It’s one thing to be good, it’s another entirely to be good and young.
Recently I wrote an article in the Winnipeg Free Press that underlying metrics say good things about the 2014-15 Winnipeg Jets. The Jets’ strong numbers –such as in score adjusted Corsi percentage (SAC%)– are a positive sign. While points and wins show where a team stands at a single moment, shot metrics are important because they better predict how a team will perform for the remainder of the season.
There are seven teams in the NHL who currently hold a better SAC% than the Winnipeg Jets. The real kicker though is only the Tampa Bay Lightning consist of a younger average roster.
The Jets’ youth has not just been passengers, but have driven a lot of the success as well. In this series we will look at the Jets depth in each position, while specifically focusing on those under 25 and making an impact.
I have always viewed the centreman as playing the position with the largest on-ice impact, along with all-minutes and all-usage type defenders. It may just be cognitive bias from traditional thinking, but until proven otherwise I view this to be true.
Two of the Jets five main centres are only twenty-one years of age and have been posting very strong two-way numbers.
With either Mark Scheifele or Adam Lowry on the ice, the Jets have significantly out-attempted their opponents, as their high SAC% numbers show. Their near 55 percent SAC% places the two young pivots 41st and 42nd in the NHL for centres with over 200 minutes played this season.
Adjusting their Corsi percentage for linemates and line matching diminishes their accomplishments, but not by much. Both still fall within the top 60 among NHL centremen with 200 or more 5-on-5 minutes played.
While Scheifele’s 1.5 and Lowry’s 1.2 points per sixty minute production rates (P/60) are below average for a second and third line centre, these two numbers should improve as they mature. Eric Tulsky has previously found that both scoring and two-way numbers tend to rise until players hit about 25-26 years of age.
The Jets also have Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault. The two are both highly underrated twenty-seven year old centres who can competently play the wing as well.
Little has posted 53.0 SAC% and 53.6 unadjusted Corsi percentage (UAC%) over the last two seasons combined, while facing top of the roster matchups and scoring at a 1st line average pace of 2.0 P/60. While Perreault has not been leaned on as heavily as Little, his numbers are no less spectacular with 54.1 SAC%, 52.9 UAC%, and 2.1 P/60.
At only 27, even the Jets “veterans” are relatively young. There is also the fourth-line centre Jim Slater, although he is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
While Scheifele and Lowry represent the youth movement, the Jets also have some high end centres in the prospect cupboards.
While small in stature, Nic Petan has posted elite junior numbers. His closest scoring comparables at 17 are Brad Richards and Sean Couturier. At 18 his closest scoring comparables are Jonathan Bellemare (who was only 5’6″) and (interestingly enough) Mathieu Perreault. The second round pick from the 2013 draft more than makes up for his 5’9″ size with skill and results.
Another small centre with skill is Chase De Leo. De Leo scored at a 1.13 point per game pace in his 17 year old season. This places him closest to Ryan Spooner (also listed at 5’10”), Brad Ralph, and Zach Hamill.
In the NCAA the Jets have another highly regarded prospect in Andrew Copp. A big and strong centre who has paced for a near career point per game on one of the Div1 colleges best teams. Most scouts have compared Copp to Lowry, a promising sign for the Jets bottom six going forward.
The Jets have been a pretty good team lately. Even more remarkable though is the amount of success they’ve had while leaning heavily on players under the age of 25, who play a premium position.
While neither Scheifele or Lowry have been setting the world on fire with their scoring numbers, they have not slowed down the team. While scoring is important, it’s more important to outscore than it is to simply generate offense. For Lowry and Scheifele, their auspicious underlying numbers suggest that they’re already ready to help a good team win hockey games.
Tomorrow we will look at wingers.