On my second FanPost for AIH, I have decided to do some armchair General Manager and coach work. Of course, we all know this is kind of silly, since things may change throughout the year with chemistry, dry spells, and injuries; but, it is fun. Below are my thoughts, player reviews and my reasoning. Also, after each of my individual player reviews, I have provided a link to Ben’s statistical approach on the same topic.
I highly recommend you read all of them, including the comments section, as it will give you a deeper understanding of the thought processes that determined my choices and predictions. The number outlined in parentheses indicates league-wide ranking as it pertains to last years point production at each players position. While not a perfect system, ideally a competent first line player would fall between the top 30, while a second line player would rank anywhere between 31-60 and so forth down the roster.
Kane (22) – Jokinen (19) – Wheeler (12)
Ladd (29) – Little (42) – Wellwood (35)
Ponikarovsky (52) – Burmistrov (84) – Antropov (49)
Cormier (231) – Slater (101) – Machecek (106)
Thorburn (98), Miettinen (94)
Evander Kane: Either Kane or Andrew Ladd could emerge as the teams first line left winger. Both had similar point production last year, but Kane was more sheltered throughout the year with the lower QofC (quality of competition for future reference) of the two players. Both have shown a propensity to throw a lot of pucks at the net as evidenced by their one-two finish in shots on goal last year -- eclipsing even the newly acquired Olli Jokinen. I have placed Kane on the first line because ultimately, he is the franchise first line left winger and -- at the age of 20 -- is still developing his game. Meanwhile, Ladd could be peaking as he is entering the prime years of his NHL career. Look for Kane to post an increase in points with further development and improved linemates.
Olli Jokinen: In my mind, Jokinen is the consensus on centre on the first line. The biggest arguments against him slotting in here tend to be 1. "He shoots too much to play alongside Kane" and 2. "He isn’t strong enough defensively to be a first line centre". If this was the Jokinen of 5+ years ago I would have agreed, but I have amassed two counter arguments (other than Jokinen and Sutter talking about the giant strides he has made in becoming a well rounded player). While being a "shoot-first" player, Jokinen had a good number of primary assists the last two years (see Illegal Curve article for statistics and details); he has maintained steady PPG (points per game) which have transitioned some from goals to assists. Also, Jokinen has faced some of the highest QoC of first line centres while maintaining production and effectiveness. Look for similar output to last season, specially if they use him effectively on the power play.
Blake Wheeler: Wheeler -- like Jokinen -- is a consensus first line player. Period. He is a wonderful playmaker, and a big body presence who is strong in all three zones. He could have easily scored more goals last season, since he had a career low in shooting percentage, highlighted by a dreadful start to the year. It would be nice if he could decrease his penalties (you know the ones everyone says Ladd does too much, but Wheeler does more: [when game is on the line, offensive zone, etc.]). Look for an increase in points from Wheeler, should the Jets pair him with two shooting options and his shooting percentage stabilize itself.
Andrew Ladd: Ladd is a passable first liner but amazing second line left winger. The guy has grit, determination, and take no shit attitude. Noel could potentially start him on the first line (see above) but eventually move him around the depth chart as Kane takes over a predominant scoring role. Ladd tends to have good chemistry playing with Little and a playmaker right wing. Look for similar production though faced with reduced QoC, though offset by the fact that Kyle Wellwood is not as strong a playmaker as Wheeler.
Bryan Little: Little doesn’t shoot enough to be a goal scorer like Ladd and Kane (his 30 goal rookie year was probably due to a high shooting percentage way above career average since his shot totals are similar) and isn’t as smart of a play maker as Wheeler or Wellwood. Rather, Little is a superb two-way centre with strong defensive abilities, a knack at stealing the puck, above-par playmaker, and quality shooting capability (when used). These qualities make him a good fit for second line C/RW. He is still young and things may improve with less pressure on him with having another competent offensive line. Look at production to increase slightly with no longer playing above his capabilities and lower QoC.
