We continue our look at the 2014/15 Jets depth chart with an installment on the left wing. (Centre is here.)
A year ago, the Jets hit October 1st without 4 natural left wingers, and with both Eric Tangradi and James Wright on the official roster sheet. That lack of depth caused all sorts of havoc throughout the year, with almost every eventual dog-house occupant first filling the 3LW role no matter how outlandish. Halischuk, Thorburn, Setoguchi, Byfuglien, O’Dell, and more played in that spot, and none of them comfortably.
This season, it seems the Jets’ port side is in flux. More ink has been spilled about Evander Kane than any sane person can possibly read in a lifetime, and so we won’t dwell. Suffice to say that this depth chart may look quite different come October. Regardless of that potential change, the depth of the position hasn’t been addressed this off-season.
The primary questions we ask ourselves in this series are how many goals we can expect and how the depth chart measures up to the rest of the Division.
The Depth Chart
Ladd came over in the watershed summer of 2010, the year much of the current core of the team was acquired by then GM Rick Dudley. Since then, Ladd has been a minute eater against the league’s
best while being an offensive leader for the squad. Rightfully the Jets’
Captain, Ladd does it all at both ends regardless of the situation. Turning 29
in December, these are the glory years for the very reasonably priced jack of
all trades. At this point, the concern is not about getting the most out of the
player, but about whether his inevitable blood and sweat will be in vain. Ladd
is on a 5 year clock as a major contributor and as we’ve talked about for over
a year, it’s not clear whether the team intends to compete during that window.
Expected Goals: 28
Evander Kane is a lightning rod on and off the ice.
Very little happens with Kane on the ice that doesn’t involve him. His
one-punch KO of the agitating Matt Cooke will be forever a fond memory. His
pull-in wrister at high speeds is a signature at this point, such that every
time he crosses the blue line, it feels possible we’ll see the red light. His
speed, his physicality, and his DIY attitude are part of the identity of this
club, and similarly reflect the poor help he’s been given over the years. Still
just 22, the entertainer is one shy of a 100 goals for this franchise, and has
already totaled 200 points in just 324 games. It’s hard to think that Scheifele
might already be the best playmaking centre Kane has ever had as a linemate.
Expected Goals: 25. It could be a lot more if he
and Scheifele pick up from January. But both have some injury trouble and the ‘attitude
time-outs’ are already brewing.
(It’s possible or even likely that Eric O’Dell
occupies the 3LW spot on opening night. But he’s a natural centre and so I put
him there. Call it a flaw of the exercise, but he can only go in one spot.)
Eric Tangradi is the next best LW the team has,
though the previous coach much preferred James Wright (another adapted
centreman). Tangradi doesn’t score – this is known – but he does get the puck
from one zone to the next effectively, and always appears near the team’s best
forwards in advanced metrics. Does that make him a 3rd line winger?
No. Still, it’s arguably more valuable to have the puck in the right end of the
rink more often than be feeding minutes to a more mistake prone player. Your
mileage may vary, and certainly this spot is wide open come training camp.
Expected Goals: 3. He could get to 8 if he had
regular minutes, but more likely he plays his usual spot role.
James Wright is also not a reasonable scoring
option, even for the bottom of a roster. His zero goals from last year added to
his 4 career goals and we get the picture. In 146 NHL games, Wright has 12
points. He also has poor possession results and a lot of missed assignments. He
has developed – we’ve watched him grow as a player on TSN with our own eyes – and he played much better hockey at centre under Maurice than he ever did on
the wing under Noel. But the fact is that Wright is a
large body with good vertical speed who plays replacement level hockey at best, and the Jets spent 100 NHL games developing him into that. Ignoring that the Jets insist on John Albert and Patrice Cormier as their first
call-ups, almost any NHL franchise could furnish a half-dozen James Wrights
from their pro-system. In a true meritocracy, his job would be very vulnerable
to incoming rookies with similar skillsets – both Carl Klingberg and Ivan
Telegin come to mind.
