One of the challenges of the new era of statistical knowledge in hockey is that there’s just so much damn information out there. It’s tough to keep up with all of it, and a lot of the time certain data points get glossed over.
One of these data points is Viktor Loov – predominantly a Marlies defenseman this year, whom most seem to have pegged as a C-level prospect. But I was looking over some of the advanced stats for Leafs players this season, and his numbers really jumped out at me.
No, I mean really jumped out at me. As in, “holy s#%$ this guy is way, way, way better than people are giving him credit for”.
Let’s take a look at some of the numbers so you can get a better idea of what I’m talking about.
This first table is the most shocking. So, the first number I noticed about Loov is that he has an obscenely high Points Per 60. In fact, I was pretty sure it was so high that it would likely top just about any other defenseman this season. I took a look, and my suspicions were confirmed:
So, yeah…a few things stand out here. First of all, Norris trophy incumbent Drew Doughty doesn’t even crack the list. Also, Loov has the second best puck possession numbers here aside from Victor Hedman, who edges him only slightly.
Most noticeably though, is the absolutely mind-boggling realization that Loov CRUSHES even the next best defenseman in even strength point production. That next best player happens to be Erik Karlsson, considered by many to be a generational talent.
Karlsson had 82 points this season. 44 of those came at even strength. Karlsson played 1735:58 at even strength this year. If we were to adjust Loov’s ice-time to that, he would have had 86 points.
Let me say that again: if Viktor Loov had played as much as Erik Karlsson at even strength this year, he would have had nearly twice as many points as him at 5v5. He would have outpaced Erik Karlsson’s all-situations production without having played even a theoretical second on the powerplay. He would have done that much better than someone who’s won two Norris trophies and counting; someone who’s a lock to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Now, these numbers on their own are pretty staggering. But I didn’t want to be irresponsible with my data as people sometimes are, so I dug deeper to see what else I could find.
SWEDISH HOCKEY LEAGUE
Okay, great, Loov had an incredibly under-the-radar season in the NHL. So what? He’s a rookie. Who’s to say he can back it up again next year?
Well, I decided to go back and look at Loov’s time in Sweden to see if his production there backs up him being as good as he supposedly is. I compared his numbers in the Swedish Hockey League with that of the NHL’s other top tier Swedish defensemen: Erik Karlsson, Victor Hedman, and John Klingberg. Here are the production totals for each of these players in their rookie season in the SHL:
So not only does Loov stack up better than his Swedish counterparts in the NHL, but he did the same in Sweden. Remind me how nobody thought this kid would be any good?
IN THE AHL
Okay, so I really wanted to back up the numbers I was getting. So, I decided to look at the totals that each of Loov, Karlsson, Hedman, and Klingberg put up not only in the NHL or SHL, but in the AHL as well. Here are the career numbers of these guys in the minors:
For the third straight time, Loov absolutely obliterates the competition. The dude has 23 more points than John Klingberg ever had in the AHL and 25 more than Karlsson.
Side-note: much like with the SHL numbers of these guys, Victor Hedman comes in last of the pack. I’m starting to see why Jon Cooper only plays this guy 22 minutes a night.
I’ve come to learn that the more sources you can use to back up your argument, the more reliable your information becomes, and the more persuasive your argument is. So I went beyond the boxcar stats across the various leagues and decided to look at where Loov was drafted.
Taken 209th overall, Loov was a 7th-rounder of the Leafs in 2012. Okay, so what? What does history tell us about players taken in this range? Here’s what I found:
Yet again Loov comes in with some pretty elite company. He doesn’t blow the competition away like he did before, but let’s take a closer look here.
Basically, Loov comes in no more than four picks behind Henrik Lundqvist (a future Hall of Famer), Joe Pavelski (a first line center), and Ondrej Palat (one of the best defensive forwards in the league). Loov also bests Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg, one of the best 200-foot players over the last 10 years. And unsurprisingly, Loov easily bests other good (albeit depth) players like Radim Vrbata, Mark Streit, and Matt Moulson. This would seem to back up the idea that Loov is an elite player in the league.
CALDER TROPHY IMPLICATIONS
Given Loov’s astounding numbers, you’d think he belongs in the conversation for the Calder Trophy (if not the Norris Trophy, and quite arguably, the Hart). But just how well do Loov’s numbers stack up against the other top rookies this season? I took a look:
Looking at this table, the first thought that comes to mind is people are right to complain about how the NHL Awards usually shake down. The fact that McDavid, Panarin, and Gostisbehere are considered the frontrunners for the Calder speaks to how poorly informed the voters really are.
I should acknowledge how incredible a season Oliver Bjorkstrand had for the Blue Jackets. His numbers even best Loov’s, who as we’ve established by now, is likely the best defenseman in the league.
But that’s just it: Bjorkstrand is a forward and Loov is a defenseman. For my money, this more than makes up for the very slightly lower production rate of Loov. He’d certainly get my Calder vote.
And hey, it should also probably be mentioned that Connor McDavid, who some people claim is already a top five or ten player in the league (and a forward no less), even falls short of Loov’s other-worldy numbers. I think it’s fair to say at this point that the Leafs have an absolute superstar on their hands in Viktor Loov.
I suspected Viktor Loov was a good player even before uncovering these numbers, but this only backs it up and then some: Viktor Loov has the numbers of a generational talent and deserves to be treated like one. And if history is any indicator, as we’ve seen through these various tables, Loov is arguably already one of the best defensemen in NHL history. Don’t be surprised if he wins the Norris next year, and the year after that, and the year after, and so on.
It’s also obviously great news for the Leafs. With all this talk about the Leafs needing to rebuild their blueline and maybe needing to draft a defenseman with their lottery pick this June, I think it’s safe to say that as long as the Leafs’ research and development team hands off some of this information to Mike Babcock, the Leafs blueline is more than ready to lead the Leafs on a number of deep playoff runs. Really all that needs to change is the degree to which Mike Babcock deploys him. After that, the rest should take care of itself.
Loov would also help explain a lot of the Marlies success this year. It’s hard to believe a player like this is available to them for their run at a Calder Cup this spring. I hope they enjoy him while they can, because next year we can fully expect to see him anchoring the Leafs top pair alongside Matt Hunwick.