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. As well as part two here.
Top Norris Trophy Candidates from each Division
In the Norris Trophy Watch series’ third installment, we will break down the top three Norris candidates in each division. Let’s start by acknowledging that the Honda West Division is stacked with candidates this season! Through a very tedious, round and round process of elimination, there are currently 25 “candidates.” Of those 25, nine of them hail from the West. While the Discover Central Division has the second most at seven-candidates
Regardless, there is no doubt these lists will change in various ways as the season goes on. Some guys may get snubbed, but just barely. For example, in the Central Division, Miro Heiskanen consistently plays exceptionally well, but some guys on his team are playing just a little bit better. With that, let us jump into the divisions!
Scotia North Division
If points are what will win you the Norris, then the North division candidates will have no issues. Out of all the tracked players, three of the top five in points play for teams located in Canada. First in points, and on this list, is Quinn Hughes. As mentioned before, Hughes is the most productive defenceman being tracked. Leading all NHL defencemen in points and assists. Hughes has no problem creating offence. Yet, he is not the most efficient and that all stems from his defensive game. While many said the departure of Chris Tanev would make a significant impact, no one expected the Vancouver Canucks to end up like this. Darren Haynes, who covers the Flames, said it best in a tweet not too long ago—saying that whoever Tanev plays with sees a significant bump in their defensive numbers.
Coming up next in this division, we have Montreal Canadiens, Jeff Petry. Seemingly coming out of nowhere, Petry has quickly jumped to the top of the list. Not only can he score with 16 points in 18 games, but he has the sixth-best Corsi For percentage on the Canadians with at least 15 games played at 54 percent. Petry’s advanced numbers look even better. With a Goals Above Replacement of 6.6 and a Wins Above Replacement of 1.1. Petry finds himself second and first, for the respective categories, of all the players being tracked.
Last but certainly not least. Darnell Nurse of the Edmonton Oilers has quietly been having himself an excellent season. Through 21 games played, Nurse has 16 points and 23 penalty minutes. Not to mention the 25-year old is fifth on the team in points and second for all defensemen on the Oilers. What is most impressive about Nurse is how he plays. As a more prominent, tougher guy, Nurse uses his body as much as he can, while still putting up points. A deadly combination that, if he continues with, will, in fact, help Edmonton make the playoffs.
Honda West Division
Next, we enter the Wild West of the Norris Watch series. Not only does the division hold some of the top Stanley Cup contenders, but the same can also be said for the Norris trophy.
To say that Cale Makar is the best defenseman in the league right now is an understatement. He is continuing his dominating, game-changing play. Makar shows he is a future Hall of Fame defenseman in the making. His more traditional stats look great with 12 points in 13 games, 61.1 Corsi For percentage, and only four penalty minutes. It’s the advanced analytics that jumps out at you. With a Goals Above Replacement at eight and a Wins Above Replacement at 1.3, he is truly irreplaceable. Every time he steps on the ice, he makes everyone around him a better player.
Next from this division is Shea Theodore. Even though he missed some games due to COVID-19 protocols. Shea hasn’t missed a beat. With a point in three of his last five games, he and his team are atop the West once again, with a Goals For per 60 of 4.2 and a Goals Above Replacement of 2.8. When Theodore is on the ice, everyone around him can expect him to control the pace of the game from the back end.
It brings a lot of pleasure to place Jakob Chychrun on this list. The South Florida native came into the NHL with a slight stigma of being injury-prone. Due to this, Chychrun fell to the Coyotes at 16th pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft- when he should’ve gone much higher. Nonetheless, these past two seasons, Chychrun has improved greatly. With his defensive game improving last season and this season, his offensive game is finally coming around. He ranks 12th in the league in points, as well as fifth on his team in points. In addition to the fourth-best Goals Above Replacement on his team 1.2. One could say he is having a bit of a breakout season.
Discover Central Division
Now that we are on to the central division, things become less clear on the top three. While Victor Hedman is first on his team in points, assists, and average time on ice. Hedman is playing exactly how we expected. As one of the betting favourites for the Norris heading into the season. He is second among defensemen across the league in points, with a few games in hand. With that said, another guy who is quietly dominating lives just across the state from him.
Moving even further south, Aaron Ekblad has played extremely consistent this season. As one of the team’s best power-play players, Ekblad has helped bring the Panthers to the top of the standings in the Central division. At this time, Ekblad has 11 points in 17 games played; he also leads the team in average time on ice. Overall, it seems that Ekblad has gotten over his injuries from the past and is turning into the player he was drafted to be. It is an exciting time for Panthers fans everywhere.
A lot of NHL fans thought Heisknen would be the stud defender of the Dallas blueline. As mentioned above, Miro is playing very well and looks to be a long-term all-star. His teammate, John Klingberg, is playing even better. Second on his team in points and offensive point shares. First, in penalty minutes and power-play assists, Klingberg is another one who is silently moving to the top of the list in the Central division.
MassMutual East Division
Without bashing the toughest division in the league. The MassMutual East Division lacks in Norris calibre candidates. From this division, two players are worth noting. To start, we have John Carlson of the Washington Capitals. Carlson is continuing his play from last season, where he was a Norris favourite for much of the season. This year, and like that of last, Carlson’s offensive game places his name in the conversation. With a Goals For Per 60 at 2.8 and a Goals Above Replacement of 3.7. John Carlson has progressed offensively every year since the 2016-17 season. Inching closer and closer to the award.
Last but certainly not least, Boston Bruins Charlie McAvoy deserves way more praise. With Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara‘s departures, McAvoy has picked up the slack in a big way. Tied for fourth on the team in points, first in average ice time, and second in overall point shares. McAvoy has been the guy on the back end of the Bruins team. As Norris Trophy contender last season, he has grown even closer this season. Cracking the top ten of this Norris Trophy Watch list!