Nic Petan: Can a Prospect be too “NHL-Ready”?

 

When Claude Giroux came out of the Quebec Major Junior League in 2008, it was clear to all that he was a high-end talent. Not only was he coming off three straight 100-point seasons, and a strong showing with Canada’s gold medal winning World Junior Championship squad, but he utterly dominated the QMJHL playoffs, leading the league in scoring with 51 points in just 19 games. Based on that resume, it would have been incredibly easy for the Flyers to put the 20-year-oldin the NHL in the fall of 2008, and yet, they resisted the urge – partly because Giroux was just 5’11, and around 170 lbs. Instead, they sent him to the AHL’s Philadelphia Phantoms, where Giroux spent just 33 games scoring 34 points.

Claude Giroux has since become one of the top forwards in the NHL, and he is one of the league’s leading scorers year after year. In fact, did you know that he’s the NHL’s top scorer since the fall of 2010? While it’s impossible to say what kind of player he would have become had he skipped the AHL, it’s certainly fair to say that spending half a season in the minors didn’t hurt his development.

Following a striking change in organizational philosophy, today’s Toronto Maple Leafs are doing things in a very similar waySpeaking about the organization’s “timeline” for player development, Assistant GM Kyle Dubas said the following:

“…we want the players to master the AHL level and the minor-league level and not bring them up after one good weekend,” he said. “They have to show us they can do all of the things. …Once our guys show they can master [the AHL] consistently, then we’ll have that conversation. That’s up to the players. Never been a hard and fast rule that no one is coming up this year.”

The key phrase there is “master the AHL”; while you could debate what “master” means, I interpret that to mean that a young player should stay in the minors until they prove that they’re too good for that level.

* * *

In an incredibly curious move from this off-season, the Winnipeg Jets opted not to re-sign veteran Lee Stempniak, despite the fact that Stempniak was keenly interested in staying. While it’s doubtful  that anyone considered Stempniak to be part of the Jets’ core moving forward, he was a consistent 15-goal scorer with modest contract demands. In a worst-case scenario, he was good, affordable depth for the organization – a player who could play up and down the lineup, from (at least) the 2nd line, to the 4th line. And while passive observers have the benefit of hindsight, it’s worth noting that he has fit in incredibly well in New Jersey, scoring 12 points in 16 games, while making just $850,000 on a one-year contract. (That would put him third in scoring on the Jets, while putting him 12th in salary among forwards). Most importantly, the decision to let Stempniak go allowed Nic Petan – a 20-year-old rookie who is at most 5’9, 170 lbs. – to make the NHL without playing a single game with the Moose.

Let’s look at the possible reasons why the Jets held a spot open for a youngster, rather than re-signing Stempniak, or a similar player:

(1) Petan might be better

While you can’t analyze players in a vacuum, with 12 points in 16 games this season, and 10 points in 18 games last season with the Jets in a third line role, it’s hard to argue that Petan has has made the Jets better than Stempniak would have, given that he has just 2 points through 14 games. Plus, if he was a key part of the team, he wouldn’t have been scratched 4 times this year.

(2) Petan would be cheaper

Petan will likely will be a bit cheaper than Stempniak this season, but not significantly. While Petan does have a lower base salary than Stempniak, if he were to hit all his bonuses (the clauses of which are unknown), his cap number will actually be slightly higher than Stempniak’s $850,000. Regardless, if Petan ends up making ~$100,000 less, that’s just .14% of the NHL’s $71.4M salary cap.

(3) The Jets already have plenty of organizational depth

Given the Moose’s struggles so far, this is a pretty easy one to address. The Moose currently sit second-last in the AHL, and they don’t have a single forward on the roster who is in the top-100 in league scoring. While that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some good players down there, it’s pretty clear that there’s no one currently banging down the door to get to the NHL.

(4) Petan will develop faster in the NHL than in the AHL

While there’s no iron-clad argument against this, a whole lot of anecdotal evidence would suggest that this isn’t the case. The “plug-and-play” approach – taking undeniably skilled, but very young players, and placing them directly in the NHL – failed miserably for years in places like Long Island in the late 90’s, Florida in the early 2000’s, Columbus in the mid-2000’s, and most recently, Edmonton.  Meanwhile, the “draft and develop” model followed by teams like Tampa Bay, Nashville, and most famously, Detroit, has worked pretty nicely for several years now. Some of that is detailed here, and here. 

