About a month ago on this very site, a question was raised of whether or not Darryl Sutter should play "the kids" more
While a lot has been made of the absolutely fantastic season that Tyler Toffoli has had, and the strong work Tanner Pearson put in prior to injury, Brayden McNabb has been equally as invaluable.
The changes and hardships the Kings defense has had to endure this year are well documented, and no one needs to go into great detail about them at this point. With all of it in mind, where would the Kings' defense be without the emergence of 24-year old Brayden McNabb?
Jeff Schultz? Derek Forbort? More Jamie McBain??
McNabb's role on the team when he was traded for seemed peripheral at best for most fans. However, it was a move with a long term core piece in mind. That is just what McNabb is looking like at this point.
The Kings are largely a young team on defense, however their "stay-at-home" group has always been of the older variety. Rob Scuderi, Mattias Norström, Robyn Regehr, Matt Greene, Willie Mitchell etc. etc. They have also been players that are rarely young and/or home grown. The Kings have tended to fill the gaps of the stay-at-home defenseman with older and more experienced players.
This represents a change in the norm however.
The Kings have a wave of young stay-at-home defenseman ready and waiting. Derek Forbort, Kevin Gravel, Vincent LoVerde, and Alex Lintuniemi are all members of the Kings pipeline with a knack for defensive zone acumen. If they all develop in the way that McNabb has since the Kings acquired him from Buffalo last season, then they will most certainly be pleased. Not having to go out and acquire veteran stay-at-home defenseman will also help the Kings in this time of tight salary.
Many were skeptical of the former Sabre when he first came to Los Angeles. The perceived high price of the project player Nicolas Deslauriers and exciting forward prospect Hudson Fasching turned many people off. While there are some who still question how impactful he is and can be with the Kings, it should be evident how important he has been this year.
Without a doubt, McNabb has been the third best defenseman on the Kings roster this season behind Muzzin and Doughty. Almost everything you want to see with McNabb has happened.
He is 8th on the Kings in dCorsi Impact with a very positive 19.56. He is doing very well with the minutes he is given.
He has also seen a progression in corsi numbers, a decline in giveaways, and a number of other positive trends that could be represented.
McNabb's corsi differential
But there is still something interesting about his usage, and it is not actually all that strange when you think about Darryl Sutter.
McNabb's ice time:
Sutter is notoriously hard to impress, and he can really be protective of young players and how much they are getting used. We have seen it with Pearson, we have seen it with Toffoli, and now we are seeing it with McNabb. It can be particularly difficult with defenseman as well. It took Sutter ages to trust Alec Martinez when he first took over as well.
Regardless of his usage McNabb has given the Kings a very important 3-6 defenseman this year. Depending on the night, McNabb has played anywhere between 20+ and 12 minutes. More importantly, he has given them QUALITY minutes. It isn't so much about the quantity of minutes McNabb has been providing, it is about him being a safe and perfectly viable option for the Kings when they maybe didn't think they would have it.
Now, paired up with Andrej Sekera, McNabb has been getting a bit more ice time.
And the two have been flourishing together.
Since McNabb and Sekera have been together, the duo have been the best possession pairing the Kings have.
Not only is that good for McNabb, it is good for Sekera and the Kings. Sekera was struggling with Regehr, and getting him with a safer and more mobile pairing has made him look like the player the Kings were hoping to get in that deal. It can also help smooth out the Kings defensive minutes, which are still relying far too heavily on Drew Doughty and his pairing. With McNabb looking more confident and Sekera looking more comfortable, that hopefully changes moving forward.
At 24-years old, McNabb is on the cusp of really stepping into a prominent role with the Kings. With Regehr up for contract this offseason and Matt Greene coming up in 2018-19, the Kings are again structured in an intelligent way where McNabb can take over a larger role in only a few year's time.
He has taken his knocks this season, he has made some bad defensive plays, and even been a healthy scratch a few times. However, the big 6'4" defenseman is starting to come into his own. There are promising signs, and we could be seeing a member of the future Kings core right here and now. He adds a great blend of toughness, size, and defensive steadiness to the blueline. That is not something you find every day in the NHL. Now to see if he can stand up to the test of playoff hockey (If the Kings make it of course...).
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