Capitals Potential Player Acquisition Target: Ryan Graves

Photo: Twitter: New Jersey Devils

In our latest in the series that identifies players that could be potential acquisition targets for the Washington Capitals this off-season, we’re going to take a look at current New Jersey Devil and pending unrestricted free agent Ryan Graves. With the Capitals intention of undergoing a retool on-the-fly to make the team playoff quality once again, adding a true top-four defensive defenseman could round-out the defensive corps.

The statistics and salary cap information used in this post are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Reference, CapFriendly, Dobber Sports, HockeyViz, and Evolving Hockey. If you’d like to learn more about the statistical terms used in this post, please check out our NHL Analytics Glossary.

Needs addressed

Graves is a left-handed defenseman who has mainly been on the Devils’ second defensive pairing with John Marino this season. Graves is a well-rounded defenseman who can contribute on both ends of the ice.

Ideally, Graves could add a bit more experience and physicality to the left side of the Capitals’ defensive group.


Graves is a soon-to-be 28-year-old left defenseman and former fourth round pick (110th overall selection) by the New York Rangers. Graves never played for the Rangers, and was subsequently traded to the Colorado Avalanche for right-handed defenseman Chris Bigras back in 2018. Graves was then traded to the New Jersey Devils on July 15, 2021 for Mikhail Maltsev and a 2021 2nd round pick.

In his career, Graves has 28 goals, 72 assists, and 100 points in 302 games played. This past season with the New Jersey Devils, he posted 8 goals, 18 assists, and 26 points in 78 games played.

Graves is entering unrestricted free agency this summer, in the final year of a three year deal with a $3,166,667 cap hit.

Five-on-five on-ice performance

Here’s Graves’ performance in underlying possession metrics during five-on-five play this season:

Graves has a really solid showing here in these key underlying metrics. He’s above the 50% watermark in the Corsi (CF%) and Fenwick (FF%) shot attempt metrics, and that performance resulted in the Devils controlling 53.58% of shots on goal (SF%) when Graves was on the ice during five-on-five situations.

Most impressively, the Devils controlled 57.85% of goals scored (GF%) when Graves was deployed. The fact that his 57.85 GF% outpaced his 53.56 expected goals for percentage (xGF%) when on the ice indicates that the Devils had a high rate of finishing on chances when Graves was on the ice.

One of the more impressive contextual views of Graves’ performance this season is that he posted a performance of this quality when only receiving 41.7% of his zone starts in the offensive zone. This means that the Devils were able to transition the puck from the defensive zone effectively when Graves was on the ice.

To get a better picture of the Devils’ scoring chance generation when Graves was on the ice, here’s how he performed in scoring chance for percentage (SCF%), high danger chances for percentage (HDCF%), and high danger goals for percentage (HDGF%):

While these numbers are rather solid, we also have to take into account the fact that the Devils were one of the analytical darlings of the 2022-23 regular season. The Devils had the second best SCF% in the NHL, the best HDCF%, and the sixth best HDGF% this season.

Although the Devils were impressive this season, Graves definitely played an impactful part on their overall success:

Graves had positive isolated impact in both even-strength offense and even-strength defense. It’s interesting that he had a negative overall impact on the penalty kill, but that negative impact could be that the Devils just had an immensely successful penalty kill unit, finishing fourth in the league with an 82.6% effectiveness rate.

Rate-Adjusted Plus Minus

Rate-Adjusted Plus-Minus (RAPM) is an efficient way to measure a player’s performance in relation to the league, and in relation to replacement level. Here’s Graves’ RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey:

Graves had a really positive impact on goals for per sixty minutes (GF/60), nearly reaching elite levels in that regard. That goal production really drove his GF% we saw earlier in the post.

Although we see below replacement levels in expected goals against per sixty (xGA/60) and Corsi shot attempts against per sixty (CA/60), we can see in his raw numbers above that he’s still a solid contributor in that regard.

His xGA/60 and CA/60 ratings above could also be impacted by his defensive zone start bias. He’s leaned upon to be in more of a “shut down” role, so he’s being put in more defensive situations against better competition.

