at completing passes under pressure or with time. Kulak has quietly had a very good season moving the puck.


The Oilers blueline, outside of Barrie, hasn’t been great at finishing this year. Edmonton ranks 26th in goals by defenders with 22. They are tied for seventh in assists with 108 and are 11th in points with 130. San Jose leads the NHL with 146 points, mainly due to Erik Karlsson. The gap between first to 11th is 16 points, and it is only 11 points from second to 11th.
Here’s a look at the Oilers bluelines shooting this season:
** SA = Shot attempts
SOG = Shots on goal
G = Goals
MS = Missed shots
BS = Blocked shots
SC CH = Scoring chances
SHS Rate = Shooting success rate (number of shot attempts that hit the net).
Brett Kulak1637923153748.47%
Tyson Barrie2391131043832947.28%
Darnell Nurse2991336641024844.48%
Cody Ceci14663129541943.15%
Evan Bouchard2881133521233239.24%
Vincent Desharnais2070310035.00%
Philip Broberg632201031434.92%
Bouchard has the most shots blocked and most missed, which matches with what I’ve seen. His confidence has waned during his 37-game goal drought. It happens. Very few players are immune from bouts of low confidence. When he’s on he is good at getting the shot past the forward. Getting shots on goal consistently is a skill. Nick Lidstrom was amazing at it. He’d change the angle just enough to ensure he got his shot past the forward. It doesn’t have to be hard, because any rebound can cause chaos.
Nurse has put himself in the best spot for scoring chances. The past month he’s had many high-quality chances but hasn’t been able to bury them. He is tied for 30th in 5×5 goals among D-men, while Barrie is tied for 14th with six. Bouchard’s skill set should have him over 45% SHS rate. Being below 40% illustrates his offensive struggles this season. Last season he was at 45.6% SHS rate with 204 shots on goal in 447 attempts. He is on pace for 157 shots on goal this year.
Bouchard is currently getting 6% fewer of his shot attempts on goal this year than last. To say it is just bad luck is misleading and inaccurate. Last year Nurse was at 46.5%, Bouchard at 45.6%, Barrie was at 45.3% and Ceci was at 44.4%. Only Bouchard has had a significant drop. The others are all within 2%.
Again, I’m not ripping on Bouchard, I’m just pointing out how confidence, or lack thereof, is impacting his best attributes. He is young, he will learn from it and I won’t be surprised to see him back around 45% next season.


Here are the numbers for controlled exits and entries for the Oilers. These are when the D-men skates the puck out of the defensive zone (exit) or into the offensive zone (entry) with control.
PlayerControlled ExitsControlled Entries
Darnell Nurse194102
Evan Bouchard16761
Cody Ceci12537
Tyson Barrie10819
Brett Kulak10239
Philip Broberg3510
Vincent Desharnais143
Nurse is the best skater on the blueline, and it isn’t a surprise he leads the team in both categories. He is top-10 in the NHL in both. The good news for Bouchard, is despite his passing and shooting numbers being down, he is still carrying the puck effectively. Barrie and Kulak move the puck more than they carry it.
As he gains more experience, I’d like to see Broberg transport the puck more. He’s played fewer games, but his exits to TOI are still quite a bit lower than the top five. He is a very good skater and I suspect that is something the coaches will encourage him to do more next season. He’s played just over 50 NHL games, so there is no rush, but it will be interesting to see how much his passing and transportation numbers improve in the future.
Bouchard, like most players in an extended offensive funk, just needs one goal to turn things around. Ryan McLeod went 22 games without a goal earlier this season, and then he buried one and proceeded to score six goals in 12 games. Confidence is a finicky beast, and it can negatively infect almost any player at any time when things aren’t going well, but then it can ignite instantly and help a player go on a hot streak.
Bouchard is going through the first prolonged drought of his career. It is a rough learning experience, but he will be better off because of it. He is having a tough time. That doesn’t mean his upside and potential is gone, it just isn’t at the forefront right now. One goal and it could return quickly, and if it does down the stretch, that will be a major boost for the Oilers and Bouchard.


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