August 22 2014 10:48AM
Michael Frolik joined the organization as a defensive specialist with underwhelming hockey-card stats. Through 136 games in Chicago, Frolik managed just 34 points, deployed in his final season for fewer than 13 minutes a night with Bryan Bickell and Michael Handzus. Like so many players who managed to score in Florida (cough cough Jokinen), it seemed his offence didn't translate on a more competitive squad. Instead, his resume highlighted his defensive work as a key part of the league's 3rd best PK, and his playoff record, scoring 18 points in 34 career playoff games and winning a Stanley.
What happened in Winnipeg was a wonderful surprise. Frolik emerged as the life preserver for first young Scheifele and then the erratic Jokinen before moving to the top line to play power-vs-power with Ladd and Little. Versatility is his primary strength on a roster with so many holes, and it's likely Frolik plays a major role in this season.
He's been a positive corsi contributor everywhere he goes, and is a trusted defensive winger. He started as a right winger, and moved to the left side with Chicago for a spell. You can see in the charts above that his personal shooting percentage and his on-ice shooting percentage were both badly depressed for his stint in Chicago - a combination of role, deployment, and probably luck. His season with the Jets was a bit of a culmination, combining his scoring from Florida with his defensive work from Chicago. It was his coming out party as a top-6, two-way player in the tough Central Division and the Jets can hope and pray he's found his range going forward.
The one year deal signed by the team makes some sense. The percentages were very reasonable last year, and it certainly didn't seem like a lucky year. At the same time, we don't have an established level of play for this player and everything comes with heaps of context to explain it.
I believe strongly in this player as his season was remarkable from every angle without (apparently) being driven by luck. He has seemingly boundless energy and was often the catalyst for transition from the Jets zone to get things moving in the right direction. He maintains inside position on the play with extraordinary discipline (only Ladd and Little can boast the same on this roster) and manages passing lanes well. He's a very bright hockey player who also happens to have the puck skills and slippery skating to be a threat offensively. He doesn't create his own offence - so he has a definite ceiling as an offensive contributor - but he pulls apart defensive gaps with his edge work and offense seems to happen when he's around.
1. How much will he score?
It might be a sub-question of 'where will he play in the lineup?', but the truth is that this player has a distinct lull in his scoring numbers. With Chicago, he was a 20 point per 82 games player (34P in 136GP). With Florida and Winnipeg, he scored at a 44 point pace (159P in 294GP). He had a remarkable season for the Jets, but offence isn't automatic and he'll be expected to do a lot of heavy lifting.
2. Will the team get a longer term contract done?
Frolik is perhaps the only external addition by Cheveldayoff to make a wholly positive impact so far. Setoguchi and Jokinen had good moments and bad, the 'Waivers 8' (Santorelli, Miettinen, Ellerby, Wright, Peluso, Clitsome, Ben Maxwell, Brett MacLean) have been mostly bad with spells of surprisingly acceptable, Ponikarovsky was traded before we noticed him, and Tangradi getting on the ice works as well as a DVR pause button for timing when to go to the fridge for another beer. It was a bit disquieting, then, to see the team and Frolik headed toward arbitration in the player's final RFA year. With a one-year deal in place, Frolik's stock on the rise, and UFA freedom come June, can the Jets sign their only high quality, NHL-level addition of the past three seasons? Or will they just wait and hope Kosmachuk fills the same role some day?
3. Does he control his own destiny?
Frankly, no. The team needs a Frolik clone (or three) and could use his talents on every line. It's possible the coach elevates a lesser player for the easier, scoring minutes and lets Frolik skate uphill all season. At the same time, the fate of Kane (and Byfuglien to a lesser extent) hang over the team, as his departure could underwrite a season of hardship for the current roster. Frolik himself could be moved or low-balled by his 'internal budget' employer. It's a lineup without balance put together by a franchise with a history of underwhelming solutions. Frolik's season success may follow his deployment by the coach and the decisions by the general manager more than any individual level factor.