Why Moritz Seider Is 2021-22’s Most Impressive Rookie So Far
Steve Yzerman’s first draft pick as general manager of the Detroit Red Wings was widely viewed as a reach. NHL Central Scouting ranked Moritz Seider as the sixth-best European skater in 2019, but Detroit nevertheless selected him sixth overall.
That gamble is paying off.
Following excellent stints in the AHL and SHL, the 20-year-old has further justified his GM’s faith through 34 NHL games. Among first-year players, Seider is third in points (22) and first in minutes (22:24) for the surprisingly competitive 16-15-3 Red Wings. Let’s not forget this team finished 27th in the league a season ago. Fellow freshman Lucas Raymond has helped engineer this turnaround as well, but Seider’s production from the back end and all-situations effectiveness have vaulted him to the head of this rookie class.
Though his underlying numbers aren’t great, they can largely be attributed to mediocre coaching courtesy of Jeff Blashill and a mediocre partner in Danny DeKeyser. In an admittedly small sample size, Seider shines away from DeKeyser (52.0 SCF%, 50.0 HDCF%, 53.8 xGF%, 55.6 GF%), whereas the veteran implodes from Seider (34.9 SCF%, 27.7 HDCF%, 41.7 xGF%, 30.0 GF%).
It’s clear which half is driving the pairing’s success.
The eye test only reinforces this notion. Despite his age, Seider looks poised beyond his years in possession. He’s comfortable initiating the breakout or claiming an extra beat with the puck to out-maneuver the opposition:
He rarely settles for suboptimal plays and isn’t interested in 50/50 propositions. Instead of sticking to the safe decision of rimming pucks up the boards, he exhibits the patience, shiftiness, vision and touch to set the table for his teammates at both ends of the ice. As a result, they enjoy cleaner zone entries and more touches in plus situations. Seider’s cool under pressure would be remarkable for a grizzled veteran, so to display this level of composure in his first taste of NHL action is…staggering.
Moreover, he isn’t shy about pressing for offense rather than just supporting it. He’s simply fearless, lugging the puck up the ice or sinking lower in the attacking zone to provide a more urgent shooting threat. While his game bears shades of Aaron Ekblad, Seider is less reliant on his shot but bolder with his stick-handling:
The key is Seider’s mobility. He skates very well for a 6’4” defenseman, which allows him to join the rush with confidence and move the puck so far away from would-be obstacles that they can only swing and miss as he blazes past them.
Once he gathers some momentum, stopping it is a tall order.
In addition to his pace, frame and offensive instincts, Seider represents the ideal modern NHL rearguard because, well, he’s actually open to defending too. The freshman uses his size and wheels to hold inside leverage on opponents. Granted, he does occasionally suffer from tunnel vision, but those growing pains should abate over time via coaching and the player’s natural maturation.
As it stands, he’s already an impressive one-on-one defender. He doesn’t overcommit on his puck pursuit angles and he’s stout at the point of attack:
That knack for digging his heels in when it matters most—whether he’s laying his body on the line or getting his stick involved at the eleventh hour—has translated to strong defensive numbers. At 5-on-5, Detroit concedes 2.29 goals per 60 minutes with Seider on the ice. When he’s on the bench, the Red Wings’ GA60 balloons to 2.90. That’s the difference between a decent blue line and one that dwells near the bottom of the barrel.
Then there’s the loudest aspect of Seider’s skill set: physicality.
If you’ve been keeping tabs on his progress since his draft year, you’ve seen plenty of footage that shows the German manhandling players in the AHL and SHL. Though he hasn’t been quite as dominant in the NHL, he’s flashed glimpses of that same brawn and nastiness against considerably stronger opposition. Grown men just…bounce off him:
The Peter Forsberg-style reverse is becoming a staple in his repertoire, as he dishes the puck, delivers a cold shoulder and then skates into open space to offer the Red Wings a numbers advantage. His physicality is practical. He doesn’t fly around the ice chasing hits like he’s Mark Borowiecki. He waits for the right moment to dispossess a puck-carrier or dump a defender on his ass and capitalizes on that window of opportunity.
We’d be remiss not to drive home the point that he’s still 20 years old. He’s 6’4” and weighs just 197 pounds. Wait until he fills out with an additional 15 pounds of muscle. Wait until he grasps how beneficial that size and strength can be. He has all the makings of a three-zone, ice-tilting rock on the back end.
Trevor Zegras is the bigger name and Raymond has been more productive (albeit as a forward), but Seider is learning the most difficult position in pro hockey alongside a below-average partner—and he’s flourishing. He’s 18th among defensemen in scoring, he handles the breakout, he provides solid defense, he mans the point on the power play, he patrols the slot on the penalty kill. Detroit’s goal share drops from 51.1% during Seider’s shifts to 45.3% without him. He’s already made the Red Wings tougher to play against in every phase of the game.
And he’s only scratching the surface of his potential.
Imagine an older, stronger and smarter Seider under a better head coach and next to a better partner. Given his body of work to this point, it’s not a stretch to suggest he’ll enter the Norris Trophy conversation within the next few years.