Drawing a penalty is, in our estimation, one of the true exemplary aspects of a successful forward in the NHL.
It shows you’re working hard, getting chances, forcing your opponent to do something illegal and detrimental to their own team to stop you. Or, in some cases, you’re a nefarious diver whose sneaky behavior makes you both a scourge on the League’s moral standing ... and a complete asset to your team.
Conversely, forwards that take penalties more than they draw them are problematic. In some cases, it’s just doing your job as a fourth-line goon or defensive forward. In other cases, perhaps you’re not earning enough penalties to offset your lapses.
Like, for example, Thomas Vanek of the New York Islanders.
Vanek is a player that, for whatever reason, takes more penalties than he draws. That was the case last season for the Buffalo Sabres, when he took four and drew nothing. And that’s the case thus far this season with the Sabres and the Islanders, as he’s the worst player – forward or otherwise – in the NHL in penalty plus/minus.
That’s a stat tabulated by Extra Skater, which is a stats site that should already be bookmarked on your browser. It’s a stat geek treasure trove that brings interesting info every night.
Here are the bottom 20 forwards in the NHL for penalties taken vs. drawn this season. (Obviously, defensemen by and large take penalties, so they’ll sit this round out.)
Surprises? Marchand’s one, I think. He was plus-2 in 45 games last season in this department. He’s someone known to tumble-weed it now and again; has the Boston Bruins forward lost the benefit of the doubt?
Another name that stands out: Jason Spezza of the Ottawa Senators. His penalties taken per 60 minutes in 2011-12 (0.8) was close to his penalties drawn (0.6). So far this season, he’s taking more than earning, which doesn’t seem in line with the Senators’ puck possession figures this season.
Here are the top 20 players in penalty plus/minus:
Well, guess Alexander Steen of the St. Louis Blues gets the opposition’s attention, huh? His 20 penalties drawn through Monday’s games leads the NHL.
Again, you’re seeing a collection of players that forecheck well and possess the puck well. In Rick Nash’s case, he’s a big body you have to foul to get off the puck, and he's drawing nearly a penalty per game.
In the case of Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad, you have two players that transition to the offensive well and go to the dirty areas in the attacking zone.
If there’s one surprise, it’s Patrick Dwyer of the Carolina Hurricanes, who only starts 26.4 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone yet has drawn 13 calls. But then again, he’s earned the reputation in Hurricanes circles as a guy who draws calls but is careful in not taking them.