If Petan were in the AHL, he’d be playing around 20 minutes per night, quarterbacking the powerplay, likely generating tons of scoring chances, and helping make his young teammates better. And if the Jets ran into injury troubles, or if he simply lit up the league – or “mastered the AHL” – they could call him up at any time. Instead, Petan is averaging 9:22 of ice-time per game, and playing primarily with Andrew Copp and Chris Thorburn – two gritty, hard-working players who don’t have a future as top-6 forwards. Not only is he not being put in a position to succeed – he’d be better complemented by a finisher with some size, like Drew Stafford – outside of the 1:23 per game he averages on the powerplay, he’s not really being given a chance at all.

Scale of the Problem

Taking a step back, is this situation the end of the world? Absolutely not. Nic Petan is a very skilled, intelligent player, and while his development might be better served in the AHL, he can still become a very productive player by following his current path, and a potential replacement for the style and offence of Mathieu Perreault (should he wish to depart when his contract expires at the end of 2017). But the logic behind this series of decisions is a concern, and for Jets fans, it’s something to keep an eye on.

The Future is Bright – Top-20 Jets Prospects

Danish sensation, Nik Ehlers

Nik Ehlers – The Jets’ 1st round pick in 2014

 

Craig Button – one of the more of the more reputable evaluators of young hockey talent – has said on numerous occasions that the Jets’ prospect pool is the best in the NHL. And bBetween the high-end skill, future #1 goaltenders, and depth at various position, I’m inclined to agree with him. So who are the most promising among them? And where might they fit in down the road? Here’s an update on the Jets crop of young talent.

High-end Talent

Ehlers, Morrissey, Petan

Continue reading

Evander’s Exodus: Kane leaves Winnipeg in Blockbuster Deal

New York Islanders v Winnipeg JetsAfter years of inactivity on the trade market, Kevin Cheveldayoff pulled off the biggest deal the NHL has seen in years. After a week of rampant speculation following “track suit-gate”, Winnipeg dealt Evander Kane – the most controversial figure in Jets 2.0 history. But perhaps a bigger surprise was that long-time Jets-Thrashers d-man, Zach Bogosian, was also included in the deal.

Too often, players get evaluated based on expectations. particularly when it comes to salary and draft position. Kane and Bogosian were each top-5 draft picks who came to Atlanta at the tender age of 18. Each showed enough glimpses of promise in the foregoing years to ‘earn’ large, long-term contracts from the club. And while each player made significant contributions in their time with the franchise, it’s probably fair to say that they failed to live up to the draft-day hype.

However, expectations are a two-way street, because when it comes to trades, NHL players are sort of like stocks; regardless of how the company’s actually performing, if the expectations in the market for that company are good, then the stock price will continue to rise. Similarly, if expectations around the league for a particular player are still high, then that player will still be a significant asset for that club. Given their size, speed, youth, and draft pedigree, Kane and Bogosian were, and are valuable commodities. With that in mind, let’s see how this trade shakes down, and whether the Jets deserve praise or criticism for this move. Continue reading

The Winnipeg Jets and the NHL Draft

A Good Draft Pick

A Good Draft Pick

Check out another recent draft post here

The Winnipeg Jets are killing the draft. Killing it.

Everyone knows about Trouba, Scheifele, and Morrissey – all of whom look like great picks so far – but the Jets aren’t get enough credit for the picks they’re making outside of the first round. Whether it’s Adam Lowry – a potential power forward who’s easily the most hyped non-first rounder in the system – Scott Kosmachuk – a big-time scorer in the OHL – Nic Petan – one of the most skilled players in the entire 2013 draft (at pick #43!), or Andrew Copp – a 4th round pick they plucked from Michigan State who has the makings of a reliable NHLer – the young talent they’re assembling is impressive. I haven’t even mentioned Connor Hellebuyck, who was named NCAA goaltender of the year after posting absurd numbers that wouldn’t even make sense to you if I posted them. (Hockey db it, seriously, it’s stupid how good he was). Continue reading

Six Thoughts: On the Jets, the Olympics, and Paul Maurice

Jets Head Coach Paul Maurice

Jets Head Coach Paul Maurice

(1) Jets Fire Claude Noel

I don’t think anyone would have been surprised had Kevin Cheveldayoff fired Claude Noel at season’s end, but to do it in early January – just over the Christmas break, but weeks before the Olympic break – tells you that his hand was forced. After losses to Tampa Bay and Columbus, Chevy felt that his team needed a new direction, and can you blame him? It wasn’t just that they lost, it was how they lost, not even mustering 15 shots on goal in the 4-2 loss to Tampa, and the embarrassing defeat on Saturday night against Columbus, where they gave up 4 unanswered goals in a 6-3 loss.

