Defensive-zone success key to solid grade and ratings
Alexei Emelin's current spot in the regular season lineup is the product of an injury to Chris Campoli. With solid play, particularly at even-strength, the rookie defenseman has begun to solidify his place in the lineup. The next step for number 74 is to push his way into the top-4. A spot in the top-4 becomes especially important with the eventual return of Campoli and Andrei Markov. Because without a spot in the top-4, there is not spot in the top-6.
Campoli had only played 9 even-strength minutes at the time of his injury, so for the purpose of this exercise will remove him from the equation. Among the remaining d-men, Emelin is tied with PK Subban for the back-end's top EVEN-STRENGTH grade (70).
Emelin's EVEN-STRENGTH risk/reward rating is second to only PK Subban among defensemen. While only Tomas Plekanec has a better rating among forwards. Emelin displayed a strong stick in each zone, as he won 21 of 32 total puck-battles. Expressed differently, Emelin's EVEN-STRENGTH risk/reward rating shows that he made 2.38 successful plays for every 1 mistake or lost puck-battle.
The young Russian's best work has come in the defensive-zone, where he has the team's top defensive-zone risk/reward rating. He won 68% of his d-zone puck battles; the same success-rate as Hal Gill, and 13 percentage-points better than the team-average. He also blocked 6 shots, 6 passes, and successfully dumped the puck out of the defensive-zone twice. Expressed differently, Emelin's d-zone risk/reward rating shows that he made 2.21 successful plays for every 1 mistake or lost puck-battle.
Emelin has kept his game simple, and as such has few offensive-zone events. Subban, for comparison sake has 3 times as many o-zone events as his rookie teammate. That said, Emelin's o-zone risk/reward is 0.10; only 0.02 below Subban, but 0.21 points below the team average. Expressed differently, Emelin's o-zone risk/reward rating still shows that he made 2 successful plays in the offensive-zone for every 1 mistake or lost puck-battle.
Emelin's EVEN-STRENGTH neutral-zone risk/reward rating is equal to the team average (0.39). He completed 9 of 11 neutral-zone passes, but lost both of his neutral-zone puck-battles. He also made some solid puck-decisions; successfully carrying or dumping the puck into the offensive-zone with 6 of his 7 attempts.
Emelin has been used sparingly on special-teams. He has played less than 2 short-handed minutes, and only 19 seconds on the powerplay.
Comparing current numbers with those gathered during the preseason, we find that, compared to the other zones, Emelin's work in the defensive-zone has improved most. While his overall grade and risk/reward ratings have remained equal to those produced during the preseason, Emelin's d-zone risk/rating has improved from 0.64 to 1.05; including an impressive 1.59 during the recent loss to Colorado.
The most exciting aspect of Emelin's play is the fact that he will likely improve with experience. Hopefully, we can point to the Colorado game as a coming-out of sort. As it was during this game that he began to use his body more, while also making 3 solid and impressive stretch passes. The next step is for the rookie defenseman to show consistency. A stretch of 5 games with grades and ratings in-and-around those produced against Colorado will likely earn Emelin a short-term spot in the team's top-4; and a long-term spot in the top-6.