By the Numbers: Why Jacob Trouba Will Win the Norris Trophy

By the Numbers is a new feature on Winnipeg Whiteout where we will look a certain subject and analyze it using the numbers. Today a growing trend in sports is  looking at them more statistically, and with the new advanced metrics this trend is here to stay. Hockey and the NHL has not been immune as besides from the classic goals and assists statistics we are now seeing the new advanced number such as Corsi and Fenwick. Todays topic will be Jacob Trouba and why according to the numbers, he will one day be win the NHL award for top Defenseman, the Norris Trophy, and as we all know, numbers never lie.

At the 2012 NHL Entry Draft the Winnipeg Jets picked a young 6’2, 180lb defenseman 9th overall. The defenseman coming ut of the USA National Hockey Development Program was Jacob Trouba. Trouba spent that season  with the University of Michigan in the CCHA, he managed 29 points and 88 penalty minutes in just 37 games for the Wolverines and was elected a league All star. He also played for the United States at the World Junior Hockey Championships that season leading the Americans to a gold medal  notching 4 goals and 5 assists in just 7 games and being voted the tournaments top defenseman.

Trouba made his NHL debut October 1st of 2013 when the Winnipeg Jets opened their season in Edmonton. What a debut it was for Trouba as he notched his first NHL goal blasting a slap shot past Devan Dubnyk while playing over 25 minutes. The play of Trouba continued as he evolved into one of the teams best players and most counted upon defenseman playing even strength, power play and penalty kill minutes. Everything was going great for Trouba and he appeared to be a shoe in for a Calder Trophy nomination. Unfortunately  an ugly injury in a late October game against the St. Louis Blues saw Trouba leave on a stretcher and he only managed to play in 65 games in his rookie campaign. That being said the numbers ended up looking great for Trouba. 10 goals, 19 assists and nearly 22 and a half minutes per game.

Today we will look at how Troubas rookie numbers stack up compared to the last 5 Norris Trophy winners. To do this we will take the stats we have and project them out to a full 82 games schedule, putting all players on an equal playing field. Doing this for Jacob Trouba will give us these numbers to which we can compare to some of the best in recent memory.

GP G A min/gm +/- Shots PP Pts SH Pts GWG
82 12.6 24 22:26 5 153 3.8 1.3 1.3

Last seasons Norris Trophy winner was Duncan Keith. The Blackhawks defenseman is one of the best going today and has been a perennial candidate for the Norris. His rookie season was 2005/2006 in which he played  81 games, projected out to 82 Keiths numbers look like this:

GP G A min/gm +/- Shots PP Pts SH Pts GWG
82 9.1 12.1 23:26 -11.1 135.7 2 1 0

Keith and Trouba have similar numbers and that is not where the similarities end. Both play mean and hard hitting styles of play, however Trouba plays a far more offensively skilled game than Keith. The biggest difference are in the assist category where Trouba almost doubles Keith as well as the +/- in which Trouba has a far better number.

2012/2013 saw the 24 year old P.K. Subban win the Norris. Although he saw his first game action in 2011/12 he did not qualify as a rookie until the next season when he played 77 games in which he scored 14 goals and added 24 assists. Projected out to 82 games his stats look like this:

GP G A min/gm +/- Shots PP Pts SH Pts GWG
82 14.9 25.6 22:16 -8.5 209.8 19.2 0 3.2

Though one of the most elite offensively skilled defenseman in the league, questions have been raised about Subbans defensive game. This was Subbans best offensive year outside of his most recent. It is clear that he is a more dynamic offensive player than Trouba at this point but you can make the same argument for Trouba on the other side of the puck. It is also worth mentioning that Subban had an entire season of pro hockey under his belt before his rookie season, a luxury that Trouba did not have.

Erik Karlsson was the Norris Trophy winner from 2011/2012. He has been the most exciting and offensivly skilled d-man in the league since entering in 2009/10. In that season he played in 60 games, going back and fourth between Ottawa and their AHL affiliate Binghamton. Projecting his NHL stats over 82 games it would look like this:

GP G A min/gm +/- Shots PP Pts SH Pts GWG
82 6.8 28.7 20:07 -6.8 153.1 13.7 0 0

These two numbers are very similar and very telling to this argument. Trouba wins in most every stat category and outside of power play points if he didn’t win the differences were minuscule. As with Subban, already at this point you can make the case that Trouba is better defensively, and although this trophy has begun to move toward a more offensive focus, combining that with a strong defensive game can change the conversation completely.

2010/2011 was the last of 7 times that Niklas Lidstrom won the Norris Trophy. Lidstrom is the best defenseman that many of us have seen in our lifetime. To find Lidstroms rookie season we have to go all the way back to 1991/92 when he played in 80 games. His stats over 82 are astonishing:

GP G A min/gm +/- Shots PP Pts SH Pts GWG
82 11.3 50.2 36.9 172.2 31.8 1.1 1.1

Lidstroms stats dwarf most every player from the modern era as I’m sure there are some forwards that would like Lidstroms offensive stats. This is an unfair comparison as the game has changed immensely in this time. Goals per game have gone down nearly a full goal in this period. It is also worth mentioning the success of the team Lidstrom joined. He is the only player we will look at today who’s team made the playoffs in his first season. Not only did the Wings make the playoffs but they won the conference. Minutes also were not kept yet at this time, our best comparison in minutes jumps all the way to Lidstroms 8th season where he averaged just over 26 minutes, a number that would surprise no one if Trouba was playing in 7 seasons.

2009/2010 was won by Duncan Keith, numbers we have already seen so we will jump to 2008/2009 when Zdeno Chara won. Chara has been one of the most physically imposing players in the NHL since his opening season in 1998/99. He played in 25 games, the limit to keep your rookie status the season before where he could only manage 1 point. In 1998/99 his projected stats ended up looking like this:

GP G A min/gm +/- Shots PP Pts SH Pts GWG
82 2.8 8.3 18:54 -11.1 77.8 0 1.4 0

It took Zdeno Chara a long time to find his way in the NHL. the next two seasons after this he had a +/- of -27 and he did not record 15 points in a season until 2001/2002.

It seems ridiculous to predict a Norris trophy  for a guy after just 65 NHL games however when you look at the numbers here Trouba stacks up pretty well. He fits in and even surpasses most people in the categories we looked at. Of the 44 comparisons we looked at Troubas numbers were better 27 times, a staggering 61.2%. If you remove Niklas Lidstrom that number goes up to 66.7 %. Trouba has a long way to go but by the numbers Jacob Trouba has a great chance to be a future Norris winner, and as we know, numbers never lie.

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