With the Panthers looking to make a playoff run and as their somewhat unexperienced defensive depth was tested following injuries on the back-end, Dale Tallon had no choice but to make an addition to ensure some stability. That addition was Jakub Kindl, and although he’s only played in 9 games for the Panthers so far, he may already be one of the team’s most underrated players.
Jakub Kindl was originally drafted by the Red Wings with the 19th-overall pick of the 2005 NHL Draft, and through no fault of his own, it’s been a struggle for him to remain in the NHL on a consistent basis. Kindl played in 273 games over parts of 7 seasons with the Red Wings in addition to 249 games with their AHL affiliate. This season, the 29-year old defenseman played in 25 games for Detroit in addition to being waived twice in just over 2 months before being acquired by the Panthers at the trade deadline for a 2017 6th-round draft pick in exchange for also having 15 percent of Kindl’s salary retained.
Under former Red Wings’ head coach Mike Babcock, Kindl was scratched often. The thought was that he’d get a better opportunity to prove himself when the Red Wings brought in Jeff Blashill to replace Babcock who took over the Maple Leafs’ vacant coaching position.
That opportunity never really presented itself for Kindl as he was again placed in the doghouse and scratched for 16 out of the Red Wings’ 22 games prior to being placed on waivers for the first time this season in January. The Detroit fan base – and apparently the coaching staff – were fed up with his supposedly error-prone ways and he fell out of favor in every sense of the word. His draft position from 2005 alone puts him in a difficult spot, because not only is he likely trying and hoping to live up to it to some degree, fans and management alike are naturally and understandably viewing him as a 1st-round pick rather than just as the player he is.
But is all of that truly Kindl’s fault? Is he really no better than an 8th defenseman and not worthy of bottom-2 pairing minutes at a minimum? The answer to those questions lies in Kindl’s play as well as his advanced statistics.
Kindl is, for a lack of a better term, a pretty boring, yet quietly effective defenseman when it comes to his style of play, however this is not a bad thing at all. He isn’t exciting to watch most of the time and typically won’t catch one’s eye with his play, and that’s something that has seemingly limited his opportunities as a defenseman. Because Kindl usually slides under the radar in the grand scheme of things during a game, all it takes is one small mistake (or something that initially appears to be his fault but really isn’t) to upset fans and cause them to call him out for being a liability.
Kindl does most of the small things well that don’t necessarily show up on the scoresheet on a nightly basis. He’s really effective in the cycle game and is good at keeping the puck alive in the offensive zone, so while he may not always be generating shot attempts of his own, he’s able to shoot the puck into the corner or along the boards allowing the forwards to take over again.
In this play above, Bjugstad is bringing the puck along the left side and then feeds it to Kindl at the left point. It’s a simple play, but all Kindl does is dump the puck back into the corner where Bjugstad gets it back to maintain possession. With the Philadelphia player charging him, there’s no time for much else aside from dumping the puck back in to try to get something to happen. Bjugstad gets it back behind the net and gives it to Kindl who this time is able to put a quick shot on net. It may seem fairly routine, but with the puck constantly going back and forth around the zone, the Flyers are kept guessing which opens up lanes and also leaves Hudler wide open at the side of the crease for a possible rebound.
This play above comes literally seconds after the first clip and it’s almost identical to it as well. Bjugstad again gets the puck to Kindl at the point who dumps it back behind the net for Kyle Rau. Rau wraps it around the net and boom, another shot attempt created. It’s such a simple, routine play that most would forget that Kindl was the one who put the puck into the corner especially if the shot attempt is one that excites the crowd. When Kindl puts the puck on net, he isn’t always trying to score – sometimes all it takes is a rebound – and he’ll do so even if there’s traffic in the shooting lane.
Again, here’s another simple offensive play by Kindl; the best and easiest thing you can do in hockey is put the puck on net. With his team rushing up the ice, Kindl had a chance to join in as a pass option from the wing. Nick Bjugstad found him all alone in the slot, and since the defender wasn’t challenging him, that gave him time to handle the puck a bit, skate in a little more, and get a really good low wrist shot off which Tuukka Rask almost didn’t save. Sure, he could’ve passed it over to Hudler who was also alone on the left wing, but Kindl had a good opportunity from a really good spot, and he didn’t want to give it up.
