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JetsNation’s Hot Takery: Is Blake Wheeler The Most Underrated Center In The NHL?

The lack of hockey doesn’t mean that there is a lack of hockey opinions. If anything, the absence of sports in general means we’ve had a lot more time to come up with some crazy thoughts about hockey which is exactly what I am looking for when I put out a call for your hot hockey takes that I then react to, give some thoughts on and then pass final judgment on.

Let’s see what some of you cooked up this time around…


My Take: A few things to digest here. It’s hard to say what is in store for the rest of this season let alone next, although talk from as recent as Tuesday suggests that the NHL is very willing to have a 2020-21 season start in December and roll on through all 82 games. We’ll see how that plays out, although I’d tend to think it’s pretty likely when you consider the league was very open to playing through July and August of this season back when this whole COVID situation started. So we’re going to assume that we’re talking a full season and work with that.

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With that in mind… Patrik Laine scoring 40? We all know he has the shot for it, but to get to the 40 goal mark, the reality is Laine’s shooting percentage needs to improve and get back to around the 15% range. At 12.4% this season, Patrik’s shooting percentage ranks 12th in the league among players who had 200 or more shots. For comparison sake, Kyle Connor – who at 38 goals was pretty much a lock for 40 this season – was shooting 15.9%. Of the top ten goal scorers in the NHL this season, only Nathan MacKinnon is under 15% shooting. Nathan has a low shooting percentage of 11%, but also leads the league in shots taken with 318.

HEAT CHECK: I wouldn’t completely bet against Laine getting 40, but given how unique next season could be with it’s own set of challenges, and the fact he’s struggled the last couple of seasons with his shooting percentage, there is still some room for doubt.

 


My Take: I think this depends on who – if anyone – the Jets could sign in the offseason. Just taking a quick glance as who the top free agent defensemen will be this summer, you have Alex Pietrangelo, Tyson Barrie, Torey Krug, Sami Vatanen, Kevin Shattenkirk and TJ Brodie.

None of those guys really move the needle for me. Bringing in Pietrangelo is an intriguing thought, but he’s going to want not just big money but long term as well and while he might be worth six or seven million over the next couple of seasons, the back end of that contract could be as  ugly as Blake Wheeler’s or Bryan Little’s contracts, which is to say that the Jets already have their fill of long term deals that may be gross overpays in the years to come.

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But let’s say that by hook or by crook the Jets manage to not only keep Dylan DeMelo around for their top four, but also add one of the other names mentioned – Shattenkirk wouldn’t be a bad option. Would that along with Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk, Sami Niku and Tucker Poolman, make the Jets a Cup contender? It wouldn’t hurt although the Jets would still lack a true franchise cornerstone d-man like they had in Dustin Byfuglien and it would show.

Heat Check: I’m not convinced adding a good (in this case we’re saying “good” = “top four”) defenseman puts the Jets right back in the conversation of a top Cup contender, but if it was something I agreed with, or was a widely held belief, then it wouldn’t be that hot a take right?

 


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My Take: The flip side to the “we need to bring in a defenseman argument” is this, and I feel like this may be not only the correct take, but also the path the Jets front office should take heading into next season.

There is always a temptation for a team to go out and plug any holes they might have in their lineup with a quick fix via free agency, but as I just mentioned, I don’t know if going that route really helps the Jets and there is a high risk that the team ends up with an overly hefty, over-priced contract at the back-end of any deal signed. The wise decision would be as Mallory outlines here, to just stay in-house, re-sign DeMelo (I’d say that’s an absolute must for the Jets this summer), hope that Dylan Samberg is ready to make the leap to the NHL next season (better than average chance of that) and also doubly hope that Sami Niku not only can stay healthy, but can make that next step as a consistent top four d-man. (And that Paul Maurice will give him a fair chance.)

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Heat Check: This is probably the way things will go for the Jets this summer, and that while this is a really good take, it’s not a hot one.

 


My Take: Muy caliente! Now this is heat! I know it is, because I don’t think he should even be at center to begin with, but then as I say that I realize that maybe I’m one of the many who are guilty of underrating him at center.

One thing I did find interesting was a recent poll of Jets fans done by The Athletic’s Murat Ates. One of the questions asked fans who they considered the Jets second best center – Bryan Little narrowly beat out Andrew Copp by a mere .1 of a percent, with Adam Lowry placing third, @ack Roslovic fourth and Cody Eakin fifth. The very next question in that survey asked if fans felt Blake Wheeler was better at center than guy fans picked in the precious question and a little over 2/3rds of those who replied said he was.

I don’t know if that’s a reflection on how good Wheeler has been at center, or just how little we think of every other center on the Jets. Maybe it’s a little bit of both.

I’ll be the first to admit he’s been better at center this past season in filling in for an injured Bryan Little, than he was the first time around a couple of seasons ago when he filled in for an injured Mark Scheifele on the top line. This season Blake had been on a second line with reduced minutes – almost a full minute less of average ice time per game than what he’s had over the last three seasons – and he’s been getting a few more favorable match-ups most nights as he’s had Nikolaj Ehlers and Jack Roslovic (playing wing funny enough) on his line and other teams have focused more on trying to shut down whatever line Scheifele is leading.

So I can admit he’s been good at center. I can admit he may even have a future there if Little doesn’t come back 100% and the team can’t find a decent replacement in the free agent market…

Heat Check: But the most underrated center in the entire league? I can’t roll with that, especially when Aleksander Barkov exists. That said, this whole thing is about having a hot take, and this one is scorching!