Under appreciated players – Daniel Winnik, puck-possession forward

Updated: October 30, 2012 at 7:10 am by Cam Charron

He’s not an All-Star and his team gets out-scored more when he’s on the ice than not, but as for third line depth talent the Anaheim Ducks could have done a whole lot worse this summer than when they signed Daniel Winnik.

Winnik’s offensive talents are quite limited. In 366 NHL games, he has just 37 goals, but more troubling is that his career shooting percentage after 622 career shots is merely 5.9%. In essence, he’s a defenceman. There aren’t a lot of forwards who can sustain such long careers despite not lighting the lamp, and many of the forwards who do are hockey’s pugilists. Daniel Winnik is not that thing, but he gets good ice-time minutes despite being not particularly effective offensively. Why? Because he’s a very good defensive performer.

Going from a depth player with the Phoenix Coyotes from 2007 through 2010, Winnik was picked up by the Avalanche for the 2010-2011 season. The Avalanche boosted his ice time: Winnik averaged 13:28 in his first season in Colorado at even strength after averaging just 9:57 in Phoenix. He saw a lot of penalty kill time, and rarely touched the ice on the powerplay.

That season as well, coach Joe Sacco trusted Winnik with some fairly tough defensive zone minutes, similar to the task that faced Ryan O’Reilly and Jay McClement, players who are consistently regarded as strong defensive centremen. Winnik started 355 shifts at the defensive end of the ice, compared to just 259 in the offensive end. His offensive zone start rate, or Off Zone Start % was just 42.2%, the third lowest on the team.

Despite the tough minutes, the Avalanche might have noticed something fun when Winnik was on the ice: While they weren’t getting too many goals, they were conceding just 1.99 goals per 60 minutes of play with Winnik on the ice according to Behind the Net. Otherwise, they were the worst team in the NHL at conceding goals that season.

The team had very suspect goaltending from Brian Elliott and Peter Budaj. Along with the Ottawa Senators and St. Louis Blues, the Avalanche had a .906 even strength save percentage as a team, the lowest in hockey, but that didn’t seem to affect Winnik.

Nope. With Daniel Winnik on the ice in the 2010 campaign, while the Avalanche struggled for wins and at the gate, they were a full goal against better with Winnik on the ice every 60 minutes of play. If you tally up the Avalanche both with and without Winnik that season using the tools at Behind the Net, you get this:

  COL GF/60 COL GA/60
Winnik On 1.65 1.99
Winnik Off 2.74 3.26
Difference -1.09 -1.27

It’s rare that the goal totals sync up so much in lockstep with possession numbers over just a single season, which is why the Ducks shouldn’t worry too much about the fact that Winnik was a net negative in the 2012 season. His puck possession numbers have been consistently solid ever since leaving Phoenix, and while Winnik isn’t a good shooter, that shouldn’t affect his teammates.

Here are Winnik’s Corsi numbers over the course of the last three seasons. A player’s Corsi ON is a rate that counts the number of all shots (including misses and blocks) towards the opponent’s net when a player is on the ice, minus those against him per 60 minutes of play. His Corsi Rel, or “relative Corsi” is how he does relative to his teammates in this measure.

  Corsi Rel Corsi ON
2010 PHX -15.7 -7.49
2011 COL 12.2 3.64
2012 S.J 3.9 4.80

You can see, again, that Winnik played a fairly good 2011 campaign, but dipped a little in 2012 with both Colorado and the San Jose Sharks after a deadline trade. He’s been effective since leaving Phoenix, however, and I’d bet on him helping out Anaheim’s possession game, taking on some tough minutes.

One of the other things that Winnik can do is move the puck forward. That is, while Winnik starts shifts with the puck in his end, they usually end at the opponents’ end of the ice.

  Off Zone Start % Off Zone Finish %
2010 PHX 42.9 48.4
2011 COL 42.2 52.3
2012 S.J 46.6 49.0

(Source for both those charts)

That’s not the best way to show a player’s puck possession ability, but I think it’s a visual indicator that while a shift starts in Winnik’s own end, it’s more likely to end at the other side.

Offensively, Winnik may never be a 15- or 20-goal scorer, but he’s played at a good level defensively for the better part of a year now. For a player who can give you 16 minutes a night with minimal mistakes made, Anaheim got a bargain when they signed him to $1.8M a year this offseason. His contributions aren’t very visible, but his plus possession numbers make him a better man to use in the depth role than just any replacement-level player.