How the Jets can turn Jacob Trouba’s slow start to their advantage

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Photo Credit: Brad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports

Young Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba hasn’t looked like himself.

Trouba, 21, has just three points in 18 games for Winnipeg. He’s often looked a bit lost defensively. He hasn’t found chemistry with Tyler Myers, which has sort of thrown Winnipeg’s ideal top-four into chaos. And Trouba’s ice time is down below the 20 minutes-per-game mark for the first time in his very impressive three-year NHL career.

It may be a bit counterintuitive, but this is precisely the time for the Jets to strike a deal with their struggling, extremely talented young defender. 

The Jets have been engaged in perfunctory contract extension talks with Trouba and their other key pending restricted free agent Mark Scheifele, according to general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff.

“We continue to work on it. We’ve got good dialogue with their group, and we’ll continue to work on things,” Cheveldayoff recently told Sportsnet.ca’s Luke Fox

While Trouba has struggled this season, it seems as if his partners have been at least part of the issue. Playing with Mark Stuart hasn’t really stopped Trouba from posting impressive results in the early part of his career, but it’s fair to point out that he’s never really received the Tobias Enstrom bump that Winnipeg’s other right-handed defensemen enjoy. 

We should also note that some of Trouba’s struggles are likely ‘bad luck’-related. Jets goalies in particular have struggled with Trouba on the ice. The bounces don’t explain Trouba’s sudden lack of production though, nor do they explain his sagging individual shot and shot-attempt rate.

Though he’s had a tough start to the year, Trouba has been Winnipeg’s best puck possession defender overall in the past two seasons and has produced even-strength offense at a first-pairing rate. He’s really, really good, even if it hasn’t shown through the season’s first six weeks. Player development doesn’t always follow a linear path, and though Trouba hasn’t got off to a good start, he’s still an excellent bet to be a top-of-the-roster quality contributor for years to come. 

Six tough weeks shouldn’t change our evaluation of Trouba’s abilities, but it probably will have an impact on his market price. At the very least we’re probably not going to be talking about Carl Klingberg’s seven-year, nearly $30 million extension as a comparable. Though, if I’m Winnipeg, I’m not hesitating about working out a similar deal.

The Jets have modelled themselves closely after the small market Nashville Predators, and the time is now to take a page directly out of the Predators’ playbook. Roman Josi, straight up one of the NHL’s best defenseman at this point, is on the books with a $4 million cap-hit through 2020. His deal is arguably the single most team-friendly contract in the league.

Josi’s track record of quality NHL performance was shallower than Trouba’s when he signed an extension. He was a significantly worse bet to be a top-pairing calibre defender over the life of his current deal. 

Now, just because that bet worked out for the Predators, it doesn’t mean that teams like the Jets should be rushing to emulate it just because. In Trouba’s case though, I think there’s very little doubt about whether or not he’ll be a top-pair caliber defender for much of the rest of this decade. 

For a small market club like the Jets, betting big and betting early on talented players – and talented defensemen in particular – is a necessary evil. If the Jets can get Trouba done for six years and in the neighbourhood of 23-25 million total, they should do that immediately.

Though Trouba’s tepid start to the season is a little bit troubling, the Jets can turn it to their advantage.