Since the Winnipeg Jets have prided themselves on featuring plenty of forward depth over the last several seasons, forward Mason Appleton struggled to earn regular playing time during the 2019-20 campaign, however, he didn’t endure those same issues this past season as he forced his way into a full-time job on the club’s third line.
After bouncing in and out of the lineup last season, the 25-year-old was determined to showcase his talents consistently in 2020-21 and that’s exactly what he did throughout the shortened schedule, which saw him play an important role alongside teammates Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp. Shifting the narrative about himself, the young winger has now transitioned from just a part-time skater to an extremely valuable bottom-six forward in just one season.
Here are some positives and negatives from Appleton’s third season in the league:
What Went Right
With Appleton becoming a regular in the Jets’ lineup this past season, his outstanding work ethic and conditioning were on full display throughout the entire regular season, which ultimately allowed him to participate in all 56 games.
Thanks to those two traits, the right-hander was able to enjoy the top statistical performance of his young career, resulting in new career highs in total goals (12), five-on-five goals (10), total points (25), five-on-five points (21), points per game (0.45), shots on goal (88), hits (61), blocks (22), takeaways (13), faceoff percentage (53.8%) and his average ice time per game (14:25 minutes).
As for where Appleton’s impressive showing ranks among his teammates, he finished with the third-most five-on-five goals, the fifth-most total goals, tied for the fifth-most five-on-five points, recorded the seventh-most total points and the ninth-most shots on goal among all Winnipeg skaters, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
Though the 6′ 2″ forward may never develop into an elite sniper, he certainly makes up for that by consistently driving hard to the net and creating tons of havoc around the blue paint each game, which helped him generate career highs in high-danger scoring chances (32) and rebounds created (nine) during five-on-five situations in 2020-21.
Carrying his breakout performance over into the playoffs, Appleton played in all eight games and averaged 16:31 minutes per game, creating one goal, three points (tied for fourth-most on the team), 13 shots on goal, eight high-danger chances, 14 hits, four takeaways and one rebound.
What Went Wrong
Considering the amount things that went right for Appleton in 2020-21, there isn’t much to complain about regarding his third campaign in the league, although he did endure an extended scoring slump that resulted in just two assists from Apr. 10 to May 5.
Digging deeper into his troubling stretch, the former sixth-round selection was limited to just one high-danger chance or fewer in 10 of those 12 contests and also couldn’t produce more than one rebound throughout the entire 12-game slump. But luckily, he closed out the regular season strong by scoring three goals through the final four games.
Along with Appleton’s brief scoring woes, he also struggled at times with maintaining possession of the puck, particularly during five-on-five situations. While an increase in turnovers was to be expected given the number of times he drove hard to the net, still, that doesn’t make up for the fact he registered a career-worst 21 giveaways with 19 of them coming during five-on-five.
If there’s one specific area to focus on over the off-season, it might be improving his defense and preventing opposing teams from creating plenty of pressure in high-danger areas. While the Wisconsin native wasn’t one of the worst defenders on his team, he was still on the ice for numerous quality scoring chances against, which wasn’t nearly as big of a concern last season.
Through 46 games in 2019-20, Appleton was on the ice for 22 goals against during five-on-five play, but only allowed 89 high-danger chances and a 17.2 xGA rate.
As for this past season, the promising young winger allowed 22 goals for a second straight campaign, however, he also surrendered 129 high-danger chances and a 27.2 xGA rate – that’s a concerning year-to-year development.
But all in all, this past season definitely should be considered a major success for Appleton.
Following his breakout performance, Appleton will be entering the final season of his two-year, $1.8 million bridge contract. With that in mind, it’ll be extremely important for him to build off this showing next season, especially since he’s slated to become a restricted free agent who’ll be arbitration-eligible for the first time in his career.
Having said that, there’s a very strong chance the former Michigan State product will be suiting up for the Seattle Kraken in 2021-22, as the Jets will likely be forced to expose the right-hander this summer and could very well lose him in the upcoming expansion draft.