Expected Goals: 1.
Carl Klingberg (Rookie)
is a lesson in asset mismanagement. The team has given him another year to
prove his mettle, but in fairness, his primary obstacle has been the team’s decision making process
itself. While James Wright, Chris Thorburn, Anthony Peluso, Matt Halischuk,
John Albert, and Patrice Cormier combined for a terrifically ineffective 231
man games last season on a struggling club, Klingberg got a late season call-up
for just 3 contests. And that’s in spite of a particularly compelling
pre-season and the fact that his first ELC was expiring. Would he have made a difference? No one knows, and that’s exactly the problem. The club didn’t know
if he could play at an NHL level, and yet handed out minutes to players who
were busy actively proving they could not. His 43 points in 66 AHL games is
encouraging, but the now 23 year old enters camp with precisely the same
questions hanging over him as did one year earlier through no fault of his own.
If the team is looking for new contributors, Klingberg is an obvious choice to
move up this depth chart.
Expected Goals: 3. He’ll need playing time to score. And I don’t see that coming from this organization.
A note on Ivan Telegin (Rookie)
Telegin has all the assets the Jets are looking for in their bottom-six. He’s a big-bodied, rangy forward with exceptional vertical speed. He re-signed with CSKA for two years in May, but it’s a bilateral contract, which I believe means he can be assigned to the VHL (next league lower). I don’t have any knowledge of the out-clauses in that contract, but it seems plausible that the Jets have lost another Russian player simply by cluttering his path the NHL with players who are not meaningful assets or contributors. Would (or perhaps will) Telegin have made a difference? It’s unlikely. But for a club that struggles to acquire depth, it’s not a reasonable assumption that he was expendable either.
Combined, I’ve given this left wing group a total of 60 goals. That’s a major improvement over last year, though that improvement is hard to quantify. For example, how many of Setoguchi’s 11 goals came while on the left wing instead of the right? My memory tells me very few. Eric O’Dell potted 3 (2 of which were from the LW, if I remember) but we’ve counted his number elsewhere. Thorburn even had 2 from the LW, but typically plays RW and isn’t listed on this depth chart. It goes on.
The total from the players listed last year was a meager 46, though others chipped in while playing out of position to make roughly 55 goals from the port side. A hand infection for Kane and some healthy scratches meant fewer games than normal, and as you see above, Ladd posted his worst goal total since coming over from Chicago. These two players account for the entirety of the improvement, and are equally the only potential drivers of offence from the left side.
As has been true of each of Cheveldayoff’s squads, depth and balance on the wings is a problem again this season.
Around the Division
Chicago: Sharp, Saad, Bickell, Morin, Teravainen
Dallas: Benn, Cole, Roussel, Sceviour, McKenzie
Minnesota: Parise, Vanek, Cooke, Zucker, Veilleux
Nashville: Wilson, Cullen, Forsberg, Stalberg, Clune
St Louis: Steen, Schwartz, Paajarvi, Ott, Lindstrom
(I’m no expert on these lineups, so you may know something about these depth charts I’ve missed. Please let us know in the comments!)
Even among the weaker of these groups, there is bubbling potential. Sceviour has been knocking at the door on both wings in Dallas for some time, and scored 63 points in 54 AHL games last year. Curtis McKenzie was a big part of the Texas Stars Calder Cup win, scoring 79 points in 96 combined regular season and playoff games and skating his way onto the AHL All-Rookie team as a 22 year old former Miami of Ohio grad. Nashville is waiting for Forsberg to break out, and Stalberg was a major disappointment under Trotz. His clean slate might mean greater impact this season. Much-hyped Teuvo Teravainen is a natural centre and is likely penciled in for 2C after Brad Richards vacates, but may see time on the wing this year.
In sum, the Jets are in the top 3 teams in the Central for their one-two punch, but the team’s depth puts the group in the ‘below-average’ category for this tough Division. If Kane moves as has been rumoured, left wing will be another position of weakness for a club with more than enough of them already.