On the latest MLHS Podcast, Ian Tulloch and Anthony Petrielli offered up their picks for the most underrated Leafs performer this season.
Anthony Petrielli’s pick (@APetrielli): Zach Bogosian
Petrielli: I have Zach Bogosian down as my most underrated player this year.
A lot of the rhetoric when he was first signed was that, basically, he was garbage, and if plays even half the games, we should be upset. There were a lot of questions about why they would sign him: “He’s just a grinder, physical-presence type of guy.” But Zach Bogosian can play.
He is not a top-four defenseman, but he fully understands his role. He plays within himself. He is steady. He covers for the young players he is paired with. He lets them play their game, and he kind of sits back and takes care of business. I think there is something commendable about that.
People are quick to forget what third pairings that are completely inexperienced look like. They are a nightmare from game to game. You get some good games and some really, really bad games. On the whole this season, I have looked at their third pairing and said, “They have been solid. They have just kind of hummed along.”
That is what you want in a third pairing, especially when you have the top four that the Leafs have and the forwards that they have. Bogosian comes in and he just does his job every night. There is something really commendable about that.
Tulloch: Coming into the season, if you were to guess what his shot share would be at five-on-five or his expected goals, I don’t think you would expect them to be this good. On a pairing with Travis Dermott, in over 362 minutes together, they are at 54% shot share and 57% expected goals. That shows as one of the best third pairs in hockey.
I think he is a good complement to a puck mover on a third pair. He is not the greatest puck mover, although surprisingly, he will pull something out of his bag of tricks every once in a while. But he settles things down defensively.
It is the most difficult aspect to measure, especially when we look at the impact of save percentage on the outcome of games. The relationship between defense and save percentage has always been difficult to measure. We say it is randomness and you can’t really impact it at all, but then I’ll see some defensemen who take away backdoor passes and others who look aloof in that instance. At some point, that matters.
The expected goals against are really low with him on the ice. I think he is doing something in that regard to prevent chances against while facing the cycle and taking away the front of the net. Evaluating cycle defense is hard to do, and you worry that some coaches might overrate it too much and it leads them to fall in love with a Nikita Zaitsev, who can’t move the puck or defend the rush and is getting buried every shift at five-on-five.
Zach Bogosian is an example of a strong defensive pair on a third pair. If he is in your top four, you might be in trouble. Defensively, I find he does the little things whether he is taking the passing lane away as the last man back, or picking up the man on the 3-on-2 rush. It is the little things. Defense is hard to evaluate night-to-night, but I have been happy with Bogosian this year.
Ian Tulloch’s pick (@IanGraph): Jake Muzzin
Tulloch: I am going to go with Jake Muzzin as the most underrated Leaf. The ability to play against top competition alongside literally anyone is the most valuable trait a defenseman can have. We have seen him with Zaitsev and Justin Holl. It has reached the point where you don’t even need to worry about him. You know what you are going to get.
His breakout numbers are way down from where they were a year or two ago, so that is something to keep an eye on, but the way that he defends the rush and the way that he shuts things down at the blue line is awesome to watch.
There has been more offense than I would’ve expected from him this year, too. He is surprisingly good offensively jumping in as the fourth man.
Petrielli: Over the course of the last two years, he is very close to Morgan Rielly in five-on-five points. People talk about who the Leafs‘ best defenseman is. At five on five and on the PK, it is Jake Muzzin. Jake Muzzin is their best defenseman.
Tulloch: If you look at the catch-all metrics — whether it is WAR, RAPM, shot share, or expected goals — at five-on-five, he has been the best defenseman on the team adjusting for context.
That adds up with my eyes. He can play against the other team’s best players, shut them down defensively, and he used to be really good at making the first pass out of his own zone. He is kind of struggling at times there this year, but the net effect is still positive because of how good he is defensively.