Making the Case: Artem Zub Was One of Ottawa’s Best Players This Season

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(Photo by Rich Graessle/NHLI via Getty Images)

Artem Zub holds a unique place in the heart of Senator’ fans. Zub- signed as a 25 year old out of Russia- became an immediate fan favourite in Ottawa. His token ‘ZUUUUB’ chants are now a staple of the Canadian Tire Centre as they ring through the arena every time he touches the puck.

Zub’s quiet but charming personality made him likeable from the get-go. He took classes to learn the english language and progressively developed his media relation skills over the past three years. His efforts off the ice were backed by an outstanding rookie season in which he received Calder Trophy votes.

Zub solidified himself as a key part of Ottawa’s lineup last season. He earned 22 points and an average ice-time of 21:02 over 81 games. Zub became known for his reliable defensive performance and consistency.

2021-22 Metrics (rank on team)

  • 18:03 TOI (2nd)
  • 1.93 GA/60 (1st)
  • 2.56 xGA/60 (7th)
  • 11.41 HDCA/60 (7th)

Expectations became more firm for Zub this season. People expected him to continue building on what was exhibited last season. Many have portrayed disappointment in Zub’s third season, however, and feel he was closer to a third pairing defender than anything else.

What people fail to realize is how Zub’s role changed. In 2021-22, he averaged 7.02 offensive zone starts and 6.85 defensive zone starts per 60 minutes. This season, he averaged 6.04 offensive zone starts and 8.96 defensive zone starts per 60 minutes. Zub averaged the least offensive zone starts and most defensive zone starts among Ottawa defenseman this season. He begun 40.25 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone- 45 less shifts started in the offensive zone than defensive- which was 10.34 percent less than 2021-22. This was the 57th lowest offensive zone shift start percentage among 228 defenders league-wide (minimum 300 minutes).

Despite starting in primarily defensive situations, Zub was one of just four Ottawa players- their only defenseman- to record a positive goal differential at 5v5. His 2.16 goals against per 60 minutes (GA/60) ranked second on the team. The nearest defender was Erik Brännström at 2.43. Ottawa ranked 25th in the league at 2.82. Zub was 0.66 below his club which is made more impressive by the fact that his most common partner, Thomas Chabot, posted 3.10 GA/60.

Zub’s 2.37 expected goals against per 60 minutes (xGA/60) ranked fourth on the Senators, while his 11.5 high-danger chances against per 60 minutes (HDCA/60) ranked sixth and his 1.02 high-danger goals against per 60 minutes (HDGA/60) ranked third. The first two metrics ranked second among club defenders while the third ranked first. As a team, Ottawa conceded 2.64 xGA/60, 11.92 HDCA/60 and 1.53 HDGA/60. This indicates that they saw vast defensive improvements when Zub was on the ice despite starting in more defensive situations than average.

Zub also saw improvements in takeaways/60 (0.44), giveaways/60 (1.91), hits/60 (7.39), penalties taken/60 (1.08) and penalties drawn/60 (0.44).

The majority of disappointment surrounding Zub comes from comparisons to 2021-22. There’s no denying he must produce more points to sustain a role in Ottawa’s top four, but nearly every other metric improved under more difficult situations this season. This wasn’t just defensively, either.

Although Zub was on pace for seven less points than the previous season, his offensive metrics increased. His goals for per 60 minutes (GF/60) climbed from 2.09 to 2.22 while his expected goals for per 60 minutes (xGF/60) jumped from 2.29 to 2.58. Zub’s CF% (49.97), xGF% (52.08), HDCF% (50.68) and several other key metrics dramatically improved as well.

It’s important to understand that these numbers followed an upward trend despite Zub facing more defensive situations. The arrival of Jake Sanderson and Jakob Chychrun reduced the necessity for Zub to play as offensively as he did previously. He was tasked with focusing on defensive stability rather than being a two-way producer. Points are important, of course, but the fact that Zub was on the ice for more quality offense than in years past is a notable feat. He was not a burden to Ottawa’s offensive strategy as some seem to believe.

This chart represents how consistent Zub was. He provided the same stout defensive performance regardless of who his partner was. Most defenders performed significantly worse defensively away from Zub. The idea that he was inconsistent simply doesn’t hold up when presented with facts.

Zub also faced more top line competition than expected for a player of his usage. He was tasked with among the club’s most difficult assignments.

How to read this chart.

All of this is compounded by the fact that Zub averaged the second most minutes (17:49) at 5v5 among Ottawa skaters. This was 2:34 more than the next player. Zub also averaged the second most minutes at 5v5 when Ottawa was leading, trailing and tied. He served various critical roles, including 1:29 per game on the penalty kill.

Zub didn’t have a flawless season. He missed significant time due to injury and struggled to produce points at an ideal rate. Still, the idea that he was anything worse than a quality second pairing defender doesn’t hold up. He saw improvements in near every metric and was the most reliable defensive zone presence on a team who lacked any true structure. It’s for this reason that he ranked fifth on my final power rankings, and deserves more recognition for what was an impressive season overall.

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