Friday, 13 February 2015

The eye test: David Desharnais vs. Lars Eller

When discussing old school vs. new school, analytics vs. classic scouting, we often talk of the 'eye test', how a player looks to scouts and hockey men, and to the fans generally.  Fans and scouts love players like Wendell Clark or Trevor Linden who play the right way, but analytics mavens sometimes find great value in players like Benoit Pouliot, who 'drive possession', or other similar statements.

The Canadiens are very quiet about how or even whether they use objective metrics, but Marc Bergevin obviously believes in the old-school method to a great degree.  Offhand, I remember him lauding Dalton Thrower at the 2012 draft, relying on the fact that he took on a much bigger Tom Wilson at the Top Prospects game in a fight, ie: he has heart, he plays the right way.

Does it come down to the eye test when it comes to evaluating David Desharnais and Lars Eller, and their respective usage?  Because when David has the puck, he generally makes good decisions, he's quick, you can see what he's trying to do, or you're pleasantly surprised by it.  It's a seeing-eye pass to Max, or a one-touch pass to Max, or a blind behind-the-back pass.  To Max.

I kid, but David, when he doesn't get slashed or crosschecked to oblivion, knows what to do with the puck, and often ends up on the highlight reels.  Lars, unfortunately, often makes baffling decisions, crystallized in his 3-on-1 rush against the Capitals when he dithered and finally put the puck into the goalie's chest, but weakly.  I always have in the back of my mind Lars' four-goal game as a sign of what he can achieve, but maybe that really was an unhelpful blip, a setup for expectations that can't be met.

Factor in the fact that David is best used in offensive situations with more open space, whereas Lars' size and strength makes him more useful along the boards in the defensive zone, and that sets up this 'unfair' usage where David gets the plum assignments, and Lars digs ditches.

But that's a realistic use of our resources.  I've often compared David to a quick scrappy scrum half, who's limited in how he can run the ball or tackle, but will shine when distributing the ball or reading the situation, in running the team.  Sure, there might be a bigger, faster, more athletic player who could do well at scrum half too, but we can use that guy at fly half or inside center, and maximize our team's potential, get both players on the field.  If the taller, 'better' player gets the scrum half position, the scrappy guy sits on the bench, and you're not fielding your best team possible.

So maybe that's how David gets trotted out for offensive opportunities and powerplay duty again and again, at the 'expense' of Lars.  Because that's the square hole for that square peg.  And because Lars just looks a little hesitant sometimes in those same situations, and fails the eye test.

No comments:

Post a Comment