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.
The 2014/15 Depth Chart
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
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
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
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)
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.
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.