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Top 25 Under 25: Calen Addison cracks into the top-5

Now, can he crack this roster?

Minnesota Wild v Anaheim Ducks Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images

If you’re a diehard Wild fan, the name “Calen Addison” has rattled around in the back of your head for nearly two full years.

Addison is an offensive defenseman by trade. He’s a bit of an enigma, partially due to the nature of being a scoring defenseman, an oxymoron that the sport still doesn’t fully understand even half a century after Bobby Orr’s NHL debut. These guys appear very risky based on traditional ideas of what a defenseman should look like, although in many cases they can post some of the best defensive figures in the league by simply possessing the puck. Fit is another big question, as there are so many ways to be an offensive defenseman - are you a shooter, a playmaker, simply an effective transition player?

Addison’s skillset combines many of these offensive attributes. The Athletic’s Corey Pronman primarily calls out his skating, escapability, and passing in transition. These assets allow him to avoid forecheckers and escape his own zone - typically attributes more common to modern “puck-movers” such as Jonas Brodin. What earns him his reputation as a true offensive defenseman is his ability to unlock the offensive zone during possession play from the opponent’s blue line. This makes Addison an asset to the power play which the Wild really don’t have in our current defense corps, but is common among NHL defenders that are often tagged as power play specialists.

Acquired as the main piece of the Jason Zucker trade in February of 2020, his highlight plays from the offensive blue line seem to pop up frequently to remind us that we may have something special on the way. The best news of all? He may have already arrived.

The Stats

Addison has steadily shown his scoring talent through the WHL and AHL over the past two seasons. Addison is twenty-one years old, and you can see his stats back to his age 13/14 season in Triple-A. His points-per-game totals are bananas, especially for a defenseman, basically every year since 2018 — his first few seasons in the WHL were less astounding, posting lower point totals or negative plus/minus numbers.

This continued at the World Juniors in 2020, when Addison scored more than a point per game — remember, he’s doing this as a defenseman (although, doing it with so many assists playing for the loaded Canadian team isn’t quite so shocking). The most exciting stat line here has to be his 2021 AHL season, in which he scored 22 points in 31 games in his first pro season, and looking at his numbers for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton the year before, they were impressive in the AHL playoffs as well.

Another encouraging sign is that his penalty minutes have steadily diminished, starting out at 50 in 27 games, and leveling out to about one penalty per two games throughout his WHL career. It’s especially encouraging to see that this ratio translated to the AHL last year, Addison’s defensive game translated fine to the AHL without seeing an uptick in penalties.

As for Addison’s point production, there are always going to be questions about the quality of the points because so many of those points will be assists. Are these him taking shots and having them tipped into the net? While that’s not a bad play, its not as impressive as a backdoor passing play on the power play, but they both count for the same number of assists. Most scary of all, how many of these are secondary assists (meaning Addison passed the puck his teammate, who then passed the puck to the goal scorer)? These are typically not nearly as dependable year-to-year as primary assists.

It’s also complicated to address the slight drop-off in points-per-game transitioning from the WHL to the AHL — obviously this is expected based on the tougher competition he faced last year, but was it more, less, or about the same as an average prospect? One way to get a sense of this is by utilizing NHL-equivalent points. This is an advanced statistic which adjusts a players scoring production to the difficulty of the league in which they play — hypothetically, if you take a 100 point scorer from the NHL and drop him into the league, and he scores 150, then each point in that league is worth 150 divided by 100 NHL-equivalent points.

This metric is derived by crunching data on players who move between leagues, and is utilized by Byron Bader on his site HockeyProspecting. He then uses this data to predict the value of different prospects and generate statistical comparables based on that player’s development path. It’s extremely useful in analyzing a player like Addison because so much of his value is on the offensive side of the puck.

Addison is currently the third most-likely Minnesota Wild prospect to play 200 games in the NHL, and is the second most-likely player to turn into a “star,” scoring in an outstanding amount of points at his position (Bader defines this as a career 0.70 points-per-game for a forward, 0.45 points-per-game for a defenseman). Ahead of Addison are Boldy and Rossi to become NHLers, and only Rossi in star potential. The most exciting thing about Addison is that his closest comps are Ivan Provorov and Erik Karlsson (yep, that Erik Karlsson). Provorov is 25 and scoring at a rate of 0.43 points-per game with the Philadelphia Flyers, right on the star threshold. If you’re unfamiliar with Erik Karlsson, I’ll just point you to his highlight reel.

