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2018-19 Player Review: Brayden McNabb makes significant contributions on the blue line

In the 2018-19 Player Review series, we will evaluate the 2018-19 performances of each member of the Golden Knights. Players were evaluated based on overall performance in both the regular season and playoffs, especially with regard to pre-season expectations and how that player performed in his particular role.

Brayden McNabb entered the 2018-19 season coming off the second-best statistical campaign of his career. He had 15 points in 76 games, adding five more in 20 playoff games. He averaged 20:09 of ice time in the regular season and 21:23 in the playoffs, serving as one of the most important members of the Vegas Golden Knights’ 2017-18 blueline.

This season, averaging fewer minutes, he still played the second-most minutes of any Golden Knight and continued to be one of the most important Vegas rearguards. He even topped his point production from last season.

Season in review

McNabb finished this season with 16 points in 82 games (.64 points per 60 and .46 primary points per 60). Those numbers don’t set the world on fire, but they’re impressive for a player like McNabb, whose main responsibility is to play an effective defensive game. Still, the Golden Knights didn’t necessarily lack offense when McNabb was on the ice.

McNabb didn’t put too many pucks on net in 2018-19. In fact, he shot the puck just 84 times this season — barely averaging more than one per game — and four shots fewer than last season. A lot of that had to do with who McNabb was paired with. More often than not, he was paired with an offensive-minded blueliner. Because of this, it was normally those defensemen taking the shots instead of McNabb.

All three of those offensive defensemen, by the way — Colin Miller, Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore — were better with McNabb than without him, in one way or another.

McNabb and Company

Partnership Time on Ice Corsi Share Shot Share Goal Share Expected Goal Share High-Danger Share Off Zone %
Colin Miller w/McNabb 310:04:00 54.94 53.9 39.13 55.06 56.49 56.02
Miller w/o McNabb 724:15:00 56.51 54.27 55.93 57.51 60.4 62.1
Nate Schmidt w/McNabb 590:04:00 50.59 53.09 55.17 52.69 56.36 42.64
Schmidt w/o McNabb 494:43:00 50.61 48.68 56.82 51.87 51.46 53.11
Shea Theodore w/McNabb 296:28:00 57.29 57.86 55.17 58.66 56.1 55
Theodore w/o McNabb 1034:18:00 55.99 54.55 44.93 55.81 56.45 55.35
Theo Playoffs with 110:55:00 53.7 51.35 66.67 57.62 53.33 53.33
Theo Playoffs without 19:15 46.15 62.5 100 41.56 45.45 72.73

Even when a partner may appear better without McNabb, though, it’s because their new partner then shifted to a more offensive-oriented role. For example, Schmidt spent about even time with and without McNabb and still had better play-driving numbers with McNabb. Of course, that may have something to do with who replaced McNabb on the top pairing with Schmidt — Deryk Engelland.

McNabb wasn’t often given easy assignments, either. After the first line (the William Karlsson one) and Schmidt, McNabb faced the toughest competition in the regular season.

All in all, McNabb was a positive force for the Golden Knights. Vegas could count on him in most situations, especially as a counterbalance to an offensive-minded defender like Theodore or Miller.

A look at McNabb’s season in comparison to someone, well, unexpected:

Again, McNabb was decent offensively — a bit unexpected, but, when explored, it makes sense. A decoy and a distributor — if McNabb’s not open, he helps keep the puck moving until it finds someone who is. That’s partially why his expected goal share is better than Torey Krug’s, even though Krug’s role is sheer offense.

The one blemish for McNabb may have been his work on the penalty kill. But upon scrutiny, that’s likely because of his partner — Engelland, who McNabb spent most of his shorthanded time with. Without Engelland, however, McNabb appeared far more effective when shorthanded. Pair him with someone else next season and those numbers will change.

Standout moment

McNabb’s biggest play of the season wasn’t a goal, an assist, a hit, a blocked shot or anything like that. Instead, it was a save.

McNabb gives up his own body to make a play, and this should have been a bigger moment for the Golden Knights. Not for nothing, but McNabb had a higher save percentage than either goaltender in this game.

McNabb’s offensive highlight of the year came Feb. 7 against the Detroit Red Wings. The Golden Knights had a 3-2 lead against the Red Wings with less than 10 minutes to go. Off a defensive zone faceoff, McNabb reads the play, intercepts the pass and does this:

The slowest coast-to-coast you may ever see, McNabb makes the exit, the entrance and gets the puck on net. From there, it’s all luck, but it’s a good goal. McNabb did it all himself.

Looking ahead to 2019-20

McNabb will be back with the Golden Knights. That seems all but certain, barring something totally unforeseen. He’ll likely maintain the same role he’s had for the past two years — a top-four defenseman potentially playing with either Theodore or Schmidt, or perhaps Miller. He’ll take on a bigger role with the penalty kill, as the only guy with more shorthanded minutes in both the regular season and playoffs was Engelland, and there’s no guarantee that Engelland will be back. In general, McNabb will remain Vegas’ steady defensive rock.

How would you grade Brayden McNabb’s 2018-19 season?

A 22
B 16
C 2
D 0
F 0