Let me begin by saying that I don’t think Claude Noel was the problem. In other words, I don’t think that a better coach would be guiding this group to the playoffs. There are only so many things under a coach’s control, and the line-up that goes onto the ice – save a few minor tweaks – isn’t one of them. However, his line combos, player usage, and defensive systems left something to be desired. I remember cringing every time Noel would send Tim Stapleton out on the powerplay instead of Johnny Oduya in Year 1 – yes, the same Johnny Oduya that won the Stanley Cup in Chicago last year, and was named to the Swedish Olympic team last week. I cringed every time he put Chris Thorburn on the left side of Jokinen and Setoguchi, as if his fourth line, grinding presence would help create much-needed offence. I cringed when he left Michael Frolik off the powerplay, and frequently (and inexplicably), the penalty kill, despite being one of our most consistent and well-rounded players. And we all bashed our heads against the wall, or some other hard object, anytime he played James Wright more than 8 minutes a game, especially when those shifts took place in a game we were losing. (James Wright’s 0 goals offer no rebuttal). His usage of Dustin Byfuglien – whose ability to create momentum sapping giveaways more than negates his ability to create offence – as a #1 defenceman was always puzzling, especially when Zach Bogosian would seem like a more natural fit as a shut-down, match-up defender, while Buff could be more effective given the “easier minutes” (i.e offensize zone starts, and weaker competition). And his penalty killing systems – or those he allowed his assistant coaches to implement – were too laissez faire, especially given the surplus of good-skating forwards, who would be more effective in a more aggressive system. (Many good penalty killing teams have the forwards attack the puck holder, rather than allowing a skilled player to set up calmly and read the ice.)

But beyond all that, the one thing that always troubled me about Claude Noel was that I couldn’t figure out where he drew his source of authority. Was he a brilliant strategist like Ken Hitchcock? A “player’s coach” like Alain Vigneault? A fiery disciplinarian like John Tortorella? A Hall-of-Fame, former NHLer like Patrick Roy? My sense of Claude Noel was that he was a nice guy who is relatively bright and has good attention to detail. These qualities probably make him a decent Assistant Coach, but in order to be a Head Coach in the NHL, you need to have some dominant trait that will garner the players’ respect. Unfortunately, I don’t think that he had one. That’s bad enough when you’re managing 22, mostly grown men on a daily basis, but when you’re dealing with players like Alex Burimstrov, Evander Kane, and Dustin Byfuglien, all of whom can be problematic for various reasons, you need someone with a tremendous skill set and a strong personality. You need someone who can communicate – not necessarily with the media, but with the players. The coach doesn’t need to be liked by all of his players, but he needs to be respected. Whether the poor results we’ve seen this year were in part a product of a failed relationship between Claude Noel and his team, we aren’t likely to know, but when you’re the General Manager of an NHL franchise, and you feel that you have the wrong man leading the herd, it behoves you  to do something about it.

(2) Jets Hire Paul Maurice

For those who want a drastic change behind the bench – a Hitchcock, a Tortorella, or a Keenan to really shake things up, you may be disappointed by Paul Maurice. As some have already said, his style is somewhat reminiscent of Claude Noel’s. He isn’t charismatic, he won’t scream at his players openly, and in general, he won’t rock the boat a lot, but his strengths are what Noel’s were at least leaning towards. He’s a fairly serious character, who has a bright hockey mind, and a no-nonsense approach. He lead the 2002 Carolina Hurricanes  to a surprising Stanley Cup Finals appearance, boasting no top-end talent, but only an average group of grizzled veterans, who combined timely goals with a commitment to smart play in all three zones. He become the youngest coach in the NHL when he became bench boss of the Hartford Whalers in 1996, after his playing career was cut short by an eye injury. He was just 28 years of age at the time. He also became the youngest coach in NHL history to reach 1000 games, at the age of 43. Whether he’s the right man to lead this group long-term is hard to know at this point, but based on his experience in the league, one can only assume that he’s an upgrade on the previous coaching staff. His contract is for the remainder of this season, so he has just over 35 games to shepherd this flock and start leading them in the right direction. If things go well, he’ll be extended; if they continue more or less as they are, then Chevy may look elsewhere this off-season, when there will be more coaching options available.

(3)  Canadian Olympic Team Selections

Did you tune in to watch Team Canada’s Olympic selections last Tuesday? If you’re reading this, chances are pretty good that you did. No big surprises in goal, where Price and Luongo will jockey for starting position, while Mike Smith – who has been impressive since he got to Phoenix in 2011 – will likely see the press box as 3rd string. With P.K Subban making the club, there weren’t any big surprises on the back-end either. Sure, some thought Brent Seabrook or Dan Boyle might make the team, and a few Pens fans thought Letang was deserving, but with Doughty, Weber, Pietrangelo, and Subban all on the right side, there are a lot of excellent right-handed defenders to choose from. Sure, one of those guys could probably move over and play the left side, but we’re talking about a short tournament, where a lot of small adjustments will already be taking place – bigger ice, new playing partners, new coaches, and oh yeah, a bit of pressure to bring home the gold. Beyond all that, I think a lot of people undervalue Hamhuis and Vlasic. They’re both smart players, with good size, skating, and general puck moving ability. They aren’t flashy, but they play key roles on two of the most successful franchises of the past half-decade, taking on the other team’s top players on a nightly basis. Interestingly, Hamhuis leads all Canadian defencemen in plus-minus over the past three years, and Vlasic has really come into his own over the past year.

