Jets 2014/15 Depth Chart: Centre

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Photo by Bridget Samuels

We start our examination of the Jets’ depth chart with
arguably the most important skater position. Championship teams in the modern
NHL are typically defined by their quality and depth down the middle, and
whether we define success in hockey by goals, scoring chances, or shot
attempts, controlling the middle of the ice is critical.

In the ever-improving Western Conference, do the 2014/15Jets have what it takes to compete down the middle?

The 2014/15 Depth Chart

Bryan Little

Bryan Little Advanced Stats   Extra Skater

Little has delivered two exceptional seasons as the Jets’
undisputed tough-minutes centre, scoring 54 (pro-rated to 82GP) and 64 points
respectively. This past season came with a bump in shooting percentage to start
the year, but his end-of-season percentages are quite reasonable and plausibly
repeatable. Little has put to bed concerns about him as a top line pivot and
has enjoyed excellent health throughout his pro career.

Expected goals: 22

Mark Scheifele

Mark Scheifele Advanced Stats   Extra Skater

After he got the sock tape off his skate blades around late
November, Scheifele showed the skill, patience, and awareness we’d been hearing
about. Injuries shortened his campaign, but 23 points and a +9 rating through
28 games in December and January indicated that he had arrived as an NHL hockey
player. The typical problems of young players (consistency, increasing
difficulty) and health are his main concerns. He’ll get a more defined 2nd
line role to start the year and we can hope he improves on his 1.58 shots per
game from last season. 

Expected goals: 18

Matthieu Perreault

Mathieu Perreault Advanced Stats   Extra Skater

The new hire. Perreault brings speed to the middle and some
shiftiness to a pretty straight ahead forward group. He’s a lefty and a strong
faceoff option. He scored a career high 43 pts in 69 games last season for
Anaheim while skating under 14 minutes per game. Worrisome is that he’s never
played tough opposition and always gets a zone push. Health has also been an
issue. Can he anchor a line and contribute with less help and more
responsibility? A statement year for the 26 year old.

Expected goals: 15

Jim Slater

Jim Slater Advanced Stats   Extra Skater

The will-be 32 year old has 4 points in the 53 games he’s
managed to be healthy for over the past two seasons. He’s played 65 or more
games just once in the past 6 seasons, and his effectiveness is highly
questionable even when he’s healthy. It’s ‘just the fourth line,’ and Slater
was visibly effortful on the PK last season. But once again the Jets are
flirting with disaster should Slater be forced up the depth chart.

Expected goals: 3

Eric O’Dell (unsigned RFA)

Eric O'Dell Advanced Stats   Extra Skater

An off-brand and slightly aged prospect, O’Dell was employed
in a very confusing manner in 2013/14. After showing his offence at the AHL
level, O’Dell was employed for a handful of minutes per night with the
also-rans under Noel. After a stint in the minors, things improved for him in
March and April with Scheifele injured, and his average ice time jumped from
just over 6 minutes in his first 14 games to almost 13 minutes for his last 16.
Still, he played all three forward positions with a rotating cast and managed
just 7 points the whole season. He was instrumental in the IceCaps run to the
Calder Cup Finals. A health zone-start push and reasonable percentages,
combined with the report from any chesterfield-based scout that his skating is
sub-NHL level mean we’re still not certain if O’Dell will find a home with the
big league Jets.

Expected goals: 5

Things Never Looked So Good

At this time last year, the Jets’ centre depth was
deplorable and nerve wracking. Scheifele seemed to be on the roster in pen
despite just 11 professional games and a single professional point. Olli Jokinen had just ended the worst season of his already heavily criticized and
dwindling career. Jim Slater was working on technologies to make his gear water
resistant for all the water skiing he had planned and had a custom Reebok body
cast designed just in case. Bryan Little had just finished a remarkable season
as a two-way pivot, but it was his first as the team’s tough-minutes centre and
the whole apparatus seemed to rest on him as the lynchpin. With established
pros Burmistrov, Antropov, and Wellwood leaving over the course of two summers,
things looked dire.

Fast forward one season and the centre depth chart can
hardly be compared. Perreault has question marks, but the fact remains that the
team lost an established NHL player and replaced him in Free Agency – almost
unheard of under this administration. With confidence growing about Little and
Scheifele and the addition of a plausible 3rd line option, the Jets
look considerably less hopeless this July.

