Carolina Hurricanes: Breaking Down Andrej Sekera's Impact on Defense in 2013-14
However, Sekera should quietly make a solid and noticeable impact on the team's back end.
The 27-year-old Slovakian silently established himself as a respectable top-four blueliner in the past half-decade in Buffalo. His 21:12 average ice time and 73 blocked shots each ranked third on the Sabres in 2013.
He's now been given the opportunity to become more of a household name and nightly staple on an up-and-coming Hurricanes roster.
And he's prepared to seize it.
If one strong suit of Sekera is certain, it's most certainly his experience in tough situations.
He's been used frequently in challenging shifts—starting 51.1 and a stark 52.9 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone in 2011-12 and 2013, respectively. He's also perennially faced top-tier competition—ranking third and fifth, respectively, on the Sabres in terms of Corsi-measured quality of competition.
While Sekera's consistency has been questioned and his underlying statistics took a dive this past season, it could all come down to his former Buffalo chemistries—when paired with veteran Christian Ehrhoff rather than lesser-quality teammates Jordan Leopold and Mike Weber (as outlined by Shutdown Line's Corey Sznajder), Sekera's numbers were just as impressive as usual in 2013.
Sekera's good enough to make a solid defense pairing out of most players, but if you place him with bottom-pairing talent, he is bound to have his struggles. The Sabres appeared to do that for most of last season.
Carolina made a shrewd deal to help the team get better now in exchange for potential talent. With the team trying to improve in the short-term, I think this was a very good trade even if many of Sekera's contributions go unnoticed to the casual fan.
Sekera, if unheralded in his defensive and puck-stopping contributions, has developed a reputation as a noteworthy playmaking blueliner.
His vision, awareness and skating skills—especially in established offensive zone cycles—are all top class, essentially giving his team a fourth forward playing the point. He's quick enough, though, to get back on defense if a counterattack deems it necessary.
Examine Sekera's yearly statistics below:
While those numbers aren't overly remarkable, he's shown an ability to produce assists season after season and is a plus-six player for his career—which is a lot more than most current 'Canes defensemen can say.
Michael Chan of NHL Whiteboard offers some insights into how he does it:
The first thing in watching Sekera on the ice is that he is a terrific, and very mobile, skater. The most notable aspect of his skating is that his pivots and turns are buttery smooth, which is probably more important for defensemen than straightaway speed.
Sekera handles defensive coverage responsibilities and forechecking pressure with his head up and is always looking to advance the puck as soon as he gets it (preferably for a pass), but he isn't averse to chipping it out. Sekera maintains a sense of calmness in the defensive zone; even with oncoming pressure, he keeps his head up and feet moving, and most importantly, his brain going.
The ability to handle the puck with his head up, and use his agility to alter passing angles and options, allows Sekera to be a dependable breakout option and a key part in reducing the time spent in the Sabres' zone.
That aforementioned skating ability is clearly evident in this play from Jan. 29 against the Maple Leafs.
Buffalo winger Drew Stafford is skating back up the boards along Sekera's near side, most likely seeking to make a pass for a cycle restart:
The average defenseman in this scenario would have simply stayed in his existing point position, allowing Stafford to send it along the boards to him easily. However, doing so would've created a dump-in situation, as a Toronto player was covering him.
Instead, Sekera saw an opportunity to make the unconventional play—to crash the net like a center:
Which team got the better end of the Sekera-McBain trade?
He was able to slip into the slot untouched, receive a nice backhand pass from Stafford, pull the puck to the backhand and adeptly roof it over goaltender James Reimer's left shoulder.
Sekera is also excellent at getting shots through traffic, even if they don't add up as a "G" on his score sheet.
Facing two down-low defensemen looking to block the shot and a trio of lane-shifting forwards in this Feb. 26 game against the Lightning, Sekera is able to get this shot by everyone. Moments later, Cody Hodgson banks the puck into the goal.
This Mar. 7 match against the Devils shows a similar situation. Sekera's shot is able to make its way through heavy traffic (wearing both red and white) to the goalie, allowing Bryan Flynn to knock the puck home on the rebound:
All things considered, Sekera could be just the guy the Hurricanes' defense needs.
He's more experienced and trustworthy in his defensive zone than Jamie McBain ever was, yet he's also capable of making the offensive plays needed to keep a pairing with conservative Tim Gleason viable.
Watch for his talents to make a significant impact in the coming 2013-14 campaign.
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