Young defenseman Christian Djoos has joined some of his teammates on the ice this past week for the Capitals’ informal practices before the start of training camp next week. One of the biggest questions for Djoos upon his arrival was just how much weight he had gained, a question that Djoos had an answer for. According to Djoos himself, he weighs 168 pounds, a four-pound increase from last season.
With rule changes made in the last few seasons even smaller players like Djoos can succeed, though they may have a more difficult time. The poster child for small players is high-scoring left winger Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames, who played last season standing in at 5’9″, and weighing 157 pounds. When he began his career three seasons ago, he was barely tipping the scales at 150 pounds. But Gaudreau is definitely an exception to the rule. It’s also a bit different for forwards than defensemen when it comes to size. Defensemen have to do a lot more physical play along the boards in the defensive zone and have to try tying up players, or move them completely while in front of the net. This is where weight and strength come into play.
At 168 pounds, Djoos isn’t the most intimidating player, but it is also not the worst thing in the world. There are some defensemen in the NHL that aren’t the biggest, but still make an impact for their respective team. Ryan Ellis of the Nashville Predators is perhaps the most notable, recording 38 points in 71 games played last season. Coming in at 5’10”, and 180 pounds, Ellis has turned out to be one of the better defensemen in the league. However, Ellis is a former 11th overall pick, while Djoos is more of a diamond in the rough pick as a former seventh-round selection by the Caps. This means that Ellis may have been given the benefit of the doubt as he has put up solid numbers wherever he’s played, while Djoos has just one amazing season under his belt. Therefore, it’s a lot harder to expect Djoos to be one of the few that can make an impact on the ice while weighing so little.
A player worth noting as a comparison to Djoos, is fellow Swedish blueliner John Klingberg, who is almost exactly two years older than Djoos. When Klingberg made his NHL debut with the Dallas Stars at the age of 22 during the 2014-2015 season, he was an impact player almost instantly, putting up 40 points in 65 games played. Many analysts, fans, and opposing teams wondered after his impressive rookie season how Klingberg could have been picked in the fifth-round.
While there were likely other factors, a big factor may have been that he weighed in the vicinity of 150 pounds before the draft. Klingberg even admitted the Stars were the only team who spoke with him. When selected in 2012, Djoos weighed 158 pounds and was 5’11”. It’s actually quite amusing that before Klingberg began his 23-year old season, he too was also being hounded about his weight. This is an excerpt from an article published on NHL.com:
“The slender Klingberg is always trying to bulk up a little, and he said he added a few pounds over the summer. Asked about his current weight, Klingberg just laughed and indicated he was keeping close tabs. “I don’t want to be too big,” he said. “I don’t want to lose my skating.”
Djoos, 23, is being asked similar questions about his weight. So why can’t Djoos do the same thing as Klingberg, as he himself tries to gain weight?
This is in no way indicating that Djoos is the next Klingberg, who has put up over 50 points in a season, but they are very similar players. That shouldn’t be too surprising since they come from Sweden, which has produced some quality defensemen over the years. They are both smooth skaters with great passing ability that can get the puck up the ice, their hockey IQ is through the roof, and they are very creative in the offensive zone. Check out the video from Klingber’s rookie season then check out clips gathered from Djoos’ breakout AHL season. Their skating, stretch passes, offensive creativity, their lateral movement are almost exactly the same; it’s uncanny. The biggest difference is Klingberg shoots a lot, whereas Djoos doesn’t shoot enough.
It’s hard to gather past weights for players, but what could be found was that in his 24-year old season (last season), Klingberg weighed 180 pounds, and in his 23-year old season he weighed 172 pounds. The exact number for his 22-year old rookie season wasn’t available, but if he weighed 172 pounds the year after, it’s unlikely he weighed more than Djoos does now (168) as he (Djoos) prepares for his rookie season. Granted, Klingberg was a year younger, it still shows the weight that Djoos has gained can translate into the NHL game. Klingberg is also an inch taller, so he’s able to put more onto his frame than Djoos can.
“Today’s game is all about getting the puck out of your zone as quick as you can. The quicker you can make a pass out of your zone, the less time you’re going to spend defending.”
That’s how Klingberg was able to survive in the NHL. He wasn’t getting rocked by huge checks or needing to rely on physicality himself, because his skating got him to the puck quick and his passing ability helped get the puck out of the zone even quicker. Hershey Bears head coach Troy Mann said the same thing about Djoos in a recent interview with Comcast Sportsnet,
“He doesn’t get a hit a lot. I think that Djoos is a perfect candidate when you start looking at the [openings on] defense. Number 1, he’s a great puck mover. You’ve really got to come to a hockey game and watch him from up top to appreciate his skill set, and his ability to break pucks out. I think the NHL in the last couple of years has certainly gone in a different direction. I don’t think you can have too many puck movers on your team, and certainly that’s something he can do.”
John Michael-Liles, a 5’11”, 185-pound, veteran defenseman backed this up by saying, “As a smaller defenseman, I’m just trying to use my quickness and speed to get some sort of body position. There are times you get hit. [But] if you are undersized and can skate and make a good first pass, I think you can still play the game.” Doesn’t that sum up Djoos perfectly? It’s that same exact play that helped Djoos rack up 58 points in 66 games played and still not become a defensive liability in the AHL. Sure, neither Klingberg or Djoos are going to wow fans with physical play along the boards or in front of the net, but they take their bad with their good. Will Djoos’ lack of weight result in some goals against like it did with Klingberg? Probably, but if he helps put more goals up than what he lets in, then it will be worth it.
Take former Capital Mike Green for instance. Everyone knew he wasn’t the best in terms of defensive play, but it didn’t matter much because he put points on the board and was a positive net possession player. The Capitals were scored on quite a few times when Green was on the ice due to his lack of defensive prowess, but they scored way more than what they were letting in. And honestly, Djoos looks to be a smarter defensive player than Green is.
And if someone knocks on Djoos’ size because they believe he’ll get hurt a lot, they’d be wrong. He’s been quite durable while in the AHL, as in the last two seasons, he’s only missed 24 games. That does sound like quite a lot, but doesn’t account for healthy scratches early in his first season while he was still trying to learn the North American game. It also doesn’t include the games he missed when he was called up to the Caps this past season. He did miss time last season due to a facial injury, but that doesn’t really mean he’s not durable, more that he’s unlucky. It’s likely he’s had actual injuries, but nothing so glaring or lingering to think he can’t handle the physicality of the NHL game.
All of this is to say that if one takes Klingberg as a pretty good comparison for Djoos, than weight shouldn’t worry any fan. Both rely on their smooth skating, their passing ability, and their offensive IQ, not checking guys along the boards or putting opponents on their rear ends. Obviously, it would be great if Djoos could put on more weight, but that is more than likely going to happen regardless. Klingberg just turned 25 and will probably weigh in the low to mid 180’s when the season starts, so there’s hope for Djoos to do the same over the next two to three years. But before one gets their hopes up, it’s important to remember that Klingberg has already proved his worth at the NHL level, Djoos has not. So no matter how similar their game and statures may be, Djoos still has a lot to prove. Still, this should stop fans from worrying about Djoos’ weight and how it will affect his game. As long as he uses the skills that helped him and Klingberg make an impact in North America, there’s no reason to think that Djoos can’t do it while wearing a Capitals jersey.
By Luke Adomanis