To put his individual RAPM in context, here’s the Devils’ team RAPM chart:

As stated before (and probably observed by fans), the Devils were a really effective team this season. Graves is a solid contributor for them on the blue line.

Roster fit

With the Devils needing to re-sign a large portion of their current roster, there’s a chance that they don’t have the cap space necessary to retain Graves’ services. The Capitals won’t have much in terms of cap space as the roster currently stands, but there’s whispers of a few larger contracts on the books that could be on the move.

Brian MacLellan stated in his break down day press conference that top six forwards would be the primary focus of their acquisition efforts, but would see what they could do with some remaining cap space for the defensive group.

The Caps left side of the defense is likely going to be made up of Rasmus Sandin, Martin Fehervary, and Alexander Alexeyev if no new blood is brought into the lineup. That is a trio of current 23 year olds. Alexeyev has a decently high ceiling, but it’s unclear if he’s truly ready for every day use.

Graves could slot into the top four defensive group seamlessly and add a bit more size to the lineup. Graves is 6’5″ and 220 pounds, and could add a bit more physical presence to a defensive corps that lacks physicality. Graves would probably be on the higher end of the affordability for defensive help, but if cap space is opened and other needs are satisfied, Graves could fit well here.

Does this make sense for the Caps?

In my opinion, I think Graves would be a great option to round out the Caps defensive group. Between Sandin and Graves, they could both be used interchangeably with the top two right handed defensemen in John Carlson and Nick Jensen.

Graves also fits the age group the Caps are looking to infuse into the roster. He’s only 28 years old, which means he has productive years left in his career. If he’s signed to a four year deal (or even longer than that), his less productive years would likely be smack in the middle of the Caps rebuilding cycle.

By Justin Trudel


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Capitals Potential Player Acquisition Target: Nick Schmaltz
Capitals Potential Player Acquisition Target: Brock Boeser

About Justin Trudel

Justin is a lifelong Caps fan, with some of his first memories of the sport watching the team in the USAir Arena and the 1998 Stanley Cup appearance. Now a resident of St. Augustine, FL, Justin watches the Caps from afar. Justin graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Political Science from Towson University, and a Master's of Science in Applied Information Technology from Towson University. Justin is currently a product manager. Justin enjoys geeking out over advanced analytics, roster construction, and cap management.
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13 Responses to Capitals Potential Player Acquisition Target: Ryan Graves

  1. novafyre says:

    The Hockey Writers has an interesting article “That will lead to speculation about some of the key names in Pittsburgh and whether franchise faces like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang will want to be part of what could be a potential rebuild. ”

    Now, Sid says he wants to be a Pits until retirement. Fenway said “We’re all on the same page. We want Sidney Crosby to be a Penguin for life.” Sid has a no move clause. But, “if the team continues to struggle or if a rebuild is a plan in Pittsburgh, at what point do both sides re-examine their position?”

    Pits and Caps, two sides of the same coin.

    • Yeah, there’s a lot of duality between the two teams. They might just err on the side of retool/limbo state like the Caps and we’ll see the two duking it out for the bottom of the standings for a bit.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Defense is SET.. Its the Forwards mainly top6/middle 6 scoring Wingers that need to be addressed.

    Vlad Taresenko, Jakub Vrana, trade for Willy Nylander, new 1 Alex Debrincat even though he would cost 9mil RFA Offer sheet.. he is perfect scoring winger though and 25.. but idk if caps want to pay anybody 9mil+ per unless they are bona fide HOF Player.. as good as CAT is he’s 1 tier below HOF

    • Anonymous says:

      Disagree. The left side has nothing but kids (all 23 years old) They need some seasoning on the left side.

    • I think the Vrana bridge has been burned. Tarasenko is a possibility, but his durability is a concern and would just be another body in the training room in a room full of aching bodies. DeBrincat would make some sense, but that’s going to cost a lot to get him. Like potentially a package centered around the Caps 2023 first round pick that’s all but guaranteed to be a top ten pick.

      We’re probably going to see more trades similar to Sandin: players that are on good teams that are in need of a bigger role. I’ve been banging the Nick Schmaltz drum too, he’s a good player in a small market. He’d get a lot more noise around the league if he played in a bigger market.