Keep in mind that this is all based on point production - it doesn’t include defense or penalties. So, he’s probably not going to be as good as Karlsson or Provorov due to their defensive abilities, Addison may never measure up in his own end of the ice. However, Addison’s defensive game in the NHL is probably only known to the hockey gods at this moment — NHL defense is tough to quantify and its tough to evaluate even for an NHL player who has played a lot of games in the show. So at the moment, it’s not unfair to mostly evaluate him based on offensive output.

Even based on offensively biased stats such as NHLe production, Addison isn’t as elite of a prospect as Karlsson, but he’s still got the same chance to hit the start threshold now as Karlsson did after two seasons in the NHL. That’s something to be very excited about.

Roll the Tape

Addison’s offensive skills make him awesome for a piece like this because his highlight reel is truly representative of his skillset (and also because it looks pretty awesome). For example, feel free to get excited about his hands on this play:

Quick little moves as he keeps his feet moving — as well as a sixth sense to find his teammate backdoor — make this play. To be able to do something this cute at the AHL level (the second- or third-best hockey league in the world) is extremely encouraging. Here’s an even better example of those offensive instincts:

The power play can be a place that players with a high offensive-IQ can show it off, and in this case you can see it in Addison’s game. Working from the point to the half wall (again utilizing elite edges), he changes the angle on every passing lane which the four penalty killers are covering. From that point, he knows that he’ll either have an open shooting lane, create a give-and-go to the net, or pick a teammate for a one-timer. The latter opens up, and Addison places the puck directly in the wheelhouse of Matt Boldy’s gnarly one-timer.

Addison score on his own as well - here’s an example, again from the AHL.

Not only does he beat the goalie straight up on this shot, but he does so from what many would consider an unconventional shooting platform. Getting that power on the shot with his skates pointed every which way is extremely deceptive, and is a testament to Addison’s shooting ability.

Everybody knows that Addison is an offensive dynamo - if you’ve read this far, you’d probably like to see the rest of his game. While his defensive ability isn’t incredibly physical and his stick-checking is average, there are other ways to defend:

  1. Never lose the puck:

2. Get the puck out of your zone:

The Future

It’s important to understand that Addison is most likely to play a lot of his NHL games with the Minnesota Wild, a team with incredible organizational knowledge about his position. Addison can do all the hard stuff — he can skate laterally and quickly, he can escape forecheckers, and he has the vision and hands to find his teammates in stride. The Wild can coach up his defensive game. While his defensive instincts likely are what they are at this point, small points of his game such as stick position and defending the rush can be coached if they need improvement in the NHL. Even Mikko Koivu had things to learn about defending at the NHL level. On his first shift, he cheated inside like he had for his entire career, got beaten outside, and gave up a breakaway before he knew it.

One important consideration for Addison is where he can best develop his skillset this year. While his offensive game is ready to be tested and honed against NHL competition, the Wild organization may determine that the best place for him to season his defensive game is the AHL. In all honesty, it feels like the organization has left the door cracked for Addison to make the NHL roster based on two factors: his training camp performance, and the team’s need for a blueliner to run the power play.

Addison’s future projection is interesting for a Wild prospect because he may be a rare case in which his offense is fairly certain, but his defensive game will represent the cap on his value. Addison probably can’t be a first-pairing defenseman without bringing a solid defensive game to the table, unless he’s paired with an elite shutdown defenseman. Bill Guerin seems to be aware that defense is under-paid and under-valued by the NHL market, so he won’t want to pay Addison like a first-pairing defender if he has to buy him an elite defender to play on his left side.

Addison will likely have growing pains in the defensive end, but he should have the skills to outgrow them when put into the Wild’s defensive system. The upside of this potential deficiency is that his skills are something that complement the Wild’s organizational knowledge of the position. The Wild have had puck-movers, and we even have a defenseman that can bomb slapshots in Matt Dumba, but we haven’t had a defenseman who can QB a powerplay like Addison can. If the Wild org can learn from Addison and he can learn from them, look out for what this team can do in the future.

In conclusion, I’ll leave you all with this.

Hockey Wilderness 2021 Top 25 Under 25

25) Simon Johansson, D

24) Caedan Bankier, C

23) Kyle Masters, D

22) Damien Giroux, C

21) Ivan Lodnia, RW

20) Hunter Jones, G

19) Nikita Nesterenko, C

18) Alexander Khovanov, C

17) Mason Shaw, C

16) Jack McBain, C

15) Jack Peart, C

14) Daemon Hunt, D

13) Vladislav Firstov, LW

12) Ryan O’Rourke, D

11) Carson Lambos, D

10) Connor Dewar, C/LW

9) Marat Khusnutdinov, C

8) Adam Beckman, LW

7) Jesper Wallstedt, G

6) Jordan Greenway, LW/RW

5) Calen Addison, D