All of the controversy was saved for the forward selections. To be fair to Yzerman and co., it’s pretty hard to whittle down the list of Canadian forwards to just 14 guys, considering about half the top-30 scorers in the NHL are Canadian, and a significant portion of those outside the top point getters are team captains, Stanley Cup winners, and equally worthy in countless other ways. Joe Thornton is in the top-5 in scoring, and he never even got a sniff of the action. Same goes for Stanley Cup winner and past Olympian, Eric Staal. Mike “All I do is Win” Richards also wasn’t close to getting a spot. Guys like Crosby, Toews, Getzlaf, and Bergeron were locks – there’s your top-4 centres already taken care of. Tavares and Perry too, and With Stamkos progressing nicely after fracturing his leg, he’s another sure thing – though he can still be replaced up until the day before the tournament begins if the bone isn’t fully healed. Patrick Sharp is putting together a great season, and his chemistry with Toews, and overall versatility, make him a smart choice. Benn and Duchene are rising stars who played their way onto this team, and Jeff Carter is a big, good skating winger with a wicked shot who was the last guy cut from the 2010 team that won gold in Vancouver. Most people begrudgingly accepted the selection of Kunitz, since his chemistry with Sidney Crosby is undeniable. The pick that caught everyone by surprise was Patrick Marleau, who theoretically took the spot of Marty St. Louis, who most people had penciled into this lineup. While I thought that pick was odd, the one that angered me was the one that took Rick Nash over Claude Giroux.

While many people wouldn’t have picked Marleau, I can see what they’re thinking. He’s a big guy, a great skater, and has a nice pair of mitts. He was a member of the 2010 squad, although his line, which included then-San Jose teammates, Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley – was probably the least successful group. While I saw him as a top-line type of winger, what I was surprised to learn is that Patrick Marleau actually plays a lot on the penalty kill – more than any other team Canada forward except Ryan Getzlaf and Patrice Bergeron. He plays either wing, and on a team full of vocal leaders, maybe it’s nice to have a quiet, low-maintenance guy like Marleau who can readily accept a lesser role and not be a distraction in the least.  What I didn’t get, and still fail to see, is why Rick Nash is on this team. Nash has all kinds of talent – he’s a big guy who skates well, has long reach, and often makes defender look silly when they try to challenge him in open ice instead of backing off. He loves driving to the net, and he can basically stick handle in a phone booth – although I still have yet to see any hockey player actually do that. (Youtube video badly needed – Patrick Kane or Pavel Datsyuk, preferrably). But Nash has been hurt a lot this year. At the time of his selection, he only had around 15 points in 24 games – unimpressive totals for a player of his calibre. Nash lacks versatility – he won’t kill penalties, and he won’t be counted on much with the man advantage, as they are enough guys on this team with better vision, playmaking, and finishing ability.  Perhaps the biggest knock on him is that he isn’t a “big-game” player. In all the years in Columbus, he never took that team anywhere, and while perhaps that’s unfair, he also wasn’t very good for New York in last year’s playoffs; some even suggested that the Rangers might have been better off with the players they gave up in the Nash deal – the main ones being Artem Anisimov  and Brandon Dubinsky. Claude Giroux and Martin St. Louis are big-game players. Giroux was one of the most dominant players all the way through the 2011-2012 season, leading the Flyers to a first-round upset of the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins. St. Louis is a two-time Art Ross Trophy winner as leading scorer, including last season, as well as a Stanley Cup winner in 2004. What’s more shocking is that his own GM, Steve Yzerman of the Tampa Bay Lightning, passed him up.

The reality is that, while I don’t like the Nash pick, just as others may not like the Marleau pick, the Kunitz pick, the Hamhuis or Vlasic pick, or any number of other picks, the difference between gold and not-gold (the only appropriate measure of Team Canada’s success is of course, gold), will not come from the play of their 7th defenceman, or their 13th forward. In the NHL, it usually comes down to about 10 players – 5-7 forwards, 2-4 defencemen, and 1 goalie – who make up the majority of Stanley Cup teams. It will be no different at this tournament. In 2010, only two forward lines were good in the big games – the Richards-Toews-Nash line, and the Morrow-Getzlaf-Perry line. The defensive pairings that worked well were Keith-Doughty, and Niedermayer-Weber. Crosby scored the OT winning goal, but his line, along with Eric Staal and Jarome Iginla, was silent through much of the tournament. The San Jose line of Heatley-Thornton-Marleau was dreadful, and Patrice Bergeron barely played as the 13th forward. On D, Chris Pronger struggled mightily, and Brent Seabrook barely played. Dan Boyle was fine, but all I remember him doing was taking a stupid, retaliatory penalty in one of the later games. Despite all the talent on this roster – and I believe that it is far more impressive than the team which won gold in 2010 – only half the players on this team, at most, will really decide Canada’s fate.