      I do agree that top six forwards (especially scoring forwards) are priority number 1. If you can fill those spots and you find some available cap space, I think the top four defensive group could use an upgrade. The Eastern Conference is going to be a gauntlet again next season, so you need to stack up if you expect to make any noise.

    • hockeydruid says:

      Vlad- 1st he is 31 and making $3.75 and probably looking for a 5-6 year deal at around $5-6 mil a year; 2nd in 69 games this year he had 18 goals and 32 assists ( Milano had 11 and 22 and only cost what $800 K, Wilson had 13 and 9 in 33 games and Sheary had 15 and 22 and cost way less) 3rddont need another over 30 year old on this team while trying to get younger; Vrana-the ship has sailed on him and why would you want a player who implodes regularly anymore?; Nylander- although fist yes he meets what the Caps are trying to do in getting younger however he is already making over $6 mil a year and has 2 more years on his contract and I’m sure there are 0 players on the Caps squad that Toronto would trade him for, they might trade for picks and prospects but the Caps in their retool/rebuild need all the picks that they can get and do not need to increase their already high salary cap. I assume that you play fantasy hockey when you bring up trading for Alex Debrincat. In real life both Nylander and Debrincat are out of the Caps price range in both money and giving up picks and or players to obtain. Patience young one as there is the draft and you never know which bouncing ball the Caps will get. Please continue to play fantasy hockey but realize that it has no bearing on real live hockey.

  3. dwgie26 says:

    Graves is solid. I suspect he’ll get 5+ on next deal and that will be too much. If we can move both Mantha and Kuzy, bring in two top 6, we might have room but I think $5M is still a big stretch. We have to re-sign Sandin next year.

    But getting another dee is going to be important, whether it be a Gustufsson type cheap signing or an impact 3LD which will allow Alexyev to be 7D which is fine. 7D will play a lot.

    • hockeydruid says:

      And a decision had to be made this summer on Wilson or I feel he will walk next summer. He has already said he will not negotiate a contract during the season so the Caps have to get off the schneid adn either sign him this summer or trade him. Yes trading Kuzy would help lots and maybe if you could get someone to take Mantha at the same time it would work. However a trade of Mantha alone is going to cost big in either draft picks or prospects or both or worse having to take back an equally bad contract.

      As this team is not going to be in the playoffs for several years why not let AA play as the #6D and bring up several of the guys from Hershey this coming year to see how they do. Nothing ventured nothing gained. If they work out good if they dont then the GM knows what he needs to go after in the draft and hopefully will have high picks the next several years. .

  4. Anonymous says:

    Would be good if the Caps add some physicality and snarl.

  5. Prevent Defense says:

    Ahoy NovaCapsFans staff: GM Treliving in CGY just hung it up.

    There’s a “new thing” in the NHL and that’s coaches and GMs quitting their gigs. Plenty of firings, but voluntarily leaving is uncommon. Unheard of 25 years ago.

    WPG Coach Paul Maurice comes to mind.

    Please analyze! Thanks much

  6. Anonymous says:

    New defenseman will not happen.

    Fehervary needs a decent contract = that will cost money.

    Puting Alexyev as 7 will be huge mistake for future = we can not look on short term only. As well as deviding Fehervary – Carlson. If Yes than only to make clear shut down pair with Jensen.

    And really ? Does someone think Caps has signed TVR and Jensen for 3 milion deals because They want another D-man ? Like really?

    D-core is settled. Having 3 23 yo on left is not a problem based on level They have shown ( despite Rasmus having some Defensive shortcomings)

    If than someone to Carlson, Rasmus to 3-rd and one shut down pair with 3-42

    But that will barely happen.

    I would assume pairings will stay as They are and Hershey D will be put there as 7-Th. And that is what should be done, if this team wants some future ! Rome was not built in a day= it will be painful and long process but neccesary

    With good system and coach this Group of D-man can work very well. We have 4 clear top 4 D-man in Carlson, Sandin, Jensen and Fehervary ( despite some coments of some Caps fans he has played another very good season). No need for more especialy with AA behind.

    Problem is an oposite side of ice no one speaks About = Whole season it all was blamed on goalies and Dman but truth is problem is elswhere

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