(photo courtesy of Jonathan Kozub)
With the 2016-17 season dying down, several young prospects on mathematically eliminated teams have been making their NHL debuts. Tyson Jost of the Colorado Avalanche made his last week, recording 13:25 worth of ice time on a line with Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene. Buffalo Sabres’ winger Alexander Nylander made his debut this past Monday, playing with Evan Rodrigues and Marcus Foligno. While those two are a far cry from the talent Jost was saddled with, Nylander was at least able to play 14:28.
The Jets have made similar moves, recalling forwards Jack Roslovic and Kyle Connor from the Manitoba Moose on Monday morning. Roslovic will get his first shot at the bigs, while Connor will receive a second chance after an underwhelming 19-game trial earlier this year.
What’s concerning however, is that young talent on the Jets roster is not being deployed efficiently. Nic Petan has only exceeded 10 minutes of ice time in two of his last 15 contests. Centering a line with inadequate wingers has added insult to injury. Jets Nation contributor Garret Hohl demonstrated Petan’s struggles with fourth line players in one of his February editions of By The Numbers. Brandon Tanev and Chris Thorburn have impeded his ability to produce. Conversely, top line forwards have historically optimized his production. Since the Jets ice a third line checking line, and Petan hasn’t been able to crack the top six, he has been left to rot, either in the press box or on the fourth line with below-replacement level duds.
Marko Dano also plays a “top six” style of game and hasn’t been able to leapfrog any of the skaters in the Jets top six. This has resulted in him sitting in the press box a handful of times himself. Connor has had an ineffective stint on the Jets fourth line/press box as well. Roslovic is likely to fall victim of the same fate if this philosophy continues to run its course.
The Jets can erase these “odd man out” scenarios by icing a top nine scoring group similar to that of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Jets have a deep enough pool of skilled forwards to do so. Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Nikoaj Ehlers, Bryan Little, Mathieu Perreault, Petan, Dano, Connor, and Roslovic should all be capable top nine scorers next year. There’s even ten names there, making a quality top nine still plausible should any of them be lost to expansion. If Paul Maurice tried something like making Roslovic centre on line three with Ehlers on his wing for the final stretch of the season, magic would await.
Now I know what you’re thinking right off the bat. No way. Ehlers isn’t a “third line” player.
While this is in fact true, “third line” has a totally new concept when you run three scoring lines that play similar amounts of ice time. They should not be perceived as a traditional third line, as they are more so “Line 2B”, or even “Line 1C”. Phil Kessel plays on the third line in Pittsburgh, and if you’re a fan of results, it’s what helped them win a Stanley Cup. During the final round of the playoffs, San Jose Sharks coach Peter DeBoer went on record saying that the Pens had given his team matchup problems because trying to defend “Kessel, Crosby, and Malkin on three different lines” is tough.
If the Jets want to make some noise next year, this is the route to take. Instead of Adam Lowry being good at what he does as a third line centre, make him the best at what he does as a fourth line centre. Instead of playing Thorburn and Tanev on the fourth line, don’t play them at all. Tanev’s speed isn’t enough to compensate his poor hockey IQ, and Thorburn is proving time and time again that his “toughness” doesn’t deter anything. Ryan Reaves went right on ahead and clobbered Ehlers the last time the Jets played the Blues, a game where Thorburn was dressed. Tom Sestito ended Toby Enstrom‘s season with a hit from behind while Thorburn was in the lineup as well. And sure, Thorburn dropped the mitts with Kyle Clifford after he took a boarding major on Connor in November, but what does fighting accomplish after the fact? It serves as a form of justice, maybe, but it’s not scaring anyone away from maliciously laying the body if they so choose.
It’s time to for the Jets to transform. They have an abundance of top line talent and should be able to inflict a great deal of damage if they choose to deploy it properly. Many teams still use the third line checking philosophy and are screaming to have their lack of speed and skill taken advantage of.
Roslovic will be making an appearance when the Jets take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tomorrow night. Connor will be in for Saturday’s game against the Nashville Predators. It will be a shame if they don’t see at least ten minutes of ice time with other skilled linemates. Playing in a diminished role with dead weight is not what they were drafted to do.
Here’s hoping that they are actually utilized efficiently.