It feels like Travis Dermott has been around for a long time. After all, the Leafs drafted him way back in the second round of the 2015 draft and a lot has changed for this organization since then. The fact is Dermott has still only scratched the surface of what he is capable of in the NHL, having turned 24 years old yesterday but still with just 157 regular season games of NHL experience due to various health and pandemic related issues.
Entering the 2021 campaign, the number to focus on for Travis Dermott is 4. This will be his fourth NHL season and I believe it will also be the season in which he firmly establishes himself as an effective top four defenseman, despite the multitude of options the Leafs have on their blue line. With Dermott signing a one-year, prove it contract and the Seattle expansion draft looming, Kyle Dubas and his staff will be eager to find out if they can rely on the young, homegrown blue liner as a core piece of their future.
Many believe, and rightfully so, that Justin Holl will get the first crack alongside Jake Muzzin on Toronto’s shutdown pairing to begin the season after they were effective in that role last season. It was something of a breakout season for Holl in his age 27 season but a closer look at the numbers shows that Muzzin may have been propping Holl up.
Holl played 492:37 with Muzzin at 5v5 last year and the pairing put up fantastic numbers. When they were on the ice, the Leafs controlled 52.92% of the shot attempts and put up a 56.26 xGF% but when Holl was on the ice without Muzzin, the Leafs controlled 50.82% of the shot attempts and had an xGF% of just 49.81%. Now, it is also fair to point out that Muzzin’s numbers away from Holl weren’t great either but his two most common partners after Holl were Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci so… yeah.
Dermott, on the other hand, has consistently put up strong underlying numbers throughout the early part of his career, but mostly in a third pairing role against lesser competition. Last season, Dermott played most of his 5v5 minutes with Justin Holl when Muzzin was out of the lineup, and Tyson Barrie when Muzzin was healthy. As a pairing, Dermott and Holl put up a solid 52.94 xGF% while Dermott and Barrie finished with a mark of 51.34%. Dermott spent just under 20 minutes with Muzzin at 5v5 last season, and though it’s impossible to take anything from that sample size, their xGF% of 64.72% is intriguing if nothing else. For the season, Dermott finished with the second highest xGF% among Leafs blue liners behind, you guessed it – Justin Holl.
But context is important here and though Holl put up strong results with his two most common partners in Muzzin and Dermott, he finished with just a 46.46 xGF% in 292:40 without either of them. It became apparent at points last season, and during the play-in series with Columbus, that Holl was getting exposed with more regularity when Muzzin wasn’t at his side.
Even putting the numbers aside, I believe it is clear that Dermott is the more talented player and holds far more upside than Holl who is probably best suited as a third pair defenseman. Holl gets by on smarts and responsible defensive play but Dermott is a far better skater, moves the puck better, and shuts down opposing rushes at a higher rate.
Perhaps it was just a good fit alongside Holl and Muzzin doesn’t mesh the same way with Dermott but I believe that if Muzzin was able to make people believe Justin Holl is a bonafide top four defenseman, he should be able to the same – and then some – with Travis Dermott.
(Statistics from NaturalStatTrick.com & Evolving-Hockey.com)