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Examining Nick DeSimone’s underrated NHL start with the Calgary Flames

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Photo credit:Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Lacoste
2 months ago
Nick DeSimone has proven his worth to a National Hockey League team in just eight games. He has been quiet offensively, with just four assists in eight games, and only six shots to his name in 102 minutes of play, but he has been tasked with bottom-pair duty for the Calgary Flames and has been outstanding analytically. In this article, I will break down Nick DeSimone’s effectiveness in filling a role during his brief tenure with the Flames, and demonstrate how consistent he has been alongside Nikita Zadorov this season.

On-Ice metrics

Using Natural Stat Trick’s player analysis tools, we can learn more about DeSimone’s effectiveness as an NHL defenseman. Individually, Nick DeSimone has put up a 56% Corsi For percentage in 8 NHL games, meaning that when DeSimone is on the ice, 56% of all shot attempts are by Calgary. He has also put up a 55% Fenwick For % (unblocked shot attempts), a 58% Expected Goals For percentage, a 61% Scoring Chances For percentage, and a 61% High-Danger Chances For percentage in that time. These numbers are all extraordinary considering DeSimone’s 5v5 PDO, which is 0.979 and consists of a team on-ice shooting percentage of 9% (meh) and a team save percentage of 0.887 (terrible) when he’s on the ice. DeSimone has also been deployed somewhat favourably so far, with 10 offensive zone starts compared to 6 defensive zone starts, as well as 67% of his faceoffs being in the offensive zone, theoretically signifying good teammates and good OZ time while he’s on the ice.
For reference, league-wide Individual On-Ice statistics show the following rankings among all NHL defencemen at 5v5 with a minimum of 80 minutes played this season (~5 games of 16 minutes, as of Nov. 24):
StatisticDeSimone1st-Ranked Dman
Corsi For % (CF%)21stJaccob Slavin (CAR)
Fenwick For % (FF%)23rdJaccob Slavin (CAR)
Expected Goals For % (xGF%)11thJordan Spence (LAK)
Scoring Chances For % (SCF%)4thDougie Hamilton (NJD)
High-Danger Corsi For % (HDCF%)10thMatt Roy (LAK)
To be ranked in the top 5-10% of NHL defensemen in important shot quantity and shot quality metrics after a good sample of 100 minutes is admirable. DeSimone has provided the Flames with the utmost value for what was supposed to be a temporary third-pair option.
Furthermore, using NST’s Line Tool, the Zadorov-DeSimone pair (16-57), the most common D pairing for DeSimone, is ranked in the following categories among all NHL D-pairings at 5v5 to have played over 80 minutes this season (as of Nov. 24):
Statistic16-57 Rank16-57 %1st-Ranked Pairing1st-Ranked %
Corsi For % (CF%)13th56.38%Slavin-Burns (CAR)62.03%
Fenwick For % (FF%)20th54.61%Skjei-Pesce (CAR)62.04%
Expected Goals For % (xGF%)17th57.17%Englund-Spence (LAK)64.19%
Scoring Chances For % (SCF%)6th61.29%Siegenthaler-Hamilton (NJD)63.79%
High-Danger Corsi For % (HDCF%)4th63.04%Gavrikov-Roy (LAK)66.67%
There are three things that we can take from this table: Carolina probably has the best defensive core in the NHL, the Los Angeles Kings probably have the most offensively-effective defensive core in the NHL, and Zadorov-DeSimone (16-57) is a borderline-elite D-pairing on multiple analytical fronts. With Zadorov-DeSimone being top-20 in all categories above, this means that Zadorov-DeSimone has been better in five important hockey metrics than two D-pairings on every NHL team, on average.
After watching DeSimone play and looking deeper into his statistics, there are two other notes that stick out regarding his play and stats that I also wanted to mention:

Trait #1: Shooting for teammates vs. shooting for yourself

DeSimone is demonstrating the unique ability to shoot most of his attempts for the benefit of his teammates rather than himself. Sometimes, defencemen who are trying to earn a roster spot will unload as many shots as they can, with ultimate power and weight, to try to prove their worth, where they may try to pick corners from the blueline but seldom succeed. I deem that strategy “shooting for yourself.” DeSimone seems to consistently show us the opposite of this narrative, where he shoots at respectable tipping levels and shoots for rebounds and net-front chaos (aside from a few slapshots). ‘Seeing-eye’ shots are an underrated facet of DeSimone’s game that proves his worth in sheltered minutes while still demonstrating a sprinkle of offensive ability in his game.

Trait #2: Jack of all trades, master of none, but Stable as ever

According to Nick DeSimone’s NHL Edge profile, he is below the 50th percentile for defencemen in the following categories: Top Skating Speed, Top Shot Speed, Average miles skated per 60, Shots on Goal, and Shooting Percentage, among others. His NHL Edge profile makes him look like the most dull, replacement-level defenceman in the NHL, but this is not the case. The one category that speaks well to DeSimone’s on-ice game management is 42.1% of Even-Strength Zone Time spent in the Offensive Zone, which is in the 71st percentile of NHL defencemen. This backs up the initial shot metrics from Natural Stat Trick that show the underrated net-positive player that Nick DeSimone has been through his first 100 minutes as an NHL defender. 

Conclusion

Overall, DeSimone has not received the credit he deserves. There can be times when a call-up leads the league in certain metrics for a couple of games, but after 100 minutes of ice time, this sample is enough. Nick DeSimone provides a surprising amount of stability to Calgary’s D-core, with strong numbers and an overall safe playstyle. While he’s been returned to the Wranglers for the time being, I would like to see more of him in the NHL lineup to continue to test my doubts about Zadorov-DeSimone and their exceptional on-ice results so far. We shall see what 20 games do to these numbers (if DeSimone gets the opportunity). I encourage Flames fans to support DeSimone and his value in filling a role on a Flames team that has struggled this season with players being unable to fill roles they are paid greatly to fill.
All the best to Nick DeSimone this season.
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