The Relative Value of Drafting Left-shooting vs. Right-shooting Defencemen in the Q

All else equal, defencemen in the QMJHL who shoot right are more valuable than those who shoot left. I looked at every defenceman who was drafted in the Q from 2004 to 2012, and there is a tangible difference between left-shooting and right-shooting defencemen.

Right-handed defencemen are harder to find given that there are less of them available to draft. Only 35% of drafted defencemen shoot right, and as a result, only roughly 35% of defencemen in any given QMJHL season shoot right. Right-shooting defencemen also tend to score more goals and produce more assists. Anecdotal research suggests that right-shooting defencemen, given how rare they are, will be offered more powerplay opportunities, which might help explain their higher offensive output. As well, right-shooting defencemen take less penalty minutes on average than their left-shooting counterparts.

Left vs Right Shot

Despite all of these factors in favour of right-shooting defencemen being more valuable, they’re not drafted as early. The average draft pick at which a right-shot defenceman is selected is 118.9, while the average of a left-shot defenceman is 116.5.

In an article by the brilliant people over at hockey-graphs.com titled “Quantifying The Importance of Handedness”, they concluded that NHL defencemen who play on their strong side are notably more effective than those who play on their off-side. Pairings that feature two defencemen who are on their strong sides are clearly more effective at both ends of the ice. This research could help explain the growing trend in the NHL to balance defencemen pairings. For example, coach Mike Babcock is a strong believer in balanced pairings. He famously selected players like Jake Muzzin and Jay Bouwmeester for Team Canada over Kris Letang and P.K. Subban due to shot-handedness, but it’s hard to argue with the results he’s had at the two previous Olympic tournaments.

In summary:

  • Right-shot defencemen are rarer
  • Right-shot defencemen score more goals
  • Right-shot defencemen produce more assists
  • Right-shot defencemen take less penalty minutes
  • Right-shot defencemen are drafted later
  • Defencemen who play on their strong side perform better

Given all of these factors, teams in the QMJHL should definitely be emphasizing balanced defencemen pairings and drafting right-shooting defencemen. While there are obviously numerous considerations when drafting a player, if two defencemen are valued similarly, the numbers definitely suggest drafting the one who shoots right. I would love to hear from coaches who’ve played around with this topic to see if their personal experience matches or contradicts my findings.

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Posted in Draft Analysis, Strategy Analysis

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