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Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski / USA TODAY Sports Images

How high is Travis Dermott’s ceiling?

Between the incoming Nylander contract deadline, the Matthews injury and potential trades flying all over the internet, there hasn’t been a shortage of Leafs news recently. One story that isn’t getting the attention it deserves is the play of Travis Dermott.

When Kyle Dubas was asked about the Leafs defense this past summer, he responded saying that he has a lot of faith in the current group. This left Leafs fans worried about whether he would elect to not trade for a top-four defenceman. Fast forward to November of the same year and it looks like the Leafs have had that player all along in Travis Dermott.

In this piece, I will be analyzing Dermott’s first 52 NHL games while attempting to map out his “ceiling”.

This season, Dermott has spent the majority of his ice time on the third-pairing alongside Igor Ozhiganov and Martin Marincin. Despite only having two assists, Dermott has done extremely well in terms of generating shot attempts for the Leafs while minimizing his opponents. In fact, every Leafs forward has benefitted when on the ice with Travis Dermott this season.

There are a few things to take away from the tweet above. One, Dermott has an extremely large positive impact on the third and fourth line. This is especially significant considering he spends most of his time on the ice with them. Secondly, when Dermott is not on the ice, the Leafs are being outplayed regardless of what forward line they have out. This really is bonkers.

If we compare Dermott to the other Leafs defencemen, it tells the same story: The Leafs are better when Dermott is on the ice.

I think at this point, it’s safe to say that Travis Dermott is overqualified for the third-pairing role he is currently in.

How does Dermott compare to top-end defensemen?

What is most impressive about Dermott’s stellar play is his age. As a loose rule, defensemen take longer than forwards to mature. Producing these results in the NHL as a 21-year-old, is impressive, to say the least. Which poses the question: How does Dermott compare to top-end defensemen?

Below are the even strength results of current top-end defensemen when they were 21 years old. For a larger sample size, I have combined all of Dermott’s NHL games (this season and last season).

Player Year GP P1/60 Rel CF% Rel GF% TOI QoT TOI QoC
Travis Dermott 2017-2019 52 0.46 7.88 7.21 26.3 27.97
Aaron Ekblad 2017-2018 82 0.46 -2.16 1.5 29.52 29.52
Thomas Chabot 2017-2018 63 0.72 2.88 -0.55 28.94 28.47
Ivan Provorov 2017-2018 82 0.76 -0.4 3.79 28.35 29.33
Noah Hanifin 2017-2018 79 0.75 2.15 -1.75 27.11 28.4
Seth Jones 2015-2016 81 0.45 2.53 -8.48 27.25 28.67
Jaccob Slavin 2015-2016 63 0.22 0.58 -0.95 27.78 29.07
Jacob Trouba 2015-2016 81 0.39 0.79 7.93 27.78 28.91
Morgan Rielly 2015-2016 82 0.42 -2.45 -4.85 27.58 29.62
Tyson Barrie 2012-2013 32 0.22 3.23 -7.54 28.18 29
Erik Karlsson 2011-2012 81 1.21 4.13 8.83 28.7 29.53
PK Subban 2010-2011 77 0.44 4.59 -0.78 27.61 29.21
Drew Doughty 2010-2011 76 0.61 4.04 9.13 29.02 29.81
Kris Letang 2008-2009 74 0.27 3.47 -5.48 28.26 29.11

It’s clear that Dermott’s deployment is different than the other players here. The Leafs are in an interesting situation, where they have two top-end defensemen on the left side which allows Dermott to receive easier competition. Not many other teams have had that luxury. While Dermott does face easier competition, he also plays with worse teammates than the majority of his peers here.

Research shows that the quality of teammates has a stronger effect on results than the quality of competition although many consider it is still up for debate. At the very least, Dermott’s deployment is something to keep in mind when looking at this data.

Although Dermott hasn’t produced primary points at the same clip as players like Erik Karlsson and Drew Doughty, he is comparable to some of the lower-to-middle end producers on this list like Jaccob Slavin, Kris Letang, Jacob Trouba, Morgan Rielly and Seth Jones. Where Dermott charts out extremely well is in shot and goal differential. In this regard, he is comparable to some of the top-end talents on this list of 21-year-olds.

In fact, Dermott’s shot attempt differential is so impressive that he has been one of the top defensemen in this stat since entering the league.

 

The Eye Test

In my opinion, Dermott has all the tools to be a first-pairing defenseman one day. He thrives in so many key aspects of the game and thinks steps ahead of his peers.

What makes me so optimistic about Dermott is his ability to read individual situations and react accordingly. With a lot of defensemen, we see them approach similar situations in the exact same way regardless of what is in front of them.

