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Jason Garrison is Tampa’s Under-the-Radar Scoring Threat

Jason Garrison isn’t the first player you think of when you flip on a Tampa Bay Lightning game. He probably isn’t even the first defenseman that comes to mind. That distinction likely goes to the 6-foot-6 Victor Hedman or the calm and collected Anton Stralman. Yet the 30-year-old blueliner has been outstanding for the Lightning in 2015-16.

(Cue small sample size joke)

Tampa is only two games into the campaign, but Garrison has been at the center of both of the team’s wins so far. Late last week the Lightning opened their season against the Philadelphia Flyers at home. The defender punched in one goal during the second period of the contest. If there is such thing as a vintage Jason Garrison goal, this was one of them.

Ryan Callahan took a short pass from Jonathan Drouin before charging over the blue line and into the offensive zone. He button hooked away from the defense, and found Garrison waiting just a few feet inside of the zone.

Then Garrison did what he’s been doing since his 2011-12 breakout season: he took a low, hard shot that found its way into the back of the net. This is what the Lightning pay Garrison $4.6 million a season to do. Load up on the back end and fire away.

Is he the NHL’s most electric offensive defenseman? Absolutely not. That distinction likely goes to either P.K. Subban or Erik Karlsson. Garrison might not even be the most offensively gifted defender on his team, with Hedman capable of pushing 60 points like he did in 2013-14. Despite this, it still seems like the undrafted blueliner doesn’t get the attention he deserves around the league. Especially as teams continue to move away from old school, crease-clearing defenders in favor of options that can move the puck up ice and towards the net.

In that context, Garrison is arguably one of Tampa’s more valuable players. He knows his role and plays it well, logging 20 minutes a night while creating opportunities for his team. He’s not an elite point producer, but over the last three seasons only 34 defenseman (with more than 125 games played) have generated more points than Garrison. If the Lightning were counting on him to be the man and score every night, maybe that would be a problem.

…because to be the man…

He’s a second-pairing defenseman in Tampa though, so outscoring players like Zdeno Chara, Dion Phaneuf and Stralman is valuable. Consider what players like Chara and Phaneuf are paid for their contributions, and things look even better for Garrison.

There’s a bit of an apples to oranges to aspect here–Chara and Phaneuf are asked to be the best defensemen on their teams in all three zones–but there’s no denying Garrison’s value for the Lightning.

He’s (probably) never going to win the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman, but Stanley Cup teams need more than one or two strong blueliners. Garrison is the perfect No. 3 for the Lightning. There are some problems on the team’s blue line, but Garrison isn’t one of them. He carries an excellent (read: fair) cap hit for what he brings to the ice every night, and so far this year the Lightning have benefited greatly.

According to ESPN.com, Garrison is on track to score 164 goals in 2015-16. Sorry Lightning fans, but that’s not going to happen. He’s not Bobby OrrX2. Anything would be better than last seasons’ four-goal output, however. There’s nothing wrong with 30 points–what Garrison totaled last year–but this is a player that is paid to shoot the puck and score.

He’s already halfway towards eclipsing that goal total (tied for the lowest output of his career), which is a great sign for the Lightning. Garrison may never be able to break 15 goals on a season like he did in 2011-12, but pushing up into the double digits would help spread out the offense on the blue line. Hedman will lead the charge and Stralman will make everyone’s “all underpaid” lists, but Garrison will be plugging away under the radar, just like he always has.

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