I have to admit, Carl Soderberg often flies under the radar for me. As much as I enjoyed the work out of the third line this season, I was usually quick to give most of the credit to Blake Comeau. Soderberg was just kind of the guy out there that didn’t stand out to me on the eye test (no pun intended). So I wasn’t exactly surprised when his regular season numbers were fairly middle-of-the-pack at first glance. But his biggest contribution to the Colorado Avalanche happened to be exactly what made me overlook him in the first place.
One Big Number: 31.01 Zone start ratio
Okay, hear me out. Zone starts aren’t a terribly interesting stat to look at. But they’re incredibly telling when you couple them with other data points.
Zone starts tell us how often a player takes a faceoff in particular areas of the ice. Attacking zone faceoffs drive your zone start ratio up, while defensive zone faceoffs drive it down, and neutral zone faceoffs are not counted. Zone start ratio, also known as offensive zone start %, is used to measure how often a coach sends a particular player out to take offensive zone faceoffs compared to defensive zone faceoffs. A player with a zone start ratio of 50.0 takes an equal number of attacking and defending faceoffs. (Note: Zone starts usually only look at 5v5 hockey, as special teams disproportionately impact zone starts.)
It’s not surprising that Jared Bednar sends out the Nathan MacKinnon line more often when taking an offensive zone faceoff, as his zone start ratio of 56.96 suggests. Nor is it shocking that the third line is tasked with getting the puck out of the defensive zone more often than the top two lines. What does jump out is just how often Carl Soderberg is tasked with defensive zone starts.
Of all NHL players with at least 700 minutes of ice time this season, Soderberg ranks 5th in defensive zone starts with a 31.01 zone start ratio. Brandon Sutter, on top of having to play for the Vancouver Canucks, led the league with a 22.73 ratio. And, to be fair, part of the reason Soderberg ranks so high on this list is due to Colorado’s overall struggles to possess the puck. Four of the top five defensive zone starters in the NHL played for teams in the bottom eight in team Corsi %. Side note: the outlier, Kyle Brodziak, had a zone start ratio of 30.88 playing for a St. Louis Blues team that ranked 6th in Corsi this season.
Beyond being a third line center, why does Soderberg take so many defensive zone faceoffs? It’s not for his ability to win the draw, which sits at a middling 45.26%. He is such an effective defensive zone specialist because he plays disciplined hockey. When, again, looking at players with 700+ minutes of ice time, Soderberg ranked 9th in the NHL in giveaways per 60 minutes, only coughing up the puck 0.63 times for every hour he was on the ice. He was also the Avs’ top-hitting center with 71 hits, but only took 13 penalties all year.
Bednar can put Soderberg in the defensive zone with the confidence that he’ll quietly get the job done. Getting 37 points from a third line center that doesn’t give the puck away or take penalties is a huge plus for the Avalanche, and the guy is doing it all while legally blind in one eye. That’s enough for me to start taking notice.