Expectations

Jets centres scored a total of 59 goals last season
(including one by John Albert). My combined expected goals from this group is 63,
owing mostly to assumed improvement from Mark Scheifele. The wildcard is health
in this group, given that each regular after Bryan Little has struggled to stay
in games. As well, it’s possible that Perreault’s offence dries up with the
tougher assignment. For many reasons, Jets fans can be excited about the Finn-for-Quebecois
exchange, but Jokinen’s career offence was part of why his price tag was 50%
higher than the new guy’s.

In general, Olli Jokinen causes havoc when he’s
on the ice. He does very little that’s predictable. Perreault is shifty but
coachable, and with the continued (though non-linear) growth of Scheifele and
O’Dell, it’s likely a slightly improved centre group.

Around the Division

Chicago: Toews, B. Richards, Shaw, Krueger, Regin

Dallas: Seguin, Spezza, Eakin, Horcoff, Fiddler

Minnesota: M. Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Brodziak, Schroeder, Phillips

Nashville: Fisher, Ribeiro, Roy, O. Jokinen, Gaustad

St Louis: Backes, Statsny, Berglund, Lapierre, Lehtera

Once again, the Jets come up short relative to the very competitive Central Division. We’ve watched Littel go head-to-head with the league’s top centres. Can either the young Mark Scheifele or the unproven Matthieu Perreault play against other team’s second best centres and stay alive? It looks to be a critical question for 2014/15.

  • Good stuff, thanks. I’d be curious to hear your take on the jets young centre prospects Lowry (LW in junior and jets have a need at LW….) and Petan. I also was lead to believe by many in the Wpg sports media that they didn’t resign Jokinen (not that I was disappointed) because they didn’t want to impede Lowrys ascent to the NHL then they sign Perrault for 3 years? Hmmmm. Do they see Perrault as a long term 4th line guy? I also really like the skillset of P Cormier, great face off guy, lot of grit and can provide some offence, paired with Klingberg on the LW? Would he not be an upgrade over Slater? IMO, yes he would. How about a Kane for O’Reilly swap?

    • Kevin McCartney

      I’m not a fan of Cormier, personally. I think his brain and legs both move too slowly. Even on the Jets, a 24 year old who hasn’t been able to score at any level of hockey is not really a prospect any more. He has 5 NHL points in 49 games (can you believe he’s made it to 49 games already!?).

      Is he better than Slater? I think he’s more cap-efficient, for sure. But I prefer Slater’s PK skills. I think that’s a lose-lose situation, really.

      As for the prospects – I’m extremely excited about Petan and very interested to see Lowry again. I watched both at the Young Stars tourney last year and was impressed. Lowry looked more ready for pro hockey than Scheifele (who had a bad tournament and as we all know, a tough start to the year mentally). Lowry just needed to add some foot speed and get a little more assertive in the offensive zone. I suspect an AHL season gave him both, especially looking at his scoring growth from October to March.

      Petan is brilliant. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Derek Roy trajectory, where he plays his way off the AHL club within 40 games. Truthfully, the team has so little depth that moving Perreault to the wing is a reasonable plan.

      At the same time, my money is that they have Scheifele-Petan-Lowry penciled in as their top-3 centres for the team they think can compete, and they intend that to be 4-5 years from now. That’s just my gut feeling. No inside knowledge there, obviously.

  • go jets go! wish dustin penner stopped thinking he was funny and played hockey at home for 1 mil. jets are gonna have a hard time in that division. what about winnik? they have to do something.

  • I wouldn’t assume Perreault’s assignments will get all that much tougher in terms of the overall challenge he will face. Assuming the Jets keep the promise they say they made to him and he gets quality ice time with Kaner he is going to have the support he needs to bring is offensive skills to bear.

    I suppose it really depends on who his RW is and who exactly ends up playing with 55. If Scheifele doesn’t see a lot of possession support from his wingers (for example a Buff-55-Wheeler line) that line is going to be easily neutralized and we will see Perreault/Kane face a lot of matchup focus.

  • Kevin McCartney

    I suspect that Perreault’s signing is the roster equivalent of a bridge contract. He’s signed for 3 years as a 26-year old. 29-33 is the statistical barrier for decline, and his contract takes him there. It also gives the Jets the luxury of not rushing Petan if he doesn’t force the issue.

    I suspect that there is no longer-term vision of where Perreault will fit in to the picture with the Jets. If he does fit into the log-term picture, or if Petan battles his way onto the Big Club, he’s probably a winger. He has played wing before, I think, in Washington; and his faceoff prowess might be useful–although I would pair him with Scheifele, to take advantage of that lefty-righty combo that ensures neither centreman has to take draws on his weak side.