A player’s career production is hardly ever a smooth arc. Some players peak earlier than others, some have one standout, career season, and some are dominant for an extended period of time. Regardless, often a player’s year-to-year production is full of peaks and valleys, some higher and lower than others, rather than a steady climb and fall.
Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter is no exception. While he has always been a very good, often great defender, the 2015-16 season has seen Suter re-establish himself as one of the league’s elite defensemen.
Suter’s career as a member of the Wild started in 2012-13, following signing a monster 13 year, $98 million deal. Again, while it’s not to say that he performed poorly during the start of his 13 year deal, it’s safe to say that his play dipped.
He had never been a negative relative possession player over the course of a season, but was just that during his first two seasons in Minnesota. His first two seasons with the Wild were also the first time since 2005-06 and 2006-07 that the American-born defenseman posted a shot attempt percentage below 50 percent. In 2014-15, Suter’s rate production at 5v5 dropped to tie a career-low at 0.6 points per 60.
But in 2015-16, Suter is re-establishing himself as one of the NHL’s elite defensemen. Through 34 games, he is on pace for 58 points, which would shatter his career high of 45 set in 2008-09. His current 1.0 points per 60 would tie his career high, also set in 2008-09.
His return to elite form isn’t limited only to his production. The 30-year-old Wild defender is having perhaps his best possession season yet. His current shot attempt percentage of 52.6 percent would be the second best of his career and over one and a half percent better than any number he’s posted since 2010-11. Even more impressive, he’s tilting the ice relative to his teammates better than any other time in his career, as indicated by his relative shot attempt percentage. The same is also true of scoring chances.
There’s a lot going on here, visually. But, the far right of the graph shows that Suter is tilting the ice in terms of shot attempts and scoring chances, relative to his teammates, better than at any point in his great career. The dip in the numbers during his first three seasons in Minnesota (2011-12 through 2014-15) is also apparent. Again, this isn’t to say he wasn’t great before this season, or that he had played badly for the Wild, but he’s certainly playing some of the best hockey of his career after his play dipped a bit for a few seasons.
He is also the Wild’s best defenseman on the penalty kill. The chart below shows that the Wild allow the fewest amount of unblocked shot attempts and scoring chances when Suter is on the ice than any of the memeber of the team’s blue line.
On the other side of the special teams’ coin, Suter is performing at a high level as an important cog of the Wild’s power play. He plays about three and a half minutes per night with the man advantage, about twice as much as the next closest Wild defender. He leads the group with 10 points and the team sees more scoring chances per power play with him on the ice than any other defenseman.
Ryan Suter has set a very high bar for himself over the course of his career. It’s not a surprise that he’s leading the way for the defense in Minnesota. He’s never been a bad player, and at times he’s been elite. But the first three seasons in the The Gopher State were a bit underwhelming relative to the rest of his career. 2015-16 has been perhaps his best season yet and he’s quickly re-establishing himself as one of the NHL’s elite defensemen.
All stats from War on Ice