Paul Maurice open to moving Bryan Little to wing

The Winnipeg Jets are coming into training camp with five players who have played centre as a top-nine player in the National Hockey League.

In an interview on the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN1290, Head Coach Paul Maurice discussed the possibilities of moving a centre to the wing, including Bryan Little.

Here are some thoughts on the Jets depth.

The Jets are in a pretty coveted position in terms of depth, at least positionally speaking. The two premium skater positions are centre and right-shot defenders, both that the Jets have an embarrassment of riches with.

In just two offseasons, the Winnipeg Jets have gone from Bryan Little, Olli Jokinen, and rookie Mark Scheifele, to Little, Scheifele, Mathieu Perreault, Adam Lowry, and Alexander Burmistrov.

“Now we have five guys that have that
have played in the top-nine who are natural (centres),” Paul Maurice said on the subject. “I think
that’s a great thing.”

Not only do the five carry top-nine experience, but they have been pretty solid performers in shot metrics:

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Score-adjusted Corsi% (SA Corsi%) is the percentage of shot attempts a team controls with a player on the ice. Relative Corsi% (rel Corsi%) is the team’s Corsi% with player on-ice versus on the bench. Corsi% relative to team (CF% relTM) is the icetime weighted average of how a player’s linemates perform in Corsi% with the player versus without. Scoring chance% (SC%) is percentage of scoring chances (where shots are weighted for their probability for scoring) a team controls with a player on the ice. Relative SC% is the team’s SC% with player on-ice versus on bench. Points per sixty (P/60) is the players point production relative to sixty minutes of 5v5 ice time.

All five Jets centres have seen their team win the battle for control over shot attempts and scoring chances. Overall, this is a positive sign for the Jets outscoring their opposition in the long run (given equal talent in goaltending), and outscoring leads to winning.

However, there is only three centre spots in the top-nine available.

The Jets seem set in all five existing as regulars in the top-nine, so moving one to the fourth line is out of the question. Two will have to be moved to the wing. One looks to be Perreault, who spent most of last year along the boards.

The other, according to Maurice, will likely depend on Burmistrov and Lowry:

There are going to be players, two of them, that will go to the wing. We like Mathieu Perreault there. The question will be: where is the best place to use Alex Burmistrov in relation to what we do with the other centre-ice-men?… We are going to play with that a little bit, especially early in camp until we get a better feel for how Alex fits and where Lowry’s development is.

Maurice continued, “one of the ways to do it is to move
Bryan to the wing.”

The evidence seems to indicate that Maurice will look at placing Lowry between Little and Andrew Ladd.

The Jets see Lowry as a shutdown in the long run, playing a role similar to Patrice Bergeron in Boston or Ryan Kesler in Vancouver freeing up David Krejci and the Sedins. Maurice says the Jets are already “training him for the job he is going to
do and may well be for this year (and) on” and “he will eventually develop into that
player that plays against the other team’s best.”

Also, the Jets have placed Lowry in Group One for their training camp. Group One only contains two other forwards guaranteed a top-nine position, Ladd and Little, and Maurice mentioned the Jets pre-season lines are intentionally designed.

“We are not going to come into training
camp and mix all the forwards together to see how guys do,” Maurice said. “We will
start with a pretty defined look at lines and move them around
specifically to get that look.”

The Jets also have Joel Armia, who is trying out for a top-nine role, in Group One but may be more of a back up depending on how the trio of Ladd, Little, and Lowry perform.

The one possible issue though is scoring. While the Jets have some pretty high scorers on the wing with Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, Mathieu Perreault, and Drew Stafford, Bryan Little is the only centre who has ever scored above the average production rate for a second line player.

The average top line scorer puts up a 2.0 point per sixty pace for 5v5 minutes, while the average for second line scorers is 1.8. Neither Lowry, Burmistrov, or Scheifele have hit that bar yet, and some are skeptical Lowry and Burmistrov can or ever will.

Maurice won’t push this shake up if the players are not producing:

I’m not going to take our top two
centreman, we had Scheifele and Little, and move one of them to the
wing and ask them to sacrifice that production. We’re going to need
those lines to work as a unit and we’ll make adjustments from there.

Another possible issue is the Jets may be returning to the combination of Stafford-Scheifele-Wheeler, a group that outscored their opposition only due to experiencing a highly unsustainable 0.975 save percentage behind them. They were outshot by proportions typical for players on the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs last year.

The Jets have some excellent pieces down the middle. The only questions remain: how are they best deployed and will the Jets deploy them that way?

  • Like any sane Canadian outside of Winnipeg, I cheer for the Jets so long as they aren’t playing my team. Gotta love seeing hockey back in Winnipeg.

    This is a solid team, has been for a while, but the problem has always been managements stubborn insistence that Pavelec is a quality starting goalie. They seemed to be figuring it out last year, but then Pavelec went on a limited run at the end of the season, and I’m worried that they are going to look at that small sample as evidence that he’s the guy, and ignore the much larger body of work.

    Your D is one of the best in the league in my book, and while your forward corps lacks ultra high end punch it is a responsible group and very deep (and the whole team is gigantic). With quality goaltending the Jets could be a real force.

    You are in trouble if management continues to fail to figure that out. Thankfully you’ve got a few prospects (including Hutchinson) who might help them get there.