It was only his first season with the Philadelphia Flyers. But Matt Niskanen helped steady a young defense.
Matt Niskanen brought a wealth of experience to the Flyers after he was acquired in a trade from the Washington Capitals. Before this season, he appeared in 881 regular-season games. He was a part of 125 postseason games between the Dallas Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Capitals. Niskanen also became a Stanley Cup Champion when Washington won their first cup in 2018.
A well-traveled veteran, Niskanen was brought in to add that leadership to a Flyers defense that is very young. Shayne Gostisbehere is the veteran of the group. And he has only been in the league for five seasons. For reference, this was Niskanen’s 13th season in the NHL.
The biggest role given to Niskanen was to help Ivan Provorov. Provorov is the clear cog that makes the Flyers defense run. He had easily grown into the team’s best defensemen despite only being here a short while. And then last season happened. While continuing his iron man streak, he didn’t look like himself.
The numbers were down and there were clear struggles throughout the season. The team as a whole didn’t look good, though. But it is fair to say that when Provorov is performing well, the rest of the Flyers usually follow. So giving him a partner like Niskanen was the Flyers’ way of showing their appreciation. At least, that’s what we’ll call it.
It wasn’t just Provorov who performed well, though. Niskanen had his best offensive season since 2016-17 where he posted 39 points for the Capitals. With 13 games remaining, it’s possible that Niskanen could’ve hit the 40-point mark for just the second time in his career. He had been producing more often since mid-January with 16 points in the last 23 games. Adjusted for a full season, Hockey Reference projected him to finish with double-digit goals and also hit that 40-point mark.
His per-game totals were up across the board as well. His 0.12 goals-per-game was his best mark since the 2013-14 season. He averaged 0.37 assists-per-game, the second-best total of his career. And Niskanen’s 0.49 points-per-game is the third-best for him.
Niskanen also posted some of the best possession numbers of his entire career. His last two seasons in Washington saw him finish below a 50% Corsi for the first time in his career. He also dipped into a negative relative Corsi last season, just the fourth time he has ever done so. In his first season with the Flyers, Niskanen finished with a 52.6 CF% and a 2.0 rel CF%.
The Flyers drove play well with Niskanen on the ice as he finished with the second-best Fenwick percentage of his career (53.2). He continued to average over 20 minutes a game, falling around a 21:54 average. The total minutes are down, but that is due to the current league pause.
Niskanen has one more season left on his contract with an AAV of $5.75M. The Flyers won’t have to worry about paying him until after the 2020-21 season. That is if they can afford him. By that time, they could have some of their even younger defensemen ready to leap into the NHL.
Nonetheless, Niskanen has lived up to his nickname and added a steady presence to the Flyers lineup. Seeing how he could help this young group in the playoffs would’ve been icing on the cake. There is still time to hopefully see that happen.