Shayne Gostisbehere emerges as top pairing defenseman

The Ghost has arrived!

One half of one of the best defense pairs in the NHL on Monday, second half today. Shayne Gostisbehere rebounded from a frustrating season in 2016-17, and made himself a legitimate top pairing defenseman in the league.

Gostisbehere not only had a great offensive season this year, he developed his defensive zone game and overall two-way play to the point where it can no longer be a negative. His physical play increased from his first two seasons in the league and there were many times this year where he took a game over defensively. What I’m trying to say is he was pretty friggin good this year folks!

So let’s dive into the very encouraging and reassuring season of “the Ghost”.


By The Numbers

First, we’ll go over the basic stats for Gostisbehere this year which are pretty dang impressive.

Needless to say, but we’re gonna say it anyway, there’s a lot to like here. Gostisbehere posted the highest point total of his now three year NHL career and did it quite easily. His 65 points were fourth best in the league, and only three off league leader John Carlson of the Washington Capitals. The other two defenseman ahead of him were Brent Burns and John Klingberg, with Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman coming in two points behind Ghost. Pretty elite company to be in, isn’t it? Although his shooting percentage wasn’t the highest, the fact he was generating that many shots is a good sign. What was also encouraging was Gostisbehere reducing his giveaway numbers from 2016-17 and increasing his amount of takeaways.

His 65 points are the most by a Flyers defenseman since Garry Galley in the 1993-1994 season.

Due to a bulk of Gostisbehere’s points coming off of the power play, his 5-on-5 individual numbers aren’t exactly eye popping to say the least. He actually ranks fairly far down the list among his teammates in most of these statistics, but when you’re a power play point machine such as Gostisbehere, it really doesn’t matter all too much. We obviously would like to see his primary points especially see an increase, but I’m not all that worried about him improving in that area. With his level of creativity on the ice, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him post much better results at 5-on-5. Where Ghost has always excelled at 5-on-5 is his possession metrics, and even after posting solid metrics in his sophomore season, he improved upon them even more this season.

Gostisbehere was a positive CF player yet again and excelled especially in his expected goals numbers. His positive relatives end up being possibly the most important of his stats. Gostisbehere saw his possession numbers skyrocket once paired with Ivan Provorov, especially considering his 45.40 CF with Robert Hagg. Gostisbehere had a CF of 53.24 when playing with Provorov as the duo became Dave Hakstol’s go-to pairing as the season progressed. Essentially, this was almost a perfect season for Gostisbehere and it came at a perfect time. He also did this with an increased workload, averaging 21:27 TOI, the highest mark of his career so far.

SA corsi, SA corsi rel, SA xGF, and goals for percentage all saw increases this year for the Ghost Bear over his second season which — although isn’t much of a surprise — is still an encouraging sign. While his PDO was a tad high, his improvement in most metrics signify this was more a great player being great, than a good player getting a bit lucky.

After being paired with Gostisbehere, we all truly got to see the maximum potential of the third year blueliner. He had transformed himself into a dominant two-way defenseman capable of playing solid defense but also providing that offensive spark. Although he absolutely struggled in the playoffs vs. Pittsburgh, and rightly deserved some criticism for his play in that series, this was a huge year in his development. He drove play, posted fantastic goal-based metrics, and put together the great point total to bring his season altogether.


Three Burning Questions

1. Did this player live up to our expectations for this season?

In a word: absolutely. Gostisbehere rebounded from an unlucky sophomore season and made himself better in virtually every aspect of the game. He had a career high in points, drove play, and turned himself into a legitimate two-way stud blueliner at the NHL level. He not only lived up to our expectations, I believe Gostisbehere exceeded them.

2. What do we expect from this player next season?

I think it would be fair to expect another 55-65 point season for Gostisbehere. He’s proven he has the offensive ability to put up those point totals and with (hopefully) a full season of Provorov as his partner in crime, there’s really no reason why he can’t. I’d also expect Gostisbehere to continue to drive play at an above-average rate and hopefully be a finalist for the Norris Trophy. After his nightmare-ish second year, it’s great that we get to talk about Gostisbehere like this again.

And although it’s not a major aspect of his game that he uses, I would like to see Ghost continue the level of physicality he showed this season. He’s never going to be a big hitter or intimidating force in the corners, but just proving to the opposition that he can be physical adds a whole other level to his game.

3. What would we like to see this player improve on?

While his possession numbers weren’t bad by any means, I would like to see Gostisbehere improve his play-driving numbers just a bit. Getting a full season with Provorov should absolutely help this cause considering how the two played this season, so we shouldn’t have to worry too much about him reaching that plateau.

And while the playoffs are such a small sample size, and it’s hard to criticize players for not consistently having great postseasons, we need Gostisbehere to be better come April. Whether it be fatigue or just a bad six games, Gostisbehere was simply not effective enough vs. Pittsburgh. He’s only amassed three points in twelve playoff games, and if this team is going to win their first playoff series since 2012, Gostisbehere is going to need to be a big part of that.

All stats courtesy of Corsica.hockey, Natural Stat Trick, hockey-reference, and NHL.com

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