Canadian Olympic Roster

(4) International Olympic Team Snubs

First, here’s a quick list of all the notable snubs:

Russia: Alex Semin, Nail Yakupov, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Burmistrov, Sergei Gonchar, Evgeni Nabokov

Czech Republic: Radim Vrbata, Jiri Hudler, Thomas Fleischmann, Jan Hejda, Rostislav Klesla, Jakub Kindl

US: Bobby Ryan, Kyle Okposo, Keith Yandle, Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, Ben Bishop.

Sweden: Marcus Johansson, Patric Hornqvist, Robin Lehner, Victor Hedman.

Finland: Saku Koivu, Sean Bergenheim

Switzerland: Sven Baertschi (one of only 3 Swiss forwards who play in the NHL…)

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Canada’s picks look a lot better when you consider the list above. Every major hockey nation except Slovakia made at least one really strange move, leaving off a player who should have been a no-brainer. For instance, I thought the Russians prided themselves on having incredibly skilled, and equally passionless players in their line-up? All kidding aside, to leave out a player of Alex Semin’s calibre doesn’t make sense to begin with, but to snub him in favour of a number of KHL players who aren’t even stars in that league? Hmmm. I’m sure those players are good, but if Russia gets into a tight game, they’ll probably wish they had Alex Semin’s stick at the end of the bench, instead of former Phoenix Coyote, Viktor Tikhonov. (Not the most obscure of the Russian picks, not even close). The Czech Republic left off a number of good NHL players, including Radim Vrbata and Jiri Hudler, both of whom would seem to be better choices than little Roman Cervenka – who failed to make a go of it last year in Calgary – and Petr Nedved, the former star NHLer who is now all of 42 years old. They also passed up a number of competent NHL defencemen. Everyone talks about the US leaving Bobby Ryan out in the cold but what about Kyle Okposo, who is the second leading US-born scorer in the NHL? It was also odd that they passed on Yandle, Jack Johnson, and Erik Johnson – all of whom are 25-27, in the prime of their careers, and play big minutes for their teams in all situations, in favour of the eventual group of 8, which includes five players under the age of 25. But who needs experience on the back-end. One might have also thought Ben Bishop would make a good option in net, considering he’s the best US goalie this season by a country mile, if the stats mean anything. Another big shock was the Swedes taking all-but washed up NHLer, Henrik Tallinder over Victor Hedman, a towering, smooth skating, fast developing #1 blueliner who’s helping to lead the resurgent Tampa Bay to the top of the Eastern Conference. And last, but certainly not least – what were the Fins thinking by leaving out Saku Koivu. He’s been one of the best Finnish players of his generation, and he’s having a great year on a Ducks team that is surprisingly at the top of the league. He’s been way better for Anaheim than Teemu Selanne – not to say that Teemu shouldn’t be there, as he’s probably the best Finnish player of all time – but surely they could have found room for Saku.

While it’s really hard to predict what might happen in such a short tournament, I would seed the contenders like so:

(1) Canada    (2) Sweden    (3) Russia    (4) US

(5) Oh to be in Chevy’s Shoes

Oh to be Kevin Cheveldayoff. To be working the phones constantly, working on deals to improve your team, monitoring the development of your prospects, scouting the new crop of future stars, and making lists of potential free agents for the coming summer sweepstakes. Ok, maybe that isn’t exciting to everyone, but I do about half of those things in a normal week, so let me tell you my findings.

