Some background before we begin... Last year, Sabres' blog Die By the Blade ranked McNabb #17 on their list of the top 25 players under 25. McNabb was traded for (who came in at #13 on our list last year and was #16 on DbtB's list this season) and (who came in at #22 on our list last year and was #18 on DbtB's list this season). The Kings also got two draft choices which were originally part of the Robyn Regehr deal.
Got it? Good.
|Rank||Player||DOB||Nationality||Draft||Vote Total||Last Year|
|5||Brayden McNabb||1/21/1991||CAN||66 (3rd)||268||17* (+12)
* ranking not from last year's Jewels from the Crown list
I'm glad we waited half a season to write about Brayden McNabb as part of this series, because our ranking was probably the result of hope more than it was the result of anything we'd seen. McNabb entered the 2014-15 season with a whopping 37 games of NHL experience, and was the probable seventh defenseman as training camp closed. Any defensive injuries would have given McNabb at least a cursory look, but I don't think anyone expected McNabb to be third in games (behind Drew Doughty and Matt Greene) among d-men at the midway point, though.
That workload was unexpected, and it made the early returns from McNabb fairly encouraging. McNabb has, unsurprisingly, gotten some help from Coach Sutter; aside from fill-ins Jamie McBain and Jeff Schultz, he's receiving more favorable zone starts than any other Kings defenseman. That doesn't take too much away from his possession numbers, which are third-best on the Kings blueline behind (of course) the Doughty-Muzzin pairing. McNabb's best stretch of play, in later November and early December, was a factor in the Kings returning to their 2014 form and provided stability which you don't often see from a first-year guy. And that's to say nothing of the hits, which are explosive as anyone's on the team.
The problem has been the last month. Maybe Bobby Ryan deking him out of his skates was a bad omen? Check out his game-by-game ice time since the game after that one, a 6-2 loss to Montreal:
Brayden McNabb - Ice Time, Last Ten Games
|DATE||Fri 12/12||Sun 12/14||Tue 12/16||Thu 12/18||Sat 12/20||Mon 12/22||Sat 12/27||Tue 12/30||Thu 1/1||Sat 1/3|
The steadiness that was present in the prior month was still there in his possession numbers (an even or positive Corsi in all of those games), but not in his defensive play. He's been scratched for both games in 2015, which could be due to being banged up (Jon Rosen was cryptic there) but is more likely due to Sutter's thoughts on his growing pains. He's also scoring at a lower rate than any defenseman other than the so-called "stay-at-home" guys. McNabb still hasn't scored a goal for the Kings, and while his ten assists are solid, he's got a lot of room to improve on the puck-moving and offensive front. McNabb's power play performance is in the same vein; he's been decent but is noticeably weaker than the Kings' mainstays. He's since yielded his PP time, along with some regular time, to Jamie McBain.
Right now, McNabb's value still outstrips his on-ice performance; he's a young defenseman, and in an NHL that is starting to leave the prototypical physical defenseman behind, McNabb has enough offensive potential to be a valuable piece on the blueline. However, with Robyn Regehr looking to return to the ice and McBain suddenly emerging as an offensive threat, McNabb could go right back to fighting for playing time in the short term.