There are two schools of thought about Mario Ferraro.
On one side, Ferraro is seen as a coach’s dream: The defenseman’s compete level, in games and practices, is off the charts. He’s a culture-setter, a natural-born leader, who also happens to be a superior skater.
It was no surprise, entering just his third season this past year, that the San Jose Sharks named Ferraro alternate captain.
On the other side, while Ferraro is used as a top-pairing shutdown defender, the results haven’t necessarily followed in kind.
Over the last two seasons, Ferraro, when paired with regular partner Brent Burns, has a -238 5-on-5 shot attempt differential. Per Natural Stat Trick, that’s the worst among 26 qualified defensive pairings (1000+ 5-on-5 minutes together) in this period of time.
Basically, nobody bled shot attempts like Ferraro-Burns over the last two years.
Of course, these analytics don’t account for the pairing’s zone deployment (hard) and teammate quality (low).
At least Burns, now traded to the Carolina Hurricanes, had obvious offensive value to make up for his questionable defensive results. Ferraro, however, after a quick start to the year – two goals and eight assists in his first 19 games – ended his season with just four assists in his last 44 appearances.
In some ways, Ferraro is just another round in the now-cliched debate about how accurately analytics judge defensive defensemen.
All said, I think Ferraro is a terrific middle-pairing blueliner who’s been forced, because of the San Jose Sharks’ lack of high-end depth, into top-pairing responsibilities. That’s not his fault, and probably accounts for some of his less-than-flattering analytics.
It doesn’t look like Ferraro’s getting much help this year either, with Burns gone, and no obvious substitutes for his heavy minutes. We’ll see if Ferraro can continue to survive defensively for the Sharks and sprinkle a little more offense on top.
There’s an argument that Ferraro was actually the San Jose Sharks’ worst offensive defenseman last year. Per SPORTLOGiQ, he was worst among regular Sharks blueliners with 1.25 5-on-5 Offense-Generating Plays Per 20.
Offense-Generating Plays, according to SPORTLOGiQ, “are made up of all plays that lead to scoring chances. In other words, they’re plays that move the puck into high danger areas or situations, recovering pucks for your team, and putting high quality shot attempts on net.”
It’s worth noting that Ferraro probably ceded, intentionally, some offensive creativity to his partner Burns. It’s normal when playing with a Burns to give him the puck and kind of get out of the way, I think. But with Burns not around anymore, it’ll probably be up to Ferraro to take the reins and conjure up more offense.
He’ll have to be more daring: Underscoring his lack of Offense-Generating Plays, Ferraro was last among regular Sharks rearguards with 0.33 5-on-5 Slot Passes Per 20. For what it’s worth, San Jose offense from the back-end consisted of Burns and Erik Karlsson, Ryan Merkley in snatches, and a whole lotta nothing from pretty much everybody else. No one is asking Ferraro to replace Burns, but can he at least distinguish himself offensively from pure stay-at-home defenders like Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Jaycob Megna, and company?
Ferraro has some offensive tools, including quick feet and a hard shot.
Meanwhile, defensively, Ferraro’s propensity for shot blocking is well-known – he led the Sharks in blocked shots, despite his injury-abbreviated campaign – but the youngster is more than just someone who’s willing to put his body on the line.
He was third among Sharks defenders with 2.06 5-on-5 Puck Battle Wins Per 20. He trails Vlasic and Radim Simek in this rate statistic, but credit Ferraro for his one-on-one defensive prowess against much-stronger competition than Vlasic and Simek.
Ferraro has a reputation for being a dogged one-on-one defender, which is supported by this figure.
“I think he could possibly do it, be fine on a second power play unit one day. But he’s not dynamic offensively, it’s not ideal to have him on a PP unit.
“I don’t see too much offensive potential. Will contribute some because of his ability to add to rush attacks and his willingness to make an impact.”
“I am motivated to add more tools to my game. I’ve been a very defensive defenseman, that aggressive player in the D-zone, and I’d like to add a little bit more poise and offensive capabilities to my game, which I think that I am capable of. I can step outside my comfort zone, apply more offense to my game and more creativity, if you will.” (Ferraro)
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