While Kevin doesn’t let me work the phones very often, I do keep up with the prospects. Most of us saw Nic Petan and Josh Morrissey suit up for Canada at the World Juniors in Sweden. Although Canada finished a disappointing 4th in the tournament, there were a lot of positive signs for Jets fans. Nic Petan had a few big games for Canada, including a two-goal performance in a come-from-behind victory over Slovakia in the preliminary round. The crafty centre from the Portland Winterhawks led the WHL in scoring last year, and was 2nd in the league before departing for the World Junior tournament. He has the hands of a 100-point scorer, but the size of an AHL lifer, so it’ll be interesting to see how he develops over the next few years. Meanwhile, Josh Morrissey played a steady role as Canada’s #5 defenceman – good in transition, and quick to join the rush. He too is small in stature, and there is some concern that he’ll be overmatched physically at the NHL level, but he plays a style reminiscent of current Jet defenceman, Toby Enstrom – good hands, fast feet, a fluid skating stride, and a keen ability to read the play. 2012 draft pick Andrew Copp was somewhat of a surprise at the World Juniors, as he not only made the US roster, but was selected as an assistant captain. He had 5 assists in the tournament, and looks to be a bit of a steal considering he was drafted in the 4th round. He was also leading his college team in goals and points before he left for the World Juniors. One other junior player worth mentioning is Scott Kosmachuk of the OHL’s Guelph Storm. The Jets third round pick in 2012 is having a career year, with 31 goals in 43 games, after scoring 35 in all 68 games last year. It’ll be very interesting to see how his offence translates to the next level, as the gap between the CHL (WHL/OHL/QMJHL) and the AHL is far bigger than the average fan knows. Many a junior player has scored at a torrid pace in the Canadian leagues, only to lose their scoring touch in the AHL, and never scratch the surface of their NHL dreams, unless they were blessed with the size and skating needed to play a grinding, 4th line role.

Speaking of the AHL, there are three St. John’s Ice Caps rookies worth talking about. Adam Lowry, Brenden Kichton, and J.C Lipon. Lowry was the most touted coming into the year, after he finished his junior career being named the WHL player of the year. While he had a slow start to the year offensively, he’s come on of late, scoring 2 goals, 1 assist on Saturday night, while being named 1st star. Overall, he has 13 points in 29 games, but you might give him a pass for the meantime as he was missed 8 games at the start of the season due to injury, which put him behind the 8-ball. The big centre – who stands 6’5 – needs to improve his skating, but if he’s able to do that, he could become a very interesting player in the NHL. He probably will never be a big scorer, but he could be a valuable third line centre who punishes opposing forwards and plays a gritty, shut-down role while contributing a bit of offence on the side. While Lowry was the most touted of the three, it’s Kichton that has impressed the most thus far. After racking up 240 points in his last three years of junior hockey, this defenceman – and yes he is a defenceman – has posted another 30 points in only 37 games in the AHL. To put that in perspective, he’s third in scoring among all rookies, only behind two forwards, and third in scoring among all defencemen, including veterans. Among rookie D, he’s leading by 7 points, with only one player even close to him (Ryan Sproul, a Detroit 2nd round pick in 2011). The book on Kichton from the scouting perspective is that he’s a small defenceman who isn’t a good enough skater to challenge for a full-time NHL spot. While those things may be true, it may also be that he’s too creative offensively not to try him on your powerplay at some point. If he keeps up this pace in the AHL, expect him to get a brief, late-season call-up in order to get his feet wet in the NHL. Lastly, there’s J.C Lipon. A member of last year’s Canadian World Junior team, Lipon plays a bit like Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand. A tireless worker, and constant annoyance to his opponents, Lipon is continuing to play his abrasive style in the AHL, collecting 66 PIM’s in 34 games, while also collecting 19 points. Like Lowry, his offence stats have taken off recently, with most of those 19 points coming in the last 20 games. While he doesn’t have the offensize upside of Marchand, he too could be a valuable member of a third or fourth line one day, killing penalties, agitating opponents, and being loved by his teammates.

And now, to actually put on the GM hat. Alright, your team has a decent group of top-6 forwards but almost no depth on the 3rd or 4th lines. You have a group of talented defencemen, very few of whom actually like to, or are able to play well defensively. And you have a starting goalie who earns $3.9M per year over 5 years, who stops the puck like he’s a back-up making $950,000. GO.

Hmm…

That’s sort of what Cheveldayoff did in the off-season. He re-signed Montoya to back-up Pavelec. I like Montoya – he’s quite a decent back-up. But we probably needed someone who would provide a stiffer challenge for the starting role. To boost the forward group, he traded draft picks to Chicago in exchange for Frolik (awesome move), signed Matt Halischuk on the cheap (good move), and traded a 2nd rounder to Minnesota for Devin Setoguchi. The last move, in which he gave up the biggest asset, was by far the worst. You can see Setoguchi’s strengths – he’s pretty quick, he has good hands, and a good shot. However, unless you give him a playmaking centre, he isn’t very effective. Save 2 or three games, he hasn’t done much good for the Jets, and why Cheveldayoff thought he was a fit was beyond me, as acquiring him in order to play with Kane and/or Jokinen makes absolutely no sense. Chevy also failed to replace Ron Hainsey, who despite his deficiencies, is a decent shut-down defenceman. He and Bogo were the “tough-minutes” pairing last year, lining up against the other team’s top players in many situations. With Hainsey gone to Carolina, and Bogo injured much of the season, Byfuglien has been forced to eat a lot of those minutes, along with Enstrom/Stuart/Clitsome on the left side, none of whom are good enough for that specific role. That match-up problem has been a disaster for the Jets all year, and it needs to be fixed this off-season.

