It’s one thing to be good, it’s another entirely to be good and young.
I wrote an article in the Winnipeg Free Press last Saturday, saying 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 a NHL impact. Today we turn to those roaming the blue line.
There are few things coveted in the NHL more than a young-stud defenseman and with good reason. The Jets have three defensemen under twenty-five years on their roster.
Interesting that the numbers go the opposite way than some would expect, but there is some reasoning behind the madness.
Ben Chiarot has spent most of his icetime with shot metric all-star Dustin Byfuglien. Usage adjustments are intended to account for this, but the issue is Byfuglien’s TOI away from Chiarot is as a forward. Byfuglien tends to drag Corsi as a forward, so the model incorrectly predicts Byfuglien as an anchor as opposed to a driver. However, the twenty-three year old has still performed well considering Byfuglien has posted better numbers with Chiarot than anyone not named Tobias Enstrom. While it is still too early to tell who Ben Chiarot truly is, there is a lot of evidence that he’s at least an NHL calibre player.
Rumours are the Jets had Jacob Trouba on their draft list around the fourth best player for his year. If Trouba turns out the way he has been projecting, than the he very well may be that or better. Trouba has spent about four-fifths of his icetime with well known possession anchor Mark Stuart. Together the pair has posted a 51.3 Corsi percentage; however, when apart Trouba sits at 55.6 percent and Stuart at 44.2 percent for Corsi. At only twenty years of age, the Jets have a long while to find out what Trouba can do.
There are no real underlying impacts to Zach Bogosian’s Corsi percentages. He’s posted similar usage adjusted numbers last season. Enstrom does seem to lift up his numbers somewhat, although not significantly. Bogosian may never live up to his draft pedigree expectations and is near the age defenders generally peak in shot metrics and scoring. Still, Bogosian has settled into a decent second pair defenseman, who is an excellent penalty killer and above-average even-strength point scorer.
The Young “Veterans”
The Jets defensive core is a bit older than its wingers and centres.
The underrated Paul Postma is right at twenty-five. There is a lot of evidence that the young defender is one of the Jets six best, healthy defenseman. His SAC percentage is the highest of the Jets this season and his UAC percentage over the past two seasons sits above 50 percent. Still, the Jets three high-end right-shooting defensemen have relegated Postma to the pressbox.
While Tobias Enstrom at thirty, and Dustin Byfuglien and Grant Clitsome at 29 is not necessarily very youthful, they are still young enough to slide into diminished rolls as the next generation takes over. Byfuglien’s impact is second to none of all of the Jets defenseman, while Enstrom’s shot repression is underrated. However, Clitsome’s two back-surgeries in one year places doubt on his longterm capabilities.
There is no argument that the Jets best defensive prospect is Josh Morrissey of the WHL. Morrissey’s 1.25 points per game last season lead the WHL and placed third in the CHL. His scoring has slumped somewhat this season, although a 0.79 is still highly respectable. Morrissey really shined last season in the AHL, where he scored nine points in twenty games while playing a major role on a team that made the finals. Morrissey also fills an organizational need as a lefty, since most of the Jets best defenders are right-hand shots.
Jan Kostalek is likely the Jets next best prospect. The young Czech hasn’t wowed anyone with his scoring, but still has picked up points at an impressive rate for a defenseman that is known more for his defensive contributions than offensive.
The Jets also have two interesting defenders in the NCAA. Jack Glover had a very successful season last year with the USNDTP, although he has struggled to play on arguably the league’s best defensive core. Tucker Poolman has scored at an impressive rate, but is pretty old for a freshman at twenty-one.
With a combination of Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, Zach Bogosian, and Paul Postma, the Jets are set on the right side for years to come. They have an excess in quantity and quality. This is true for prospects as well, with Jan Kostalek, Jack Glover, Tucker Poolman, Brenden Kichton, and others.
The future of the left side though is drastically different. Tobias Enstrom is the only proven top four calibre defenseman on the left side still healthy. Grant Clitsome’s health is a concern and Ben Chiarot still carries a question mark. After that, the Jets defenders are extremely limited. The same issue falls with the prospect cupboards. Josh Morrissey seems to be a legitimate NHL potential player, but Julian Melchiori’s window is shrinking and the only other two LHD –Peter Stoykewych and Aaron Harstad– are likely already busts.
Tomorrow we will look at goaltenders.