Updated: Dec 12, 2020
On Saturday afternoon, Pierre surprised Sens fans with a new topic of conversation to bring up with relatives over Thanksgiving dinner: he had traded a 2021 4th round pick for Predators right winger Austin Watson. Now, my family from Carp and Renfrew and the like loved the deal. They were happy we added some sandpaper we haven’t really had up front since Chris Neil. And he doesn’t spell “Austin” like a schmuck. On the other hand, Twitter was not thrilled. And it was easy to see why – Watson’s possession metrics are… not great. Which actually means he’ll fit right into our system. But why did we give up an asset for him? Was there something we were missing, that goes beyond conventional metrics?
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WATSON LIVES IN THE DEFENSIVE ZONE
Austin Watson was a mid-first round pick, so I wondered why he has never been able to top 20 points in a full campaign. I looked up his usage, specifically his defensive zone start percentage. And good gravy, was he ever trusted by Laviolette and Hynes. How much? Watson posted the NINTH HIGHEST DZS% in the NHL. I’m not saying he’s actually the next Jonathan Marchessault, ready to turn into a first liner as soon as the opportunity presents itself. But it’s tough to generate scoring chances when you start most of your shifts 175 feet from your own net. Here’s a table of the guys who ranked ahead of him, and how they stack up in a couple of areas. What it shows is that it’s next to impossible to have positive possession metrics when often starting in your own zone. Go figure.
DOES HE KILL PENALTIES?
I was disappointed to see that Watson wasn’t more of a penalty-killing specialist last season. Some of the players listed above are flat out studs, ranking in the top 10 in the league in terms of how much of their team’s PK time they are on the ice for per game. Watson is ranked fourth among Nashville forwards and 154 in the league overall in SH TOI%, which puts him in the same neighbourhood as Toffoli, Stastny, and Pearson. It’s nice company, but I wouldn’t categorize him as a PK specialist.
SO WHY DID WE GET HIM?
The Sens have a few guys like Artem Anisimov, who seem to just take laps out there, not doing much. At least Watson can serve a tangible purpose. Ottawa could realistically ice an opening day roster with Stuetzle, Batherson, Norris, and Formenton to begin the year. I think teams like the Islanders recently proved that there’s definitely still value in having a few pricks who can just go out there, run amok, and play those defensive shifts you don’t want to waste on skilled players.
These young lads need to develop their confidence in the NHL, which would probably be tougher to do if other teams are taking shots on them without fear of repercussions, or if they aren’t able to play sheltered minutes with plenty of offensive zone starts. A fourth-liner of that calibre is about all I could ever expect out of a fourth-rounder anyways, and 1.5 million for the next three years is a pretty insignificant price tag. I’m not calling it a great trade by any stretch. But Pierre gave up pretty much nothing for somebody who could truly contribute, so I’m here for it.