Cage Match: Ryan Ellis vs. Jacob Trouba

by Rick Roos on August 23, 2017 | (1 Comments)

Is Jacob Trouba a better fantasy option than Ryan Ellis?

When doing summer fantasy prep, remember that looks can be deceiving. Take the two combatants in today’s Cage Match – Ryan Ellis and Jacob Trouba.

Neither managed even 40 points last season, yet both played more than half the season at 50+ point scoring paces. If we erase Ellis’ first 17 games and tack on his playoff scoring, the net is 46 points in his final 76 games, for a 50-point pace over 82 games. With Trouba, his 33 points in 60 games belies that he had 30 points in his final 45 contests, for a 54-point pace when projected to 82 games.

Can either one parlay this into sustained production in 2017-18 and beyond? Which is the safer bet in keeper leagues? Who has higher overall upside? Cage Match is here to get to the bottom of these questions, so let’s dive in!

Career Path and Contract Status/Cap Implications

Ellis, 26, was drafted 11th overall in 2009 and went on to produce 162 points in his final 106 OHL games. But by the end of 2012-13, Ellis’ pro numbers stood at 17 points in 64 NHL games and 32 in 61 AHL contests. Still, there was a secure place for Ellis on the Nashville blueline, which needed reinforcements after Ryan Suter’s UFA departure. In his first full NHL season Ellis posted 27 points in 80 games, then followed with an identical 27 points in 2014-15 except in 58 contests. He continued his upward trajectory in 2015-16 with 32 points, then tallied 38 last season, with the above-noted stretch of nearly season-long 50-point pace.

Trouba, 23, was grabbed 9th overall in 2012 and went straight from college in 2012-13 (29 points in 32 games) to the NHL in 2013-14, where he had a strong rookie output (29 points in 65 games). While Ellis saw his scoring rate inch upward each season, Trouba’s went in reverse, with nearly 25 percent less production in the same number of games in 2014-15 then dropping to 21 points in 81 games. As 2016-17 was set to begin, Trouba remained unsigned and requested a trade; however, an agreement was reached and Trouba proceeded to have by far the best season of his young career, especially when factoring in his slow start.

Ellis dings the cap at $2.5M this season and next before hitting unrestricted free agency, while Trouba will earn $2.812M before becoming an arbitration-eligible RFA next summer.

Ice Time

Season

Total Ice Time per game (rank among team’s defensemen)

PP Ice Time per game (rank among team’s defensemen)

SH Ice Time per game (rank among team’s defensemen

2016-17

23:57 (R.E.) – 3rd

24:57 (J.T.) – 2nd

2:11 (R.E.) – 3rd

1:40 (J.T.) – 3rd

2:36 (R.E.) – 1st

2:59 (J.T.) – 2nd

2015-16

20:53 (R.E.) – 3rd

22:03 (J.T.) – 3rd

2:04 (R.E.) – 3rd

1:17 (J.T.) – 4th

1:28 (R.E.) – 5th

2:43 (J.T.) – 2nd

2014-15

18:58 (R.E.) – 5th

23:18 (J.T.) – 3rd

2:11 (R.E.) – 3rd (tied)

1:56 (J.T.) – 4th

0:39 (R.E.) – 7th

3:21 (J.T.) – 1st

2013-14

16:04 (R.E.) 7th

22:26 (J.T.) – 4th

1:45 (R.E.) – 4th

1:58 (J.T.) – 3rd

0:04 (R.E.) – 8th

2:55 (J.T.) – 2nd

Ellis has gained significant ice time with each passing season, such that in 2016-17 he skated for nearly 8:00 more per game versus just three years prior. Unfortunately, nearly 25% of the added time has come in the form of SH duty alongside barely any added PP time. With his strong showing and 5x5 chemistry with Roman Josi (60% of Josi’s 5x5 points came paired with Ellis), it’s unlikely Ellis would see his ice time decline in 2017-18. The question mark is the PP, with Nashville having capable PP d-men in Ellis, Josi, and Subban. Last season Josi skated nearly 50% of his 5x4 minutes with another d-man on the ice, with a fifth of that shared time coming with Ellis and another fifth with Subban; however, only one of Josi’s 18 PPPts occurred with Ellis also on the ice, compared to seven with Josi as the lone d-man and another seven with Subban. Thus, we should not count on Ellis making any PP gains.

