Mattias Tedenby has struggled in his first 13 games this season. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The New Jersey Devils are an interesting spot. They've been doing decently enough in the standings without centers Travis Zajac and Jacob Josefson. In other words, the Devils have been missing two top-nine forwards and are still quite competitive to start the 2011-12 season. Josefson started off the season on the top three lines; and Zajac would definitely be on the top two lines. That's not a point fans should lose sight of, in my opinion. Both will be back at some point during the season - hopefully in December for Zajac, sometime in 2012 for Josefson - and when they do, Peter DeBoer will then have to make some more tough decisions.
He may have to make one involving winger Mattias Tedenby sometime soon. The diminutive winger has been a part of the current roster's top-nine forwards. Yet, he hasn't excelled enough to command more ice time. Even with Ilya Kovalchuk out due to a minor injury (pulled leg muscle), Nick Palmieri and David Clarkson have received chances up top with Zach Parise and Adam Henrique. Not only has Tedenby not given a shot at a top six forward spot, his current spot in the lineup may not even be permanent. In the Devils' most recent game against Carolina, Tedenby got moved off his line late in the game in place of Brad Mills. Yes, Tedenby was benched late in the game in favor of Mills, who doesn't really contribute a whole lot. What's more that it was entirely deserved based on what I saw from Tedenby that night.
This is not a case of just one game. All season, Tedenby has only averaged 11:30 per game, ninth among Devils forwards who have played at least 10 games. If you include Josefson, Tedenby gets bumped down to tenth. It's arguable that he's barely holding on as a third liner. What's more is that a majority of this ice time is at even strength, his time on special teams has been minimal. He's averaging only 18 seconds per game on the power play and 19 seconds per game on the penalty kill. Given that the power play has been moribund, it's telling of Tedenby's performances that DeBoer and the coaches haven't given him some kind of regular role on the power play.
According to this post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, DeBoer and Tedenby met on Wednesday to discuss the issues with Tedenby's game and what he needs to do to get more ice time. We'll see if anything fruitful came out of it this evening against the Capitals. In the meantime, I am filled with questions regarding Tedenby's performances. Is he just struggling early on? Does he need to go to Albany and get his groove back? Maybe he just needs some time? By looking at the underlying numbers of his season, perhaps we can get an answer. Should he still be a third liner now, much less when Zajac and/or Josefson comes back? After the jump, I'll take a closer look at Mattias Tedenby's season so far and try to answer a few of these questions.Let's begin with some positives about Mattias Tedenby. It hasn't been all bad for Tedenby. For the uninitiated, Tedenby's not a big guy but he possesses a little swagger and quite a bit of skill. He can dangle the puck to keep possession alive, he's swift both on and off the puck, he's unafraid to go up against larger players, and he's displayed some great awareness. That hasn't disappeared at all. Two of Tedenby's three assists came off excellent efforts to set up David Clarkson for a close shot on net. Speaking of threes, Tedenby has drawn three penalties per Behind the Net. That's not bad on a team where the team leader in drawn penalties (Clarkson) has 5. Most of all, he's only 21 and playing his second season of professional hockey in North America. Tedenby is very much a work-in-progress and based on what skill he has shown, his potential is still tantalizing.
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However, the first 13 games of this season has been fairly poor. Tedenby has yet to score any goals, and he only has the three assists in terms of points. Moreover, he only has 13 shots on net. While Tedenby wasn't a shot machine last year, his shots per game rate was better then (1.5/game) this season so far (1/game). That's rather disturbing. Also, while he's drawn 3 calls, he's already taken 2 minor penalties himself as per Behind the Net. As mentioned prior to the jump, he doesn't get a lot of minutes. He averages less than 12 minutes per game, he's not a regular on special teams, and he hasn't really done a whole lot to convince the coaches to give him more minutes.
Like many young players in the NHL, Tedenby often struggles with the c-word: consistency. He'll give you a shift where he makes all the right moves, a few good ones you didn't expect, and generally leave you happy with what you've seen. Then, he'll follow it with a shift where he's lost without the puck, he makes a bad read or two when he does get it, and his defending is unremarkable.
Let's look at some advanced stats to get a better handle on Tedenby's season so far. I'm focusing on even strength stats because that's the most common situation in hockey and it's the situation Tedenby's been in for the vast majority of his season. When it comes to on-ice/off-ice differentials over at Behind the Net, Tedenby looks pretty good. At even strength, the shots and goals against per 60 minutes rates both go down when he's on the ice. That's what I'd like to see when a player's on the ice. I especially like seeing a drop from 25.5 shots against per 60 to 21.7 shots against per 60 when Tedenby is out there. The shots for per 60 rate dips when he's out there, but the goals for per 60 rate goes up. That's not too bad. I suspect the defenders behind him may be the bigger contributors to that, but at least Tedenby's presence hasn't been an albatross in either area.
