Originally a 2nd round pick, Xavier Ouellet has spent the last 3 years in the AHL aside from a few short stints with the Red Wings. This year, he finally made the jump and carved out a full-time role with the team. The step from the AHL to the NHL is a tough one, especially for defensemen. Ouellet handled it well. Many nights you didn’t really notice him on the ice, but that is not a bad thing. He rarely made mistakes and was all around very steady. Ouellett is not the fleetest of foot, but his puck moving skills and high hockey IQ make up for his lack of speed. He is a restricted free agent this summer so the Wings will have to determine their plans for him moving forward. Let’s see how Ouellet’s first full year went.
Ouellet was producing points on par with top-pairing defensemen but was receiving the ice time of a bottom two guy. He was in the 96th percentile in assists/hour and the 93rd percentile in points/hour. Those are impressive numbers for a rookie defensemen and shows he has the potential to be an offensive threat in the future. His possession numbers were on the level of middle-pairing defensemen.
This chart shows that coach Jeff Blashill should increase Ouellet’s time on ice next year as he is absolutely better than the likes of Kronwall and Ericsson, both of whom received significantly more minutes.
Ouellet’s offensive numbers were low this year, but as mentioned above this is more a product of the minutes he is receiving than his offensive potential. His 3 goals should also improve as his shooting percentage was just 3.4%. He was not on the power play at all this year, a mystery to me as the wings power play struggled mightily. Why not try something new? Although a flawed stat, Ouellet’s +2 rating was 5th on the team and best among defensemen (excluding Marchenko who played just 30 games for the Wings and was waived midway through the year).
As is common with defensemen, Ouellet is one of those players whose traditional stats do not tell the whole story. Look for his point totals to increase next year if he receives true middle-pairing minutes.
Ouellet’s CF% ranked 4th on the team among defensemen. As a young defensman, his shot attempt numbers will hopefully improve as he becomes more accustomed to the NHL. Even so, 49% is a decent CF% on a bad team. Overall, I would describe his shot-based stats in one word – fine.
Consistent with the article-long theme of his lack of minutes, Ouellet’s GF60 was second on the Red Wings among defensemen (amazingly to Ericsson). This shows that although he may not be amongst the best Wings defensemen in influencing possession, he is amongst the best in creating offense. Having an above 50 GF% on such a poor team is impressive in itself. Ouellet was one of only two wings defensemen to accomplish this (excluding Russo due to small sample size). His PDO being around league average (100) indicates these statistics were not an anomaly.
Xavier Ouellet is a restricted free agent this offseason and I expect the Wings to sign him to a 2-year deal with a cap hit of around $1.5 million. If he receives around 19-20 minutes per night, I would expect Ouellet to increase his offensive output next season. He is not going to be a 40 point defenseman by any stretch of the imagination, but 25 points is a reasonable expectation. If he adds this element while remaining the steady defenseman he already is, he can be a very valuable middle-pairing defenseman on this team.
I’m optimistic for Ouellet next season but… he may be playing for the Vegas Golden Knights. GM Ken Holland’s history shows he is loyal to veterans. I have a hard time believing he will protect Ouellet over someone like Danny Dekeyser (who is a solid player with a poor contract that Vegas probably wouldn’t touch). If Ouellet is exposed, he would probably be the most attractive option to Vegas as he is a young defensemen on a cheap contract.
Ouellet had a very solid season for the Wings, especially for a guy who looks like he could be your beer league teammate. On the ice he showed he is a steady defenseman who moves the puck well. His skating is a weakness, but he makes up for it with high intelligence. His underlying numbers show he has untapped offensive potential. With more ice time his offensive numbers should improve next season. If he continues to improve, he could be a staple in the Red Wings middle pairing for the foreseeable future.