Trouba’s numbers held steady for most of his first three seasons before seeing a nice jump for 2016-17. Also, Trouba’s ice time average was trending much higher as 2016-17 unfolded, what with three 26:00+ games and seven under 22:00 coming in his first 30 contests, compared to 15 games with 26:00+ and zero under 22:00 minutes coming in his last 30 contests.

But it’s a good-news bad-news situation with Trouba as well, since he’s been unable to shed any unproductive SH ice time and his PP Time for 2016-17 was actually his second lowest. Also, whereas normally we could entertain that Trouba’s PP time has realistic room to grow, the issue is the Jets nearly always use a four-forward PP1; so until/unless Dustin Byfuglien (signed through 2021) exits the picture, Trouba’s PP usage is unlikely to improve.

Lastly, the 17 second difference in shorthanded time per game between Ellis and Trouba for 2016-17 might not seem like much, but rest assured it is, especially when factoring in Trouba’s PP time. Over the past four seasons, there’ve been 131 instances of a d-man averaging 2:36+ per game of shorthanded time in 60+ games. Only 13 of the 131 scored 45+ points, and six of those 13 had under 2:50 per game shorthanded. Moreover, all but one of the 13 occurred when the d-man also had 2:27+ of PP time per game, with the only sub-2:27 instance coming in 2014-15 from John Carlson, who happens not to have posted more than 39 points in any other season. Not very encouraging news for Trouba given his past and likely near future deployment.

Secondary Categories

Season

PIM

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2016-17

0.41 (R.E.)

0.90 (J.T.)

0.90 (R.E.)

1.78 (J.T.)

1.93 (R.E.)

1.96 (J.T.)

1.97 (R.E.)

2.56 (J.T.)

0.15 (R.E.)

0.08 (J.T.)

2015-16

0.44 (R.E.)

0.76 (J.T.)

0.77 (R.E.)

1.77 (J.T.)

1.26 (R.E.)

2.18 (J.T.)

1.92 (R.E.)

1.64 (J.T.)

0.09 (R.E.)

0.05 (J.T.)

2014-15

0.46 (R.E.)

0.70 (J.T.)

0.70 (R.E.)

1.49 (J.T.)

1.27 (R.E.)

1.84 (J.T.)

2.03 (R.E.)

2.04 (J.T.)

0.10 (R.E.)

0.09 (J.T.)

2013-14

0.30 (R.E.)

0.66 (J.T.)

0.71 (R.E.)

1.46 (J.T.)

1.21 (R.E.)

2.03 (J.T.)

1.53 (R.E.)

1.86 (J.T.)

0.07 (R.E.)

0.04 (J.T.)

To the surprise of likely no one in multi-cat leagues, Trouba holds a wide edge. What’s interesting is, his 2016-17 combination of averaging 1.75+ Hits, 1.75+ Blocks, and 2.5+ SOG per game is something no other d-man managed in do in either 2015-16 or 2016-17; however, the four who did meet the same criteria in 2013-14 or 2014-15 included a couple of fantasy darlings (Shea Weber, Drew Doughty) but also two disappointments (Johnny Boychuk, Alex Edler).

Trouba will need to do more than up his SOG rate to ensure fantasy success, particularly given his lousy PPP rate. Just how bad has Trouba been with the man advantage? His 18 total PP points over the past four seasons was fewer than 13 defensemen had just last season alone! Or to illustrate it another way, over the last four seasons 90 defensemen collectively played 300+ minutes of 5x4, and Trouba’s 2.14 points per 60 minutes at 5x4 ranks him 87th of the 90. Simply put, he’s a drag on PP production, which means he’s even more unlikely to earn added PP minutes.

Ellis not only saw his scoring rise for 2016-17, but his hits and blocks as well. Most likely that was to compensate for what Shea Weber used to provide, and thus could be sustainable. Where there might be concern is in Ellis’ low SOG rate given his goal scoring. Since 2013-14, there’ve been 24 other instances of defensemen who potted 16+ goals in a season. Only one (Trevor Daley in 2014-15) had fewer than Ellis’ 140 shots in 2016-17. Moreover, of the six other instances of fewer than 200 SOG and 16+ goals in the 2013-14, 2014-15, or 2015-16 season, five had fewer goals and points the following season, and the other had identical points and one more goal, in 11 more games. Thus, there are worries that come with Ellis as well.

