The Buffalo Sabres made a big move on the eve before the NHL Trade Deadline to improve their defense. They acquired right-shot defenseman Brandon Montour from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Brendan Guhle and a conditional 2019 first-round pick.
Throughout the season the need for another puck-moving defenseman has been obvious for the Sabres. This move goes a long way in filling that hole on the roster. The return for that upgrade is debatable on it’s worth, but we’ll save that for another day.
The focus here will be on understanding the type of player the Sabres acquired.
As I’ve already mentioned, Montour immediately upgrades the speed and ability to get the puck out of their own end of the ice. The 24-year-old defender will be a positive impact for their transition offense and add another offensive threat at 5 on 5 on the blue line.
You can see above from CJ Turtoro’s A3Z chart just how good he’s been with zone exits and entries for the Ducks over the last three seasons.
His strong transition game allows him to provide some scoring from the point. He has five goals and 25 points in 62 games with the Ducks this season. Over the past two seasons, he’s averaged eight goals and 32 points per 82 games.
Montour leads all Ducks defensemen this season in xGoals per 60 minutes (0.24) at 5 on 5 according to Moneypuck. That immediately puts him at the top of Sabres defensemen this season in xGoals per 60 minutes.
The interesting part is that the majority of Montour’s points have come at even strength (71 percent). Only 16 of his 63 points earned so far in his career have come on the man advantage and two more points while short-handed.
The former second-round pick is a more impactful player at even strength. Over the last two seasons, he’s worth 6.2 goals above replacement according to Evolving Hockey while playing at even strength. That’s a higher GAR than any Sabres defenseman over that same time period.
Where he’s not as impactful is on the power play. He’s a -2.5 GAR on the man advantage over the last two seasons. If Rasmus Ristolainen does remain with the team, it’ll be unlikely he plays a lot on the power play with Sabres with Rasmus Dahlin holding down the top power-play unit duties.
His defensive game may be the weak spot at this time in his career. He’s only played just over a season and a half in the NHL, therefore, it could improve. However, it’s important to note this isn’t an area where he’ll drastically impact the Sabres.
The chart above from Micah Blake McCurdy shows that he hasn’t done much to positively impact the Ducks reduction in shots from high-danger areas. Now, it’s important to note that the Ducks have been a mess defensively all season and are one of the worst in the league in terms of shot share.
Not only has Montour slipped off slightly from last season, but you’ll see dips in performance like the chart below from Evolving Hockey for Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson.
Is it a coincidence or a reflection on the overall team?
A change of scenery could do some good for Montour and we could see an improvement in this category. The hope is that his ability to transition the puck out of the defensive zone will reduce the time he’ll have to spend in his own end of the ice.
It’ll be interesting to see who Phil Housley pairs him with to start out and how he plans to use his newly acquired blueliner. On the surface, he fits the exact style that Housley looks for in his defensemen.
The move last night was another sign of the type of players that Jason Botterill wants on his roster. It’s an encouraging sign if you’re looking for a quick club that can transition the puck well up the ice.