Around the National Hockey League today, it seems like everyone wants more and offense out of their defense. Great players like Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns have become known for creating goals and scoring chances from the blue line, and while they are steady defenders as well, these two are known primarily as point producers.
The Carolina Hurricanes don’t have this type of scoring defenseman. They used to, but Justin Faulk has lacked his usually prominent scoring touch so far this season. Instead, their star(s) on the blue line are a bona fide shut-down pair of second-year players.
Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce are not household names in the NHL (yet). They may not even be neighborhood names. But quietly, they have led one of the best young defenses in the League in many a defensive statistical category.
They lead the team in blocked shots with 57 for Pesce and 56 for Slavin. They share the lowest number of giveaways (15 and 16, respectively) among the Canes’ defensemen with 20+ GP. They also sit among the team’s top five players in takeaways at 17 and 20, good for 10th and 6th place League-wide among defensemen.
Their combined corsi (+124)—shot attempts for minus shot attempts against when they are on the ice—is miles ahead of the Faulk and Ron Hainsey duo (+70). League-wise, Pesce’s corsi—74— ranks tied for 9th among all defensemen with Colin Miller and P.K. Subban, while Slavin remains tied for 32nd with Roman Josi and Matt Niskanen, each with a corsi of 50.
The secret to their success obviously lies rooted in natural talent, but it’s impossible to ignore the benefits of the chemistry between the two. You can pick any two defensemen in the League and put them together, but unless they can adjust to the tendencies of one another and, at the very least, tolerate each other, they will not be successful.
Carolina has won the lottery in that regard. They have two talented and responsible defensemen who have developed a friendship with one another, which breeds familiarity on the ice. Their chemistry has developed quickly, with each player having been called up within a month of each other and being thrown into the fray under similar circumstances last season.
They went through all the usual trials of being an NHL rookie together, and ended up playing big minutes by the end of the year. As with any first-year player, having someone to lean on is crucial. Sometimes it’s a player who went through something similar in a prior season, or maybe a coach who particularly sees their potential.
For Slavin and Pesce, having each other while simultaneously learning the ropes in the League created a bond that has carried over to make them the Canes’ strongest option on the back end, and their numbers continue to improve. They have developed their on-ice chemistry to the point where they can always confidently make decisions because they know the other will be well-positioned and prepared to support.
And even with their dominance on the back end, the deal gets even sweeter for Carolina as Slavin and Pesce are still on entry-level contracts, being paid 832,500 and 650,000 dollars, respectively. It will not be long before the rest of the League takes notice of these two budding stars, but for now, Carolina is happy to have their “secret weapon” remain as a sour surprise to opponents focused on Faulk and Hainsey.