So here’s what I’d do if I were in Chevy’s Shoes, starting with the trade deadline. I’d deal Mark Stuart – a pending UFA this off-season – for a draft pick, likely a 3rd round pick, but maybe we get a 4th rounder too. (A 2nd round pick would be a dream come true). Let Ellerby eat those minutes down the stretch and see if he can become a solid NHL defenceman. (He certainly skates well enough, and has great size too). Trade Jokinen for a 2nd round pick, or whatever you can get for him. He’s another free agent, and I doubt we’ll re-sign him, so you might as well get something for him. You can use these picks later on in a package for an NHL-ready player, or to stock the cupboard with more prospects. Let O’Dell play on the 3rd line, and give Lowry a shot for a game or two as well. Trade Setoguchi as well for a 3rd or 4th round pick. Halischuk will be back before then, and if there are other injuries, Lipon/Klingberg/Gordon/Samson can fill in from St. John’s. Buff stays for the meantime, as larger deals for non-rental players (players who don’t have expiring contracts), tend to happen at the NHL Draft in late June.

Fast forward to the NHL draft, where we trade Dustin Byfuglien. I’m not sure where – there’s been talk that Philly is interested, but that’s mostly from Eklund, who is entertaining, but rarely on the money. (Though he did call the crazy Flyers day in June 2011 when they traded Richards and Carter). Anyway, we trade Buff, probably for a less talented, but steadier NHL defenceman, or perhaps a young forward with some upside. Unfortunately Buff will be the best player in the deal, so we might get a pick or prospect along with whatever player we get back. Chances are the optics of the deal won’t look great, since Byfuglien’s upside is so high, and his deficiencies so well known, but the real key is the move we make afterwards to patch up the defence, (assuming we don’t get a forward instead of a defender).

Along with Enstrom, Trouba, and Bogosian, we need another defenceman to play in the top-4. A defensively responsible guy who skates well and plays a simple game. After that, we need another bottom-pairing defenceman to push the top-4, to go along with Clitsome, Ellerby, Redmond, etc. A really nice free-agent option would be Andrew MacDonald, currently of the New York Islanders. I’m sure we’re not the only time who’d be interested in him, assuming he even makes it to free agency. He plays about 25 minutes per game along with Travis Hamonic, and although he wouldn’t be a top-pairing guy in many other cities, any defenceman who can log those kind of minutes without floundering is a fine and rare bird. He’s from Nova Scotia, so maybe we’ll keep Adam Pardy around so they can bro down, Atlantic style. If we miss out on MacDonald, we can try to address the top-4 D in the Byfuglien trade. As for the bottom-6, a nice option is Colorado’s Andre Benoit – an underrated, veteran puck mover who quietly plays 20 minutes per game in Colorado.

At forward, we need to remodel our entire bottom-6. Of the current group, I’d hope that most of them would be gone, except Matt Halischuk, and maybe Jim Slater, who should be recovered from sports hernia surgery by the start of next season. James Wright is fine as a 13th forward, but not an every-day player; the same goes for Eric Tangradi, and Chris Thorburn, who is a free agent and may not be back. Setoguchi and Jokinen are gone by this point, (if not traded, their contracts have expired). The key building block is the third-line centre, and an interesting free agent option is Ryan Garbutt, a Winnipeg native whose game has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years, to the point where he’s become an effective penalty-killer, agitator, as well as a decent offensive contributor. Another option would be for Chevy to inquire about Red Wings’ centre, and St. Andrews native, Darren Helm – a lightning-fast skater whose had a tough time with injuries over the past two years, and may be wearing out his welcome as a result. (Plus he’s not Swedish, and they’re only allowed a few of those in Detroit.) Other good free agent options are Marcel Goc (Florida) and John Mitchell (Colorado). If we’re looking for more offensive depth on the wings, Lee Stempniak or Mason Raymond are slated to be free agents, and would be a giant upgrade on our current bottom 6’ers. A few other depth players for the 4th line include Daniel Winnik, Ryan Jones, and Ryan Carter.

Bottom-line, until we address our forward depth, we can’t expect to have a consistent team.

(6) The Maurice Era

It was a pretty nice debut for Jets coach Paul Maurice last night. Not only did the Jets beat the Coyotes 5-1 in front of their home crowd, but they dominated almost the entire game, outshooting the Coyotes 39-19, and hemming them in their zone for large portions of the game. The Coyotes actually opened the scoring on the powerplay, but from that point on, it was all Jets.

