Nick Jensen “Most Underrated Defenseman” In NHL According To Fan Perception And WAR Analytics Model Comparison


You may recall back in May we conducted our annual evaluation of the Washington Capitals defensemen for the 2021-22 season. You also may recall that the analysis and evaluation ultimately determined that Nick Jensen and Dmitry Orlov were essentially tied for the best defensive defensemen on the Capitals team for the 2021-22 season. (Article here).

On Monday Jensen received additional kudos from hockey analyst Jack of JFreshHockey, labeling him the most underrated defenseman in the entire NHL, based on a comparison of a fan assessment and “WAR” projections for the 2022-23 season.

One of the new, “revolutionary” metrics that hockey statisticians are starting to track and utilize is Wins Above Replacement, or  WAR. WAR essentially combines all of a player’s contributions statistically into one overall score.

The fan survey ranking: [Click to enlarge]

WAR? What Is It Good For?

The WAR calculation ultimately allows for the comparison of how much value a player provides compared to a replacement level (average) player (which is typically a player with 0.0 WAR). If a player has a negative WAR value, that means that a replacement level player would contribute more statistically to the team than that player. 

Overall, WAR is an interesting addition to hockey analytics. Fans of advanced analytics in baseball are most likely familiar with WAR, since it was introduced with the rise of Sabermetric analytics. WAR is very robust in the MLB metric community, so hockey statisticians are honing in on how they can port WAR into hockey metrics. For more information on how WAR is calculated, visit Hockey-Graphs.com’s series of blog posts here.

Back to Nick. The interesting comparison here is the perception to reality.

The ‘21 Turnaround

Nick Jensen felt the heat when he first arrived from Detroit. His first season or so with the Capitals did not go swimmingly, drawing wide-ranging criticism for his play on the back end, including from myself. And the statistics agreed his play was lacking.

Then came the bizarre 2021 season. Shortened by Covid and played in empty arenas, the abbreviated season was a mere 56 games. But in that time, Jensen began to turn his game around, and abruptly.

I subsequently penned a post “The Emergence Of Nick Jensen” back on February 26, 2021, documenting his abrupt and impressive turnaround. Whether it was being paired with veteran Zdeno Chara, or just simply finally growing into his position, Nick Jensen was beginning to make a statement. It just seemed to go unnoticed by many in the fan base, and only now are many beginning to see his true value.

Below is the scorecard from this years postseason analysis of the Capitals defense. The numbers indicate the ranking within the team for each category, thus, the lower score is better. [Click To Enlarge]

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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5 Responses to Nick Jensen “Most Underrated Defenseman” In NHL According To Fan Perception And WAR Analytics Model Comparison

  1. Lance says:

    I see Jensen as a reasonably solid bottom pair D man on a good NHL team. He plays his heart out and seems to have a great attitude. He skates well and can transition the puck from D to O decently. The problem is the Caps want him to be something he’s not. Jensen can’t be a good top 4 RD. He not big and strong enough to handle that role against good teams in the playoffs. He gets torched by top 6 forwards in important games. Yes, top 6 forwards torch everybody but Jensen just gets outmuscled and outmaneuvered way too often in big games.

    If he has significant trade value I’d see what players or picks are available. He probably makes too much money for a bottom pair Dman.

    • Marky says:

      I agree. If not by a trade, I see the Caps just concentrating on keeping Orlov long term of the free agents and then remaking the entire ‘bottom 4 with other prospects and free agents, a retool of the defense if you will.

  2. Anonymous says:

    He is so under the radar for everybody. I like to see him get the recognition but under the radar isn’t bad either.

  3. DWGie26 says:

    Agree that on a cup team Jensen is probably a 3RD. I don’t think he is out of place as 2RD especially when paired with Orlov.

    Next offseason will be interesting with 5 of the “starting” dee as Free Agents. The biggest question marks that will appear include if Fever can in fact be a top pair LD (or do we need to go get one), and if we can get Jensen on a friendly 3rd pair dee contract (making TVR expendable). A way to early look assuming things go well:

    Fever-JC74
    Orlov-Legit 2RD
    LuJo/Alexvex/Gustufson/Carlsson-Jensen

  4. Anonymous says:

    He’s been a wonderful surprise. I must admit I thought he was terrible his first year.

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