When I think about what I want in a penalty kill defenseman, I think of a few things. I want a guy who is willing to step in front of hard-shooting players, somebody who is mobile enough to evade forecheckers when recovering the puck, a player good with their stick to remove the puck from the opposition, somebody aware enough positionally to prevent guys from getting wide open, and, finally, somebody strong on their clears. It is going to be interesting to define these concepts statistically and to look at which of these different abilities are most important as we get more data in the years to come.
Radko Gudas has been statistically one of the worst penalty killers in the league this year. He sits 149th out of 160 defenseman who have played at least 25 minutes at 4-on-5 in Corsi Against per 60, and 133rd in Goals Against per 60 (thanks stats.hockeyanalysis.com). On one of the worst penalty kill teams in the league this year, his numbers rank him as its worst defenseman down a man. But it's important to once again recognize the limitations of these numbers.
This year I have been tracking penalty kill clear success rate for players, and while the samples are small, it has allowed me to get a sense of which guys really excel at that subtle skill.
Gudas, of the Philadelphia Flyers, has stuck out as a guy who knows how to clear the puck.
This series of clearances are all from a single game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the body control, patience and power he showed to evade forecheckers and get the puck out really stood out to me. In that particular game, Gudas had five successful clears and no failed attempts. From that film, you would think he's a very successful penalty killers.
On the season, though, in the six games of his I've tracked, he has 15 clears and five fails, not quite as good of a ratio, but still a decent one.
The obvious question is, how does that stack up to the rest of the league? Well I'm waiting to compile those numbers until later in the season when the sample sizes are larger, but Selke candidate and teammate Sean Couturier is 6/7, fellow defenseman Nick Schultz is 4/5, and the Flyers as a whole not including Gudas are 51/57, so clearly Gudas' rate isn't impressive.
So what does this all mean? Well not much, because the sample size is so small, but maybe there's a lesson here in terms of the eye test. One of two things is happening. Either Gudas really is the player he looks like in that video, and the Flyers' PK with him on the ice will improve, or NHL players are good enough that any one of them can excel at something over a short period. We'll have to see which of those ideas bear out in his case.