While it was hard to notice any structural changes which led to their win – and Maurice was pretty clear that there was no time to make any significant changes – the effort and enthusiasm shown by the entire group was obvious. It was particularly evident in certain players, like Devin Setoguchi, who broke his 19 game goalless streak, and skated with great vigor and enthusiasm throughout the night. Setoguchi had been a frequent Noel target, and was more or less the only skilled player who saw large stretches of pine.

Beyond the win, which was satisfying for all those in attendance, and for those watching at home, the post-game interview with the new head coach was almost equally satisfying, at least to my ears. I listened to a coach who was incredibly excited to be an NHL head coach again. He spoke about his time in the KHL, where the language barrier forced him to learn new ways to teach.  He talked about the time spent at TSN, which gave him time to watch and analyze more games, coaches, and strategies than ever before. When combined with his experience as a Head Coach – and remember, this man is only 46 years old, yet he has almost 15 years of experience – I was struck by the wealth of knowledge and wisdom this man has collected. He delivered all of this in a light but serious tone, and with a heightened sense of importance – not self-importance, as he mentioned several times that he didn’t want to make the interview all about him, despite the fact that it had to be. Everything he said sounded sincere, and he mentioned several times how appreciative he was for the opportunity to coach again in the NHL. The evening couldn’t have been better.

Report on Jets

Courtesy nhl.com

Thoughts from the Jets’ inaugural month

Bolstering Byfuglien

If you’re getting tired of Dustin Byfuglien’s attention to detail – or lack thereof – prepare to be exasperated. Buff has demonstrated his recklessness on several occasions, seldom more obviously than Saturday night in New Jersey, where his neutral-zone carelessness led directly to Adam Henrique’s OT winner.  We all know Buff is a high-risk, high-reward player, but with only 2 goals in 15 games this year, many are beginning to wonder if the potential upside (he scored 16 goals in 42 games to begin last season) can offset the obvious drawbacks. Continue reading

Why Do We Fall?

Why the Jets may need to lose the battle to win the war

If patience is a virtue, we’d all be wise to become a lot more virtuous, right now. I don’t want to harp on the following point, but need to make one thing clear: the Jets are…not a good team. To put it very kindly, they are “below average” defensively. They’ve demonstrated a tremendous ability to combine awful give-a-ways with lapses in defensive coverage, serving up prime scoring chances on an all-too-regular basis. Offensively they’re not much better. The team has struggled to create good scoring chances, and has had trouble finishing the few opportunities that have come their way. And while the goaltending hasn’t been the cause of their malaise, it hasn’t done them many favours either. (Though Pavelec was fantastic in Thursday’s third period against Chicago.) So where will this team finish? Continue reading

Jets Roster Update: Opening Night Line-up

Forwards

There are 11 forwards who had NHL jobs locked up from the beginning: Ladd, Little, Wheeler, Kane, Burmistrov, Antropov, Slater, Thorburn, Glass, Wellwood, and Fehr. With Fehr on IR, the Jets were looking for 3 players to fill out their forward group.

The only other forwards who remain in camp are Cormier, Bodie, Maxwell, Pesonen, Gregoire, McArdle and Gagnon (both hurt), and of course, Mark Scheifele. Tim Stapleton played last night, but was placed on waivers today, meaning he’ll be playing with the Ice Caps in St. John’s. That tells me one thing: Mark Scheifele just made the team. Continue reading

The Ballad of Mark Scheifele: Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Scheifele all smiles at Jets camp

If Jets fans didn’t love Mark Scheifele before, they sure love him now. After a dominant performance in rookie camp, Scheifele scored 2 goals and 2 assists in his NHL exhibition debut, showing great skill and poise along the way. Off the ice he is about as likable as can be, and has wooed Winnipeg hockey fans as much as any other current Jet. So you can imagine the reaction of Jets fans the morning after – exulting his performance, and using more or less the same five words: “Will he make the team?”

Continue reading

Getting to Know Your Winnipeg Jets

Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec

It’s probably safe to say that the Winnipeg Jets 2011 training camp has been the most well-attended NHL camp of all-time. The air of excitement is palpable, as waves of fans that descended upon the MTS Iceplex beginning at 7:30 am for an event which didn’t begin until 9. And while Jets fans have eaten up every opportunity to see the Prodigal team in action, the reality is that an early training camp environment –  which primarily features varieties of skate-pass-(and)shoot drills – is not only a dull affair, but provides limited opportunities to evaluate a players. A few players are notable in certain areas through particularly good or bad play, but 80% go relatively unnoticed. That said, here at the players that did stick out on day 1 of training camp: Continue reading