Norris Trophy Watch: The Young Guns Are Taking Over

norris trophy

This series will be tracking the top Norris Trophy candidates through numerous amounts of stats to monitor and analyze their progression, production, efficiency, and reliability as we progress through the abbreviated 2021 NHL season. You can find more on the introduction of this series here.

Young Defencemen Are Gunning for the Norris Trophy

The young defencemen across the league are quickly demanding respect. With some just a year or two into their professional careers, they are looking like seasoned veterans. Whether it’s their offensive production or the ability to control the game’s pace from the back end, there are tons of guys who have a very bright future in the NHL. While we still must wait a few weeks for more isolated metrics to measure each individual’s deployment numbers and their actual impact,  these young men on the blue line are grabbing everyone’s attention.

Before we dive any deeper, let’s officially define a ‘young defenceman’ for the article’s sake. Since the 1984-85 season, only seven players have won the Norris Trophy at the age of 25-years or younger.  I would not be surprised if we see a new era of young guys winning the award. There are plenty of promising, up and coming defensemen around the league. Yet, there is a handful that has separated themselves from the others.

Makar vs. Hughes Round Two

Cale Makar finds himself in a familiar situation as the Norris Trophy race’s apparent leader. Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes is not far behind him. Since their incredible Calder Trophy race from the 2019-20 season, their careers have been intertwined and will continue for many years.

Their Calder race was beyond enjoyable to watch. These two are some of the most fluid and dynamic players skating on the ice. Their skills aligned perfectly with that of the Calder criteria. Yet, the Norris is about so much more than point production. At least it is supposed to be—a conversation for another time. Moving on, these two are definitely in the Norris race, but for various reasons.

To start, all the analytical gurus out there need to paste Cale Makar’s picture right next to the definition of “game-changer.” This kid is, in every sense of the definition, a game-changing player. He has 12 points through eleven games, a 62.6 Corsi For percentage, expected Goals For at 5.4. His Games Above Replacement is insane at 7.1, and he is one of the few (two) defencemen being tracked that have a Wins Above Replacement that is a whole number at one. As for the eye test, well…

On the other hand, Hughes is the top producing defenceman in the league right now. Through 16 games played, he leads all defensemen with 17 total points. Unfortunately, that is the extent of it right now.  Hughes is such a dynamic defenceman who does things on the ice that look like they are from a video game.  Yet, his defensive game is severely lacking with an Expected Goals Against of 7.3 and an On-ice goals-against count of 22. It seems that whenever Hughes is on the ice, he will either be scored on or help score a goal.  As if for him, there is no middle ground.

The Ones Who Deserve More Recognition

It is hard to say that Shea Theodore and Miro Heiskanen require any more recognition. Maybe it has something to do with the “east coast biases.”  Yet, that would mean Hughes and Makar would never receive any love. A better way to put this may be that these two guys need to be taken more seriously. Both Heiskanen and Theodore are play-drivers. They are the ones that you talk about when you mention controlling the pace from the back end. Yet, it feels as if others quickly overshadow them, but for no real reason.

Meanwhile, every season there are tons of players that fly under the radar. A few fans here and there will give them their respect, yet nothing really changes.  In particular, Charlie McAvoy, Aaron Ekblad, and Jakob Chychrun. All three of these guys are playing some of their best hockey yet, but nobody is talking about them.

All three of these players must have gone into this season with the mindset of putting the team on their backs. These guys are all in the top five for points, penalty minutes, time on ice, and point shares. Simply incredible, considering they are all some of the younger players on their teams! Not to mention, Chychurn is top ten in points for defenceman across the whole league. While McAvoy is seventh in assists across all d-men and Ekblad is in the top five in goals for the group’s respected position.

Thomas Chabot Needs Help

Over in Ottawa, Thomas Chabot might as well find himself on a stranded island. Leading the team in time on ice and point shares. The newly turned 24-year old is making the best of a bad situation. No one expected the Senators to be anything special this season, but this might be worse than some were anticipating. With that, Chabot has been the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. The former first-round draft pick, Chabot, is playing just like it. As second on the team in points and third in penalty minutes. He is a force to reckon with every time he is on the ice.

As a team who has allowed the second-most goals against this season, Chabot has sustained the highest Expected Goals For at 4.7 and the second highest Corsi For percentage among his fellow defenceman on the Senators, with at least ten games played.

Overall, the NHL has a lot to look forward to, as all these young players continue to develop into the elite blueliners they will indeed become. Only time will tell which one wins their first Norris Trophy.

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