Analyzing Roman Josi's historic season as NHL's top offensive defenceman

Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi, front, collides with Colorado Avalanche left wing Tyson Jost in the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Denver. (David Zalubowski/AP)

Roman Josi’s 13-game point streak came to an end against the Senators Tuesday night. It was the first game in March that he was held off the scoresheet. Over that stretch of 13 tilts, the defender had scored four goals and 24 assists, for 28 points. That propelled him to 81 points in 65 games on the season, first in scoring among defencemen and 10th overall in the league.

Now the only players ahead of Josi in scoring are Nazem Kadri, Kyle Connor, Kirill Kaprizov, Matthew Tkachuk, Auston Matthews, Johnny Gaudreau, Jonathan Huberdeau, Leon Draisaitl, and Connor McDavid.

Josi is on pace for 100 points across an 80-game season (seeing as he missed two games).

When was the last time a defender reached these heights?

The last two seasons were condensed, adding a wrinkle. But even when pacing out the results for a full season — Tyson Barrie’s 48 points in 56 games would have equated to 70 points, while John Carlson’s 75 in 69 games were on pace for 89 in 82 games — it still falls short of what Josi could accomplish in 2021-22.

Dating back to 2007-08, which we can classify as the ‘data era,’ just two other defenders have exceeded the 80-point mark: Brent Burns in 2018-19 with 83 points and Erik Karlsson in 2015-16 with 82. Had scoring leader Mike Green played a full season in 2008-09, he likely would have as well; his 73 points in 68 games would have paced out to 88 in a complete year.

Before Karlsson in 2015-16, the last defenceman to even reach the 80-point mark was Nicklas Lidstrom (80) in 2005-06. Before that, it was 10 years prior with Brian Leetch (85) and Ray Bourque (82) in 1995-96.

No one from the position has hit the 90-point milestone since Bourque scored 91 in 1993-94 in just 72 games.

And to reach the 100-point mark like Josi could this year? The last time that happened for a defenceman was Leetch’s 102-point season across 80 games in 1991-92.

How does the Predators’ leading defender do it? Let’s take a closer look — first with his 40 points at 5-on-5.

With their No. 1 defenceman on the ice, the Predators generate a high rate of shot attempts for and quality chances, at a rate of 2.85 expected goals for per 60. That ranks third on the team, behind Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene. Josi’s contributions directly help drive that — especially when it comes to moving the puck up the ice.

Josi’s one of the best at breaking the puck out of his own end. He’s second in controlled exits, and, specifically, carry-outs with 11.2 per 60, behind only Karlsson.

No defenceman is better at sending the puck into the offensive zone with control than Josi. Similarly to exits, his tendency is to skate the puck in himself, with 8.6 carry-ins per 60 that lead the league, with the next best coming two attempts per 60 shy of Josi's marks (Thomas Chabot). But that’s not the only way he can help his team gain the zone; he leads the position with passes from the neutral zone to set up entries.

Sticking with his puck distribution, Josi’s fifth in the league with 31.1 offensive zone passes per 60. He tends to send the puck deeper in the zone, whether it’s off the rush or on a cycle play. No blue-liner moves it to the slot more than him either, with 8.83 attempts per 60. Those dangerous passes contribute to that higher rate of expected goal generation while he’s on the ice, since pre-shot movement is factored in to measure ‘shot danger.’

That puck movement contributes to his 31 assists at 5-on-5, 20 of which directly precede a goal.

But his game isn’t solely based on puck movement, either. Not even all of his assists are direct passes. They can be shots that get deflected or tipped in front, too. Josi attempts (and gets shots on net) at the 10th-highest rate in the league among defencemen. It’s not just a matter of blind shooting, but he can send pucks through traffic to reach the goal.

While a high percentage of his shots are clustered to the point, he can shoot from all over the offensive zone. Josi has a knack for finding openings, not just to move the puck, but to step up on certain plays and get to the quality areas. His skating ability shines in these situations; the defender is always moving his feet. That’s why he drives to the slot for some of his shot attempts as well, at the fourth-highest rate. Those shots tend to come off the cycle, when the Predators are pressuring in the offensive zone, versus rush-generated plays.

While Josi’s 5-on-5 contributions are essential — that is where the majority of the game is played, after all — his power-play scoring is game-changing. So far, he’s up to 31 points on the advantage, which is the best of his career, crushing previous career highs both in raw totals and when accounting for minutes played.

The Predators have scored 50 power-play goals this season, and Josi has a point on 62 per cent of them. Of the 40 scores he’s been on the ice for, he’s tallied a point on 78 per cent of them, which shows the influence he has on the team’s man-advantage as the top unit’s quarterback.

Among defenders on the power play, Josi’s transitional plays don’t rank as highly as even-strength. That isn’t necessarily a knock, however. Skaters have to regroup quickly on the power play and drive play back up the ice against opposing penalty killers. But ideally, a team can hold the zone and doesn’t find itself forced back consistently, either.

When Josi is tested to hold the blue line, he’s been perfect, with zero fails and 22 successes on the man-advantage. While he doesn’t have as many attempts to keep the puck in the zone as other defenders, no one has been as perfect as him either. Not bobbling the puck at the point is essential to keeping play alive in the offensive zone and maintaining possession.

When the Predators have possession, Josi makes his mark on the power play with that puck distribution. He creates passing lanes to set his teammates up, including movement to the higher danger areas of the ice. And 23 of those passes on the advantage have led to scores.

Or, the skater takes the shot himself. Sometimes, that’s from the point and can be a one-timer. And when he finds an opening, it can be a shot attempt from the slot.

Josi’s putting together a special season with his outstanding offensive creation. Not only is he solidifying his case as one of the most valuable players in Nashville, but he’s emphasizing why he’s one of the best offensive defenders in the league.

Data via Sportlogiq

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