Another strong part of Kindl’s play is his puck skills. He’s able to get the puck off his stick in a hurry, whether it be while he’s in his own zone or the offensive zone. His first pass is very good and he has no problem getting the puck up to the forwards or on net. His skating is smooth which makes his ability to move the puck out of his own zone and up the ice one of his strong suits. Whether he has the puck on his stick or not, he’s very calm, composed, and calculating.
This is another simple yet really slick example of Kindl’s puck-moving abilities. He makes a quick lateral movement to get around the forechecking Avalanche player, drives through the neutral zone, passes off to Logan Shaw at the blue line, and that’s it; the puck is now in the offensive zone. Everyone becomes so focused on Kindl and it makes the zone entry so easy.
Not only that, but after the clip ends, the defensemen are flat-footed, allowing Bjugstad and Trocheck to get in behind them on the forecheck and get a cycle going in the zone. This is also another example of it being easy to forget that Kindl did this because he went off to the bench for a defensive pairing change right after skating into the zone.
Here’s yet another example of Kindl’s ability to not only skate well but also get the puck up the ice, out of his own zone and towards the offensive zone. Prior to Barkov winning the face-off in the above clip, the Panthers had won two straight defensive zone draws (Trocheck and Bjugstad) but couldn’t clear the puck out and were stuck in there for nearly a full minute. Barkov pulled the puck back to Kindl who made a quick turn in the opposite direction to get Clutterbuck off of his tail. Once he was facing up ice, he had plenty of room to get out of the zone and get the puck up to Huberdeau who then shot it into the offensive zone.
As we see again in the clip above, Kindl is really good at carrying the puck up the ice. Right before the clips starts, the Panthers had the puck in the offensive zone and it ended up coming all the way back to Luongo at the other end. Luongo tapped it towards Kindl and the clip starts with him curling around the back of the net.
He had an option in Gudbranson at the corner and could’ve easily just passed it off to him. Instead, he sees tons of white ice in front of him and skates through his own zone and the neutral zone before passing off to Jagr. Kindl doesn’t stop there, however, as he continues over the blue line, gets the puck back from Jagr, and puts a shot towards the net. It’s a really good play and it doesn’t happen without Kindl’s skating or puck-moving abilities.
Kindl is good in his own zone as well even if it doesn’t have to do with moving in our out of one of the three zones. In this play above, Kindl sees the puck rebound off of Montoya’s right pad to the side of net as well as Lucas Lessio who is about to gather it in. Kindl anticipates Lessio attempting a wraparound, so he follows him to the other side of the net and cuts him off just before he’s able to get a shot on net. He’s not an overly physical player, but he delivers a nice solid check to get Lessio off of the puck and prevent a would-be scoring chance.
This play above came several minutes after the check on Lessio in the previous clip, and it’s an incredibly solid one by Kindl. Kindl is the first one to react to Paciorrety’s backwards pass from the left corner, and while he doesn’t beat the two other Canadiens to the right corner, he disrupts the skating of the one to his right by throwing a small check. After that, Kindl, while on his knees, wins the puck from the Canadiens player to his left, and passes it to Steven Kampfer who gets it to Shaw to skate it out of the zone. Kindl was the only Panther who went to fight for the puck and came away with it despite going up against two opposing players.
In this final play, we can see Kindl at work in the neutral zone. The Flyers player at his own blue line sees that his only real passing option is the other Flyers forward skating through the neutral zone, and he knows he has to hurry becuase Jussi Jokinen is closing in on him. He makes a decent pass, but Kindl has a pretty good gap and is able to step in to poke the pass away – thanks to his anticipation – for a teammate to pick it up.. Even if the Flyers forward gathers the pass in, he really had no where to go, and Kindl was close enough to where he could’ve knocked him off the puck anyway.
As you can see, pretty much all of the clips above show plays that are fairly simple but really effective, and they go unnoticed most of the time. As a result, when a play like this happens…
…our eyes and brain overreact to what actually happened and we forget / aren’t even aware of the subtle things he does for most of the night. “What a terrible turnover by Kindl,” one might say, when in actuality, watching the play over again shows a few things happened that lead to Kindl’s mishandling of the puck and the eventual breakaway, like Huberdeau not putting the puck in deep, Jagr letting the pass go right by him, and Kampfer skating down near the goal line and leaving Kindl all alone up high. Amazon says their Kindle tablet is “easy on the eyes,” yet the eye-test seems to always be so harsh on Jakub.
