The second part of the CBJ 2013 Review picks two players that were hindered by injuries throughout the shortened season but still manged to impress. In fact, their work is remarkable within the context of both the Columbus team and the NHL as a whole. The two best forwards on Blue Jackets squad were Brandon Dubinsky and Cam Atkinson, with Matt Calvert a close third. We’ll cover the why for these three, and get to a few other honorable mentions shortly.
First, why Dubinsky? He only played in 29 games, so his overall impact was hardly typical of an elite scorer, right? Luckily for Jacket fans, the game is not merely won in goals scored. Dubinsky is a potent, complete player and will be an asset for the team in years to come. Dubinsky was the team leader in shots + attempts differential. Taken as a percentage, the Jackets had 54.1% of all shots at 5-on-5 during Dubinsky’s even strength work. That is, 54.1% of shots occurred for Columbus with Brandon on the ice.
This kind of production can be viewed either as offensive power or defensive superiority – Dubinsky was able to ensure that the majority of shots were taken by his team thus increasing Columbus’ odds of victory and decreasing the chances for the other team. And in fact, Dubinsky’s work was outstanding relative to the rest of the NHL, too. His Corsi Rel (his on-ice shots and attempts minus off-ice totals for the team; essentially a measure of possession ability relative to his own team) was 13th among NHL forwards with 20 or more games played. In fact, even without accounting for his team his 5-on-5 shot differential (per 60 minutes) was 72nd among forwards.
As I discussed before, Columbus was not a very good shot-driving team and that made Bobrovsky the easy pick for team MVP. The same conceptual basis makes Dubinsky’s performance so impressive among forwards: few other players were driving the puck, and Dubinsky was doing so at a top-tier level in the entire NHL. Then when you factor in the highest points per game on the team (his 0.69, versus Gaborik’s 0.67, or Prospal’s 0.63)? It’s pretty exciting to think about what will come of a healthier season out of Dubinsky. He projects to be a very solid contributer next year, putting up respectable numbers for and limiting goals against.
Nearly all the accolades and statistically impressive work done by Dubinsky could also be seen in Cam Atkinson’s game this season, thus making him the co-forward of the year for the Jackets. Cam on the ice resulted in Columbus getting 53.4% of shots. Further, Atkinson was the league’s 81st best shot attempt differential player, and a stunning 8th best relative to his team, leaving both Dubinsky and Atkinson to be almost equally brilliant possession drivers for the Jackets. Even more impressive for Atkinson? His early-season ankle injury hampered his play throughout the year (he’s even missing the IIHF World Championship to fully heal).
So not only did Atkinson play incredibly well this season, he also did it essentially on one ankle. Last May I discussed how Cam was a shining bright spot for the Jackets, and everything there still stands. Give Atkinson a less injured season and we can expect more great shot differentials and more goal scoring.
Matt Calvert, the team’s 3rd best forward, only falls slightly below the two top players due to his slightly lower possession/shooting numbers. Still, he was a force to be reckoned with and it’s a shame that he, too, was lost to injury (albeit late in the season). If these three players can continue their dominant style of hockey, I’d expect the new opponents in the Eastern Conference to be in for a rude awakening. Dubi, Cam, and Calvert are a solid foundation for Blue Jacket success.
Honorable mentions: Vinny Prospal (the team’s top scorer and tied for most powerplay goals on the club), Marian Gaborik (excellent late season addition who both produced and drew tough coverage away from other forwards), Mark Letestu (top goal scorer and a surprisingly versatile player)