Luck-Based Metrics

Season

Team Shooting% (5x5)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5x5)

IPP (5x5)

IPP (5x4)

2016-17

8.45% (R.E.)

8.50% (J.T.)

48.1% (R.E.)

49.1% (J.T.)

37.0% (R.E.)

49.0% (J.T.)

58.8% (R.E.)

36.4% (J.T.)

2015-16

8.77% (R.E.)

7.71% (J.T.)

51.0% (R.E.)

51.1% (J.T.)

35.7% (R.E.)

23.6% (J.T.)

63.6% (R.E.)

57.1% (J.T.)

2014-15

9.34% (R.E.)

6.13% (J.T.)

55.6% (R.E.)

50.74% (J.T.)

47.7% (R.E.)

33.3% (J.T.)

83.3% (R.E.)

35.7% (J.T.)

2013-14

9.38% (R.E.)

9.01% (J.T.)

53.1% (R.E.)

48.0% (J.T.)

37.3% (R.E.)

42.6% (J.T.)

46.2% (R.E.)

30.0% (J.T.)

None of Ellis’ 2016-17 numbers were highest or second highest within this stretch. The only issue is this factors in the year overall, including his slow start. Thus, we can’t go so far to say his hotter second half of the season is sustainable, although certainly it’s better to see this kind of data than much higher, unsustainable numbers. In particular, even though his personal shooting percentage was very high, his 5x5 team shooting percentage was reasonable, suggesting that even if his goal total was to drop his point total might not be affected. But again – that’s when looking at his season overall, which translates to a 44-point pace, not the 50-point pace he had in his last 76 games that included his playoff output.

The data for Trouba isn’t reassuring. On the plus side, he’s never had an unsustainably high 5x5 team shooting percentage, and when he had poor outputs in 2014-15 and 2015-16 it was unsustainably low. Where concern arises is with his 5x5 IPP, since as a rookie and in 2016-17 it was too high to be sustainable. In fact, his 5x5 IPP for last season was eighth among 133 defensemen who played 1000+ minutes at 5x5. Had it been merely the average of his first three seasons (i.e., 33.1%), his 2016-17 point total would’ve dropped to only 25 in 60 games. Plus, let’s not overlook the 49.0% IPP at 5x5 was for his entire season, not just his red hot final 45 games. This is discouraging data, especially given what we saw above.

Who Wins?

It’s time to pump the brakes on Jacob Trouba having taken a scoring leap. Instead, what we see is a player who overachieved for a 45-game stretch thanks to an unsustainable 5x5 IPP rate. Truthfully, Trouba still is what we thought he was prior to 2016-17 – a skilled multi-cat defensemen who provides tremendous “real life” value to his team but who doesn’t have the situational deployment or type of game to be much more than a 35-point scorer in at least the near future.

By default that makes Ellis the winner, although he too isn’t all we thought he might be after his very strong second half and playoffs. His luck metrics were quite reasonable; however, past data for goal scoring d-men suggests he doesn’t shoot enough for his scoring – points or goals – to be sustained. Plus, his reasonable luck metrics were based on the entire season, where he had a scoring pace of 44, not the 50-point pace we saw in his last 76 games including playoffs.

I’d suggest selling Trouba in keepers, except his hot run at the end of 2016-17 is disguised by his poor start. Thus, you should hold and if he emerges strong either sell or reassess to see whether maybe he is the real deal after all. Ellis probably is a hold in keepers as well, since chances are you got him for a low enough price to be able to readily accept the 40ish points he’ll probably give you. I’d avoid both players in one-year leagues since chances are at least one of your fellow GMs will reach for them too early.

 

  • RYAN

    Ellis will be drafted early due to recency bias. Trouba has a real mean streak and is better in bruiser leagues. I think its worth noting that Ellis had an 11.4 shooting % while Trouba came in at 5.4%.