Finishing off the RHD trio of players behind Drew Doughty with a look at Sean Durzi’s 2022-23 season. Hard to believe that this was his first full season spent at the NHL level, but it was the first time he played a full season with the Kings. A look at his season and where it fell within the Kings landscape below.
LAK Statline – 72 games played, 9 goals, 29 assists, -12 rating, 50 penalty minutes
Playoff Statline – 6 games played, 1 goal, 0 assists, -4 rating, 2 penalty minutes
Possession Metrics (Relative To Kings) – CF% – 51.5% (-0.6%), SCF% – 51.2% (-1.9%), HDCF% – 52.4% (-2.4%)
A lot was placed upon Sean Durzi this season. A lot was placed upon Sean Durzi last season as well. At times in 2021-22, despite being in his rookie season, Durzi was asked to be the team’s number-one defenseman due to injuries around him. This past season, he was slotted further down the batting order but was thrust onto his off side early in the season, skating the majority of the way on the left with Matt Roy. Around a minor injury, he played just about every game he was healthy for, including with a variety of partners down the stretch.
Trending Up – Sean Durzi was, quietly, one of the NHL’s most productive offensive defensemen, this season. Starting with 5-on-5 play, among the 148 defensemen with at least 1,000 minutes played at 5-on-5, Durzi ranked 12th in the NHL at 0.43 goals-per-game. He was also towards the top of the list in terms of creating chances, as Durzi ranked in the Top 10 in scoring chances per/60 and if you’re looking at the players around him, the name before is Viktor Hedman and the name after is Adam Fox. Durzi was also in the Top 15 in high-danger chances per/60. Durzi’s calling card from a profiling standpoint is his passing ability and vision, but it was the chances he had individually that really stood out this season when playing at even strength.
Durzi also proved to be one of the NHL’s most productive defensemen on the power play this season, as well as at 5-on-5. By time-on-ice, Durzi was the quarterback of the second unit, but his production was PP1 caliber. Both he and Drew Doughty placed in the NHL’s Top 10 in 5-on-4 power-play assists per/60, with Durzi ranking fifth. He also ranked fourth in 5-on-4 power-play points per/60. Durzi scored just one power-play goal, compared to 15 assists, as he proved to be a very effective facilitator.
Additionally, Durzi’s willingness to take on the role of playing on the left was commendable. By game three of the regular season, he was asked to move to the left side, after things didn’t go as planned. Durzi had played almost exclusively on the right during his first NHL season and during his two full seasons spent in the AHL. It became clear early on that one of the team’s right-handed blueliners had to play on the left and Durzi was tasked with being that player. The process wasn’t perfect, but Durzi came out of the process a more valuable player than he entered and helped the team along the way.
Trending Down – Among fans, Durzi was a polarizing player. Those who loved him emphasized his strengths. Those who don’t emphasized his flaws. He’s still a young player and he has both in his game. The emphasis sometimes went beyond reality, though. Of the 30 players to play for the Kings this season, Durzi ranked 15th in terms of goals allowed per/60 minutes. Dead in the middle. On certain nights, Durzi would have plays that standout and make you focus on that play, whether that play was positive or negative. That’s not to cover over defensive flaws, because they were present enough that the Kings made a move at the deadline for a veteran left-sided defenseman. As he continues to evolve, with what hopes to be a full season playing in position, minimizing that risk will be key.
As noted above, Durzi was a high-event player in how directly he impacted goals, at both ends of the ice. While he led all Kings defensemen in goals, assists and points per/60 at 5-on-5, he also led the Kings in giveaways per/60 as well. His direct actions regularly led to goals offensively, but he was victimized at times defensively as well, with turnovers at the wrong time directly impacting the team with goals against. His overall numbers don’t really paint the picture of a high-event player, but those numbers typically represent quantity not quality. Durzi might only have one of those high-event plays per game, either way. Those plays just seemed to result in a goal, for better or for worse, more often than not.
2023-24 Outlook– Similar to Walker and Roy before him, Durzi has one year remaining on his contract, which comes with a cap hit of $1.7 million. Unlike those two players, Durzi will be a restricted free agent at the end of his deal, as he was last summer when he initially signed the contract.
There’s a theme with these first three articles, in that all three are right-handed defensemen who have proven their worth at this level, but the fact of the matter is there are only three spots on the right side and with Drew Doughty occupying one of them, all three cannot play their natural position with the Kings. That doesn’t even mention the up-and-coming talent coming through the system at that position, so the Kings have to either play multiple players on their off side, or make some difficult decisions.
When Durzi is in the lineup, he’ll contribute on the power play as he did this season. He will contribute offensively at even strength as he did this season. All while working on refining the other side of his game. Durzi was dealt a difficult hand and didn’t fold in 2022-23, trying to play it as best as he could to his advantage. Entering his third NHL season, he’s approaching that age when defensemen usually peak. Another step forward could turn a gifted offensive defensemen into a two-way contributor.