The eye-test is only part of the story with Jakub Kindl with the other half being his advanced stats. Of course, advanced stats are not the end-all-be-all as anyone who knows just the bare basics would tell you, but they are incredibly useful when it comes to tying everything together and seeing what is actually going on. Advanced stats should not be used on their own and that’s why I’m tying them in with clips like the ones used above.
First, let’s take a look at Kindl’s HERO chart to get a good, general idea of what we’re dealing with.
The thing that we notice first is that Kindl is getting ice-time around what a bottom-pairing defenseman would get. However, what we also notice is that he’s incredibly productive with the little ice-time that he does get as he’s performing at or better than the average top-4 defenseman in all of the main stat categories listed on the chart.
Kindl is widely known around the analytics community for being really good at driving possession and making the players around him better. Possession is tracked by using shot attempts as a proxy, aka Corsi (blocked and unblocked attempts) and Fenwick unblocked attempts only), because the idea is that if you’re shooting at the net, you have the puck and the opponent doesn’t. You can’t shoot the puck if you don’t have it and you can’t score if you don’t shoot the puck.
As we’ve noted in the past on several occassions, the Panthers made two high-profile analytics hires last year in “Money Puck” and Josh Weissbock, and both assumingly played a large part in the Panthers targeting Kindl as a depth option.
Here’s a good example of a shots / shot attempts leading to goals involving Kindl from the Panthers’ recent game against the Red Wings.
In this play, Kindl jumps up and gets a pass from Trocheck who stole the puck at the blue line. He sees that he has a space in front of him so he skates forward and steps into a slap shot. The shot is blocked but that’s not the end of the play as the Detroit defenseman turns over the puck after it rebounds from the block and then the goal is set up from there.
Had Kindl just dumped the puck in, the Panthers likely would’ve been outnumbered down low considering the Red Wings had 4 players deep while the Panthers had 2 that were just getting near the middle of the zone. This is a good example for a few reasons. Kindl makes a smart, simple play by just getting the puck towards the net, it shows how Kindl is able to drive possession, and it shows how shots, whether blocked or unblocked, can lead to goals, even if it doesn’t happen immediately after / as a result of the shot itself.
In his 9 games with the Panthers, Kindl has played primarily with Alex Petrovic and Steven Kampfer, two defensemen who are not drivers of possession or highly-offensive players.
On the season, Petrovic has played mostly with Kampfer, Brian Campbell, and Dmitry Kulikov at 5v5 even strength, and he’s a bit below average when it comes to puck possession at 48.9% Corsi For. This means that only 48.9% off all shot attempts taken with Petrovic on the ice are directed towards the opposition’s net. When with Kindl thus far, the two have a Corsi For% of 55.2 while Petrovic drops down to 48.2% without him.
The same thing goes for Kampfer. When he’s with Kindl, the two have a CF% of 60.3 while Kampfer drops down to 44.2% without him. Not only that, but Kindl handily leads the Panthers overall with a CF% of 56.0, and those with access to Sports Logiq, a well-known proprietary advanced stats tracking firm, ranks Kindl as a top-25 defenseman in the league when it comes to driving possession.
Even when we look at the forwards of both the Panthers and the Red Wings (before the trade), we see mostly the same results of players having possession and goals for numbers that are better with Kindl than other defensemen. What’s even better is that these stats make sense because we can see many, many instances of Kindl creating offense, moving the puck up the ice, keeping the play alive in the offensive zone, putting the puck on net whenever possible, and more in the clips above.
When it comes down to it, Kindl is a really solid bottom-pair defensemen. He’s not someone that’s going to be on the ice in all situations like Brian Campbell or Aaron Ekblad, but he can come out in that next wave and pick up where they leave off. Kindl isn’t going to win a Norris Trophy and he’s not going to be so good that he’d be able to completely shut down Gretzky in his prime., but it doesn’t matter; he doesn’t have to, at least not for what the Panthers acquired him for or what they’re paying him (hint: not much).
With the Panthers hoping to get some more scoring from their bottom-6 as well as upgrade the bottom defensive pairing, Kindl’s play is certainly what could and is starting to do both of those things. It’s definitely going to be hard to take him out of the lineup when the Panthers are completely healthy and it’s likely that he’ll be an important factor come playoff time.