The latest (first?) installment in our Better Know A Free Agent series is highlighting defenseman Jason Garrison of the Florida Panthers. Garrison is a 6'2 220 pound left shooting defenseman from White Rock, British Columbia. For fanboys of Brenden Dillon, Garrison is the shining example of what to hope for. He, like Dillon, went undrafted.
After three uneventful years of college he began his professional career with the Rochester Americans where his career took off.
Garrison's best attributes are his hard shot, defensive game, and skating ability. He's widely considered a second tier defensive option (with Ryan Suter being the only top tier option). The Stars will be on the lookout for top four defensemen with Garrison presumably near the top of the list. We'll look more closely at what kind of player he is and how he would fit with the Stars after the jump.
The two biggest knocks against Jason Garrison are his physical game and lack of track record. Despite his size he isn't an overly physical player. When taking stock of the free agent market for defensemen a few weeks ago I compared Garrison to a younger Sheldon Souray. The difference between the two is that Garrison is a better skater while Souray is much more physical.
The lack of a high end physical game isn't necessarily a bad thing for Garrison. He's known to be very positionally sound. His game also keeps him out of the penalty box. In 2012 Garrison took 13 penalties at even strength which would have placed him third amongst the Stars defense corps, but in line with group as a whole. (Souray and Stephane Robidas led the group with 23 and 18, but keep in mind they also played the most difficult minutes). Garrison actually drew seven penalties last year which is more than all of the Stars blueliners outside of Alex Goligoski.
In 2011 he only took eight minors at even strength while drawing two so his discipline isn't a fluke. Obviously no one is going to be particularly excited about signing a player because of his discipline. It's a good secondary skill to have, but he's going to make his money for his primary offensive and defensive skills. And in his short career he's been a valuable offensive player.
In 190 career NHL games Garrison has 23 goals. Nine of those came on the powerplay just last season. That's a pretty high ratio of powerplay to even strength goals. At even strength he scored at a similar rate in 2012 as he did in 2011 which is a reason to have some pause when considering Garrison as an acquisition especially when you also consider his relatively short track record.
The track record concerns are valid. Other free agents like Ryan Suter have a much longer track record of success (including being drafted which Garrison wasn't). Garrison ran into a bit of bad luck in college which severely limited his performance. In 2007 his season was cut short due to a leg injury. In 2008 he broke his leg and missed significant time. In that final season he had 14 points in just 26 games which is pretty solid production for a blueliner.
The concerns about Garrison's season being a fluke have some validity too. The nine powerplay goals and 9% shooting percentage are likely to drop in tandem going forward. The goal total might not drop much though. In 2012 Garrison saw a significant increase in powerplay time. He went from seeing 1:33 a night with the extra man to 2:31 which is about what he could expect to get in Dallas. Ultimately you're still looking at around 30 points from him.
30 points might not seem like much, but with his defensive ability it's more than enough to make him a valuable commodity. Last year with the Panthers he routinely saw the top competition of the opposition, but instead of starting out in his own end the Panthers deployed he and his partner Brian Campbell in the offensive zone 53% of the time.
Garrison was dominant in that role on his way to leading the Panthers in Corsi Relative which suggests he could easily handle playing more in his own end, but he wouldn't necessarily need to do so if the Stars were to sign him. The Stars could pair Garrison with Goligoski to get the same dynamic the Panthers had with their top pair. They could pair him with Robidas to create an excellent two way pair.
Garrison gives the Stars flexibility in how they construct their roster yet the chances of his contract becoming an Albatross are small. He may ultimately end up being tapped out as a second pairing offensive option, but his defensive value has proven to be such that he will still be a valuable member of the Stars. Many teams will be after him on July 1st (if he makes it). The Stars have a need, they have the money, and Garrison fits like a glove. If they are able to land a player like Garrison it might go under the radar a bit, but he could be a very big part of things in Dallas for a number of years.