Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Preseason Player Previews: Travis Dermott

Continuing the series, we got a player who’s position on the team is either set in stone, or we have no clue about, depending on how adventurous Babcock decides to get this season. Dermott could be a safe bet for the bottom pair again, or he could be playing a bigger role in the top four, if Babcock decides to ditch the Rielly-Hainsey pairing this year. Doesn’t sound like that’ll be the case to start the season, so it looks like Dermott’s either the 3LD or 2RD (probably third pairing though).

There’s certainly a case to be made that he should get a bigger role. Among the eight Leafs defensemen to play 600 5v5 minutes this season, Dermott had the best 5v5 CF% (56.3%) and 5v5 xGF% (55.44%) on the team. But, he also played some of the easiest minutes on the team, playing on the bottom pair, and getting little to no penalty kill time. But, he also spent a majority of his season strapped to a boat anchor named Roman Polak, which basically neutralizes the fact that he had easy minutes.

Dermott With TOI With TOI Away CF% With CF% W/O Teammate CF% W/O Dermott
Roman Polak 223:31 335:04 51.76 58.99 47.58
Connor Carrick 187:39 370:55 60.05 54.24 52.24
Jake Gardiner 43:00 515:34 51.58 56.36 49.9
Morgan Rielly 41:25 517:09 60.07 55.67 51
Nikita Zaitsev 19:37 538:58 47.66 56.38 48.11
Ron Hainsey 14:07 544:27 59.12 55.94 48.25

Via NaturalStatTrick.com

A lot of people talk about the improvement of Roman Polak later in the season, but a lot of that improvement seemed to also coincide with Dermott’s promotion to the Leafs. When he wasn’t on the ice, Polak was the worst defenseman on the team. With him, Polak was serviceable and didn’t look totally out of place, although away from Polak, Dermott seemed to thrive.

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In fact, just about every defenseman saw improvement when playing with Dermott, except for Zaitsev, although less than 20 minutes of ice time isn’t exactly a great sample size. But whether it was the Leafs better defensemen (Rielly and Gardiner) or worse defensemen (Polak and Hainsey), they all played better with Dermott. With tougher minutes, this probably won’t be the case, but if he’s going to be sheltered on the third pair again, this is still important information.

One other really interesting detail is that Dermott and Carrick had a 60.05% 5v5 CF% together last season, in a decent sample size of 187:39. There’s a little bit of evidence to back up their success together, and if Rielly-Hainsey is going to be a thing, and Gardiner-Zaitsev are the other pair, a Dermott-Carrick pairing will dominate in sheltered third pair minutes, especially considering they’ll be playing with one of the three top lines.

Player 5v5 TOI 5v5 P/60 5v5 P1/60
Morgan Rielly 1404 1.11 0.81
Jake Gardiner 1680:26 1.14 0.68
Andreas Borgman 633:52 0.85 0.57
Travis Dermott 642:41 1.12 0.56
Nikita Zaitsev 1215:28 0.64 0.49
Roman Polak 902:26 0.8 0.47
Ron Hainsey 1464:39 0.7 0.37
Connor Carrick 676:42 0.71 0.35

Via CorsicaHockey.com

Dermott was also very productive last season considering his role on the team. In terms of P/60, Dermott was just as productive as Rielly and Gardiner, although if you eliminate secondary assists, he drops down a significant bit. Whether that changes, we’ll have to see, but the fact that he was on pace for almost 29 points in his rookie season playing on the bottom pair with Roman Polak shows that we still have a bit more to see from Dermott going into this season.

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One thing that we see from Dermott here is that he really likes to pass, and he’s pretty good at it too. Between his success at creating shots with his passing, or his utter lack of shots, it’s clear that when Dermott is in the offensive zone, he’s going to use his passing skills and create scoring chances rather than fire pucks at the net, which is a skill he needs to improve on (he only scored 1 goal on 1.9% of his shots).

But where Dermott really thrives is at denying zone entries. Whether it’s breaking the puck in the defensive zone, or not allowing the other team to enter the zone, Travis Dermott is in the top 20 percentile in every category, which bodes well for his defensive game going forward. He also really likes to carry the puck out of the defensive zone and then get rid of it as he enters the zone, as you can see by his frequency with exiting the defensive zone with the puck, and infrequency with entering the zone with the puck. It’s not something he’s good at yet, but he’s also got plenty of time still to improve that part of his game.

Dermott has a lot to play for going into this season. Obviously sophomore slumps are a thing, and luck was definitely on his side last season, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he is a little worse this year, but more due to bad luck than actual skill. But, on a year where the Leafs need to make a decision on Jake Gardiner, playing himself into a top four role would make that decision a lot easier for the Leafs.

What should we expect from Dermott this year? Like I said, his luck from last season leaves me to believe that we could see some regression this season, but the fact that he’s still only 21 could also see some growth counteract the regression. However, I hope to see him take some big steps in other areas. With Polak out, it wouldn’t surprise me if Dermott got some more minutes on the penalty kill, and he has the potential to be an injury replacement on the power play if needed, so he could see his role grow in that sense.

We could also see Dermott play well enough that he gets more time in the top four next year, especially if Hainsey can’t handle the top minutes anymore (if you could call what he did last season “handling the top minutes”). Dermott has some experience on the right side, so that flexibility could come in handy for him and the Leafs, although you’d prefer that he stay on the left side.

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While there wasn’t any drastic changes to the defense for this season, Polak’s departure will make a huge difference for Dermott, and that means we could see an even better for him, considering how well he plays with Carrick. If they can do that as the bottom pair, or even the second pair, and the defense is already looking better, in theory.

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