Loyal readers of the blog will know that I don’t think much of James Wright as an NHL player. In the summer, I wrote that he alone was an example of how Claude Noel had impeded his team’s chances at the playoffs. More recently, I looked at a single shift of Wright’s to examine his constant mental errors.
Last season, every bit of evidence we could muster told us James Wright was not an NHL player, underscored by the fact that he was dead last on the team in corsi (shot attempts) stats. As of today, James Wright is second among regulars on the team in shot attempt numbers while the score is close, and 11th (AKA not last) in five on five play.
Despite zero points and just 13 shots on goal through 15 games, James Wright might be playing his best hockey of his career. Is it enough?
We often use some simple counting numbers to measure even strength effectiveness. The short hand is corsi, but it’s just a simple +/- for shot attempts. It tells us a story about who has the puck and where they have it.
James Wright has had a distinct pattern to his corsi numbers this year, and the move to centre has been a positive one for him.
Let’s look at the raw numbers. He begins his stint at centre on the road with a stunning game against the Predators on October 24th.
His first six games are what we’ve come to expect from James Wright. His corsi for numbers are low, his corsi against number drops below 9 only against the Stars, when the game was over inside 20 minutes and the Jets faced a prevent shell for two periods. Starting against the Canadiens, Wright has a six game stretch where things reverse in a big way.
His final three games in the set show a return to poor form, and unsurprisingly, he played with Chris Thorburn those games (as well as game 2 against the Kings).
Let’s look at the more important chart:
This is corsi %, which is just a shot attempt +/- turned into a simple ratio. The green line is his raw corsi%, and the purple line is his corsi % relative to how the rest of the team did in that game. When the green line is at 50%, James Wright broke even in that game against the other team. When the purple line is at 0, it means the Jets did no better or worse with him on the ice – he met the average.
We see roughly the same pattern, though with some absolution for the Colorado game – six poor games, seven good games, two poor games.
Certainly, the sample size is small and we could be writing anything about James Wright’s season as a whole come April. But seven games in a row above the team average corsi is kind of like describing another player.
Comparing it to last year, we can be suitably impressed:
Not only did Wright not manage a seven game streak of above average corsi numbers last season, his longest streak was three games, and he did it just twice.
Claude Noel still hasn’t settled on a top 12 he’s comfortable with, despite constant experimentation. It’s hard to keep track of who Wright is playing with when things are going well. He’s done poorly with Thorburn, not surprisingly, but also when next to Jokinen and Frolik (with whom he played Games 1 and 3, and parts of other games as well). We know from limited minutes this year and extended minutes last season that he struggles as he moves up the lineup, and that he needs support. He can’t carry a line – far from it.
We also can’t call him an out-scorer, or even a contributor to offence. He now has 10 points in 102 NHL games.
But playing limited minutes from the fourth line, against other fourth lines, James Wright is putting together his best stretch of hockey in his career. In minutes in which the game is close (within a goal), Wright has the second best corsi % on the team behind Tangardi. In all 5 on 5 play, his number is up from a team worst 44.7% to an 11th best 48.7%.
Is It Good Enough?
The truth, of course, is that the team is losing, and James Wright is hardly the answer. He won’t score on a team that needs depth scoring, he doesn’t win faceoffs on a team that chases possession, and he doesn’t win his shifts. These numbers show the rest of the team’s failures as much as his personal success, and they look better relative to Olli Jokinen and Chris Thorburn than role players on better teams.
Perhaps this deserves further consideration, but he’s also among the team’s worst penalty killers inside their aggressive system, failing to create opportunities and playing more passively than most forwards. He leads forwards in short handed minutes, but he ranks dead last among regular penalty killers in 4 on 5 corsi numbers. That might not matter for some teams, but the Jets lead the league in 4 on 5 corsi rate with 25%. Their system is designed to get up ice and put shots on. James Wright doesn’t do that.
All of that said, this team is top heavy when it comes to contracts. Just five forwards make over $4M a year. Added to three large contracts on the back-end and a highly paid goaltender, the team doesn’t have a lot to spend on its fourth line. James Wright is making a case to be a depth player on this club.
You Still Don’t Sound Happy
It’s taken 53 games of James Wright to find out that he might be able to be a scoreless fourth line player, in controlled minutes so long as he plays with the likes of Halischuk and Tangradi. And we still don’t know if he can kill penalties the way the team has drawn it up.
I’ve said all along that I cheer for the ex-Vancouver Giant. But even if James Wright beats the odds, no one but his parents can say ‘I told you so’ to the many James Wright haters out there.
The problem is with the process of evaluation and development, not with the player himself. I will be happy if he turns out – for him, and for us as fans – but it still means the coach let a player fail for 50 games and missed the playoffs narrowly in trying to bring along the type of player that can be had easily around the league in trade or free agency. James Wright should have developed at lower levels, and the team should have played the lineup that gave them the best chance to win while Wright learned his trade.
Even if Wright continues to improve, he remains a problematic indicator within the organization.