For example, Roman Polak will usually clear the puck around the boards regardless of whether he has a better passing option. That’s his go-to method of exiting his own zone. In contrast, Jake Gardiner will usually look for a clean outlet pass even when just clearing the puck out of the zone is the better option. This is a generalization but the point is, Dermott isn’t like that. Dermott reads the play and then reacts, rather than having a conditioned response to a situation. 

Below I have a bunch of GIFs showing Dermott’s play in different situations. It’s clear that he has many different methods of achieving the same goal. 

Zone Exits: 

Watch the video below until the end. A taste of Dermott’s puck carrying, skating and decision making.

Here is an example of Dermott deciding to flip the puck out rather than looking for a clean outlet pass. This decision leads to a Tyler Ennis goal.

 

A miscommunication between the Leafs goalie and Ozhiganov leads to a bit of a mess. Luckily, Dermott’s poise saves the day.

 

Defending in transition:

This is probably my favourite aspect of Dermott’s game. He can play the puck, the pass or the man depending on the situation.
There are examples of all three in the clips below.

 

Here, Dermott overcommits when trying to hold his blue-line. Thankfully, he has the mobility to recover and the skill to perfectly time his play on the puck.
Nice try Max Domi.

 

One thing that makes Dermott so effective when defending in transition is his ability to dictate where the incoming forward has to go. Below, he cuts off the middle of the ice and drives the Ottawa Senators forward into the back-checking Mitch Marner. When the time is right, he plays the body and separates the man from the puck.

 

Talking of separating the man from the puck….. This was just not polite.

 

Here is a great example of Dermott deciding to defend the pass rather than the puck carrier.
This decision allows Dermott to be right on top of the forward when the pass is made.

Killing penalties

Although we don’t have a huge sample of Dermott’s penalty killing at the NHL level, I have really liked what I have seen thus far.
Dermott gives a passive Leafs penalty kill, a refreshingly aggressive facet.

In the offensive zone:

One of my favourite goals of all time.

 

In the defensive zone

I call this clip: Travis Polak. You don’t need to be 7’7, 300lbs to win battles in front of the net.
At the tail-end of this video, we see what happens when Dermott takes on Ryan Reaves.

 

Dermott notices that Crosby doesn’t have any clear passing options. As a result, he fully commits and strips him of the puck.

 

Dermott maintains a good gap before committing.
Also, what Dermott does with the puck should really just be expected at this point.

So what is Travis Dermott?

While it’s hard not to get overexcited, I think we will have to continue being patient with Travis Dermott. For the past year, we have accepted him for what he is: a dominant overqualified third pairing defenseman. As a 21-year-old, this “sheltered” deployment has been a blessing in disguise, as he has continued developing his game against bottom-six competition.

Going forward, it looks like Babcock is going to slowly transition Dermott into a larger role on the team. There has been a small rise in Dermott’s minutes and a decrease in Ron Hainsey’s this season. As a result, we have seen Dermott and Rielly play together more than in the past, with Rielly playing on the right side. In addition, Babcock has a history of optimizing his lineups come playoff time and if Dermott continues playing the way he is, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more of the Dermott/Rielly pair.

His skill-set, underlying numbers, and high hockey IQ are what make me particularly high on Travis Dermott. His play and age have put him into the conversation of being a potential future first-pairing defenceman. Whether it actually happens, time will only tell.


Here are a few bonus GIFs of Dermott being Dermott. 

Thanks for reading.

 

Stats from corsica.hockey/skater-stats and hockeyreference.com

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  • Stan Smith

    To watch Dermott play, it is hard to believe he is only 21. He is way ahead in the development of his defensive skills than Rielly or Gardiner were at that age. He might not have the same offensive skills as they do, but he is no slouch offensively either. The Leafs seem to be starting to used Zaitsev/Gardiner more against the oppositions top lines, and Rielly/Hainsey more on the 2nd pair 5 on 5. This does two things. It allows Rielly to be rested more for the power play, and Babcock could slide Dermott into Hainsey’s spot a little more as the season goes on, without risking him against the top lines. We know Rielly can play his offside, as he did it for two seasons with Hunwick. The end result, is it gives Hainsey easier minutes, and plays him more where he belongs, but also allows him to mentor Ozhiganov, or any other young Leaf dman they may chose to try.

  • Skill2Envy

    I know Ozhiganov is still learning but he has played well and could be our best overall RHD on the team currently.

    Rielly – Ozhiganov
    Gardiner – Zeitsev
    Dermott – Hainsey

    Ozhiganov makes smart plays and moves the puck well while playing responsible in his own end, although it’s his first year, I think he would work with Rielly while taking minutes from Hainsey 5-v-5.