When it comes to possession, Tedenby's also not too bad. Looking at this set of stats at Behind the Net, his on-ice Corsi rate is a little bit above zero, sitting at 0.89. That's good for seventh on the team among Devils who have played 10 games this season, which is OK in my book. If we adjust it for zone starts, his rate becomes -0.90, but that's not too terrible. Unremarkable, but not awful. It tells me that opposition players are getting the better of him when he's on the ice, but not by much. His relative Corsi is 0.6, so there's even a little bump in the right direction when he comes on the ice.
However, there is one giant caveat with respect to his on-ice/off-ice differentials and his Corsi rate this season. You may have even noticed it in the last link. Tedenby has played against very weak competition at even strength. It doesn't matter if you use the base Quality of Competition value (QUALCOMP) or Corsi Relative to Quality of Competition (Corsi Rel QoC). By QUALCOMP, Tedenby's value is -0.318, the second lowest on the team. By Corsi Rel QoC, Tedenby's value is -0.978, the third lowest on the team. So while it's good to see that Tedenby's not drowning by way of Corsi or getting lit up on the on-ice/off-ice differentials, it rings hollow because he's going up against weak opponents night after night. Maybe it's just a drop-off from last season, as he was better against relatively stronger competition last season. Yet, this is not at all encouraging.
This presents the root of the problem with Tedenby. While his offensive talents may not mesh with the likes of Ryan Carter, Nick Palmieri, or (until recently) David Clarkson, he really should be doing much better than one shot per game given his skills and that he's going against weak opponents. He should be making more of an impact at both ends of the rink because he's usually not seeing the other team's top six forwards at even strength. But he's not. I doubt he would do better with better teammates because that would mean he'd have to go up against stronger opponents. Short of DeBoer finding some combination that either carries or energizes Tedenby, I don't believe that would work well for Tedenby or the team. I don't believe DeBoer should spend the time experimenting, if only because he's got one line clicking (the Elias line) and so there really aren't a lot of options.
Tedenby has struggled against weak competition, and so he should keep playing against said competition until he performs better more regularly against them. His potential and a few flashes of skill are not enough to justify a promotion within the roster at even strength. I would be fine with seeing him get some regular power play time. The Devils' PP has been poor, Tedenby's skill set is offensive, and it would be a situation where he can focus on attacking. If he can contribute there, then that would be fantastic. It could even secure his spot on the active roster. If not, then it's no big deal - the power play's not really any worse off than it currently is. I wouldn't go any further than that at this juncture.
There is some reason to have hope in Tedenby in the advanced stats. It's something called PDO, the summation of on-ice shooting percentage and save percentage. Gabe Desjardens has a pithy explanation of what it is and why it's worth noticing over at Arctic Ice Hockey. Tedenby's PDO is only 973 according to Behind the Net. That stacks him at about 10th on the team, but the point is that it's well below 1000. The on-ice save percentage (from both goalies) has been quite low when he's on the ice and the shooting percentage is below average. In due time, this will turn out and likely for the better. (As an aside, that's good news for most of the team - especially for Ilya Kovalchuk.)
Until that happens, Tedenby still needs to demonstrate he's getting the message from DeBoer. It behooves him to do so quickly. Even with Zajac and Josefson out of the lineup, the return of Kovalchuk will likely push David Clarkson or Nick Palmieri back to the third line. There, DeBoer will have to decide whether Palmieri or Tedenby will play at left wing across from Clarkson. The odd man out would be relegated to the fourth line, which consists of limited minutes. DeBoer may rotate those two, but if one's having a good night, then the other's not going to see as much time. Based on Palmieri getting another shot up top and having been there before, the odds are not currently in Tedenby's favor.
Should Tedenby end up on that fourth line and it looks like there won't be any room for change, then I think the Devils should seriously consider sending him down to Albany. It wouldn't be to punish the player. It wouldn't be the end of his career. Instead, it would be giving him the opportunity to develop. With Albany, he would likely get much more ice time than the 11:30 he's been averaging in New Jersey. He would also likely get prime time on the power play, too. He can work on his defensive game against solid AHL competition, and possibly to a point where he can succeed regularly against said competition. He can become a more consistent player with respect to his skills to a point where he can be more successful in the NHL. Should the Devils recognize Tedenby's struggles aren't going away in time, some time spent in the AHL could do him more good than hoping he'll overcome it in the NHL.
However, I don't believe the Devils should make that decision with Tedenby just yet. Let's pay a little extra attention to #21 tonight and on the upcoming road trip. Let's see if he's still getting lost on defense or whether he's been listening to DeBoer and the other coaches. Let's see if he can at least attempt and achieve more shots on net. Maybe he'll even score a goal. I understand that this is much ado about Mattias Tedenby only 13 games into the season; but if he wants to stay among the top-nine forwards, then he needs to make a better case now well in advance of Zajac and/or Josefson returning. I like Tedenby's potential, and I know he's shown off his talent quite a few times last season (example) and a few precious times this season. But he needs to show more soon to stick around on a team that could use contributions from all lines to remain competitive this season. Let's see if that happens or not over the next few games.
I leave the following to you. How do you rate Tedenby's season so far? Do you think he'll get it together against weak competition soon? Do you think he'll stay in the NHL until he does, or do you think he could use a trip to Albany? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Mattias Tedenby in the comments. Thank you for reading.