The way in which NHL coaches assemble their lines is beginning to alter.
For years and years, we’ve seen teams load their top two lines with their best offensive players, followed by a third line working as a “shutdown” line and their fourth line serving as the “grinder” line. But with the number of enforcers decreasing and with teams trying to discover new ways to get pucks past goaltender’s hulking equipment, some NHL clubs have shifted to a different system;
A top-nine system.
The top-nine system creates less of a contrast from line two to three and evens out the offensive attack throughout the lineup. A popular example of a top-nine system is from last year’s Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Throughout the playoffs, the Penguins spread out their plethora of offensive talent into three even lines. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, three of the league’s elite scorers, all anchored separate lines. Kessel, who led his team in playoff scoring, helped form the ‘HBK’ line, one of the most exciting lines of last year’s playoffs, which was technically the Penguins third line.
The Jets current lines
The Jets have the pieces to tailor their lines to an effective top-nine, yet they continue to load their top-six with offense and their bottom six with odd line combinations. How do the Jets spread their offense out? The knee-jerk reaction would be to suggest the Jets call up Kyle Connor or Jack Rosloivc to see if they could provide a spark. While that’s an enticing idea, I presume the Jets management wants to be extra patient with those two and are in no rush to call them up before the end of the season.
So, what’s the next step for creating a more efficient top-nine? It all starts to catering to players strengths.
Restructuring the Jets lines
These proposed lines would give the Jets not only a balanced attack but also a solid defensive presence on each line. The trio of Nikolaj Ehlers, Bryan Little and Patrik Laine has been exceptional and there’s no reason to change that up. On the team’s second line, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler have developed chemistry together while they sit one and two in team scoring. Reuniting them with Andrew Copp, who recorded six points in eight games while playing with Scheifele and Wheeler, could be a wise move. Copp is a reliable defensive player and his work ethic and backchecking ability would provide a safety blanket to the team’s top two scorers.
Bringing Copp up to the second line would cause a positive domino effect by dropping Mathieu Perreault down to the team’s third line. Perreault, who has recorded five points in his last three games, is a versatile forward that can thrive anywhere in the lineup. Placing Perreault and a hard-working forward like Marko Dano on the wings of Nic Petan would be ideal.
Nic Petan, who turned 22 yesterday, has been buried on the team’s fourth line for the majority of the season. Through 47 games with the Jets, Petan has recorded one goal and tallied 13 points while logging 11:15 minutes of ice time per night. For Petan to develop properly, the Jets need to provide him with a chance to succeed. Playing 10 minutes a night with Chris Thorburn stapled to your line isn’t a fair opportunity.
With that, Adam Lowry and Joel Armia, two players with size and a solid cycle game, slide down to form an adequate NHL fourth line. With Shawn Matthias out for the year, Brandon Tanev would skate alongside Armia and Lowry, which could help form an interesting trio. Tanev, a speedy forward, would provide some speed to their cycle game and his defensive abilities would work well against opponent’s scorers.
As you can see, by making a few minor tweaks, the Jets lineup can maximize it’s potential. With this look, the days of an unplayable fourth line are gone and furthermore, the strengths and capabilities of players would be maximized. Distribution of minutes is key and with the season winding down, there’s no point in limiting the opportunities for someone like Nic Petan, or not trying different combinations with players like Joel Armia, Marko Dano, Andrew Copp and Adam Lowry, who very well could be scooped up in next month’s expansion draft.
It’s time for the Jets to shake up the structure of their lines.