Entry-Level Expectations: Spencer Stastney

What does the smooth-skating defender bring to Milwaukee’s blue line?

Last Thursday, the Nashville Predators announced they have signed defender Spencer Stastney to a two-year, entry-level contract beginning in the 2022-23 season.

Stastney, a fifth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, recently finished his four-year career at the University of Notre Dame where he totaled 63 points in 143 games. In his senior season, Stastney set career highs in goals (7), assists (20), and points (27) and served as an assistant captain and top minute-eater for the Irish.

Described often as a late bloomer, Stastney never put up elite offensive numbers at the NCAA level, but head coach Jeff Jackson has described him as potentially the program’s best-ever defender. When you watch Stastney’s game tape and dig deeper into his statistical profile, it’s not hard to agree.

Over his four years in South Bend, Stastney has worked his way from an undersized, understated blueliner to Notre Dame’s most valuable player, skating well over 20 (and sometimes 30) minutes each night. While he led all Notre Dame defenders in goals and points this season, he really accentuates his value through puck possession, transition play, his skating skills, and rush defense.

Over ten games tracked this year, Stastney recorded an exceptional 57.28% Corsi at even strength and recorded a primary point on 32.43% of even-strength goals he was on the ice for—the high water mark for defenders in Nashville’s pipeline this season.

While I think he’s too timid when it comes to shooting the puck (8.69 individual shot attempts per 60 minutes), he (#24, blue) dominates possession with nearly flawless skating mechanics that allow him to explode into a play (as seen above), evade opponents with ease, and set up teammates with smart plays like this shot-off-the-pads primary assist. He’s not a crafty puck handler but opposing defenders know to respect the speed he generates from his proper knee bend, good stride extension, and smooth stride recovery.

Stastney’s transition metrics reflect his skating strengths, too. He maintained a controlled zone-exit rate of 75.58% this season and won 79.40% of his puck retrieval races in the defensive zone. Even with those impressive numbers, I still don’t think Stastney took full advantage of his feet and confidence with the puck as he personally carried out just 49.20% of those controlled zone exits, passing the other half across the blue line to a teammate.

Stastney’s conditioning helps him cover so much of the ice and not just once per shift. Early in the clip above, he recognizes his partner has made a poor pinch at the blue line and accelerates into his top gear with an explosive crossover, winning a three-man foot race. Stastney then makes a crafty move below the goal line to evade the pursuing forechecker and immediately jumps into a position to start an offensive rush. While he ultimately loses possession, Stastney gets back into the defensive zone again, finds a good puck-support position, and orchestrates the next controlled zone exit. On some shifts, his skating could best be compared to a tennis ball caught in an endless volley at Wimbledon.

Defensively, Stastney is just as sound as you would imagine. He allowed a pipeline-best 2.79 high-danger shots against per 60 minutes and gave up a successful zone entry on just 45.45% of the attempts against him. Of those successful entries, he allowed just 37.14% to cross into the middle of the ice.

In the clip above, notice how Stastney maintains pressure on the opponent passing across the blueline instead of playing conservatively and giving up the neutral zone. He then shows that explosive speed to haunt the puck-carrier into the next zone, compacting the space Ohio State had to work with and, ultimately, forcing a low-danger, perimeter shot.

In this clip, Stastney isn’t able to challenge the Penn State forward right at the blue line, but he positions his body and stick to force the puck carrier to a) stay to the outside, or b) try and dangle into the slot. Stastney jumps his opponent’s decision-making and pivots his feet and hips to match his speed along the boards, forcing another low-danger play.

When the other team has established possession in the offensive zone, Stastney can struggle to out-muscle opponents in front of the net, but he plays the game intelligently and picks the battles he can win. His stick skills are strong enough to play the puck instead of the body as his first instinct, and he uses space to his advantage—as shown above—backing the net-front forward out of a dangerous position as the player on the goal line looks to set him up on the doorstep.

It wouldn’t be wrong to describe Stastney as a do-it-all defender at Notre Dame; he has shades of Roman Josi in his game but isn’t as elite of a talent. There will be a learning curve against AHL talent next season, but with the right level of confidence, I think he can excel as a puck-moving defender who plays against top competition and quarterbacks one of the Admirals’ power-play units.

Stastney’s contract pays him a base salary of $832,500 each of the next two seasons and comes with a $925,000 cap hit each year. Upon expiry, he will be a restricted free agent.

All statistics are courtesy of eliteprospects.com or manually tracked. All contract information comes from capfriendly.com.