Kyle Wellwood: Wellwood polarizes fans opinions, to be sure. He is a serviceable addition to a second line, though he can’t be the piece you build around. He is renowned for having unworldly high hockey IQ (but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know when Kane is on the ice get ready for a rebound…). He does well when he can be sheltered, a fact which Noel seemed to have a grasp on last year. Wellwood has decent skills in the face-off dot, serviceable in instances where Little gets kicked out. He did have a lot of puck luck throwing his points up (opposite of Eric Fehr), as shown by his shooting percentage being a lot higher than career numbers and a large number of his assists being secondary assists, which are not skill based. Look for a very slight decrease points due to those reasons but not really much at all.
Alexei Ponikarovsky: He is almost as important of a pick up as Jokinen (see bellow). Poni is a strong, big bodied two-way winger, who can fight against the boards, in front of the net, and pick up some nice points. He can play well in power play, penalty kill and 5v5. You don’t really want him as a top 6 but makes a deadly 3rd liner (sounds like Antropov?). He pushes possession to the other net and is usually the team’s leader for corsi (puck shooting differentials) which is fantastic to finally have on the third line. Look to see similar production with possibly greater if he rekindles that chemistry with Antropov.
Alexander Burmistrov: For his age, he is an amazing 2-way centre. He can fly, he can dangle, he can score, and he is a very creative playmaker. A lot of fans are hard on him because he was pushed into the 2nd line role last year due to lack of options. I can see him legitimately on the second line in 2-3 seasons but he isn’t there yet. He could push Wellwood down a line, but I would rather Burmistrov on the 3rd line since: the 2nd and 3rd line may have similar minutes, and I prefer Burmistrov over Wellwood in the more defensively 3rd line role and I prefer Burmistrov as a centre over rightwing to further his development in that position. He will most likely be the first to move into the top 6 with injuries. He had a huge increase in production last year even when taking out the effects of increase in TOI (time on ice); his assists were low but that could change this year with new line mates. Look for another large increase in points with development and finding good chemistry with Poni and Antro (even more if Noel finally trusts him to get some power play time), perhaps even to Little’s last seasons points.
Nik Antropov: His biggest problem is his contract, which is neither his fault (in this sense) nor TNSE; if he was getting 1.8 million per a season, he would be considered a league top 3rd liner in Winnipeger’s minds. He is the right wing equivalent of Poni… in fact it may be tough to differentiate each other on the ice this year. Look for Ponikarovsky like production.
Patrice Cormier: I like the idea of Cormier and Machecek making the team, since I think they are as ready as they ever will be and may have more upside than Thorburn and Miettenin. Cormier is great around the faceoff dot, and will probably be playing Slater’s role by the time Sutter comes knocking. Defensively and offensively I believe he is an upgrade on Glass, even if Glass was receiving 4th line minutes and role like should have occurred last year. He didn’t fair as well scoring wise as Machecek, but Machecek is probably peaking (plus the extreme puck-luck he had which makes Wellywood’s look like nothing). He’s the perfect guy to take the 4th line C job when Burmistrov moves to 2nd line and Slater to 3rd with injuries. He can fight, hit, take face-offs, and has a small scoring upside. Look for him to be an upgrade on Glass’ production with sheltered 4th line minutes.
Jim Slater: Can’t rember who, but a former Thrasher’s fan once gave me insight on him. He was once thought of as a top6 and when it seemed like he wasn’t going to progress there, fought a tad against the roles a more defensive role player. Now he seems to understand and gives that "110%" GST fans love. Last year he did as well as he could give the circumstances: he was playing 3rd line shutdown role with wingers meant for 4th line energy role. This year he will have with less strain (with the team having a legitimate 3rd line), potentially better line-mates and more suitable 4th line minutes. Look for similar, if not better, production with those reasons in mind… or maybe worse with less time on ice.
Spencer Machecek: This one will be tough. Top scorer for the farm team and amazing production for the few games he played here, but, alas, this has created a picture that is not the true Machecek. Keep in mind Mach’s best years in both junior and the AHL are similar to Thorburn’s best years. In his short stint in the NHL he scored lots of points with having a SH%, PDO (an ok measurement of luck) and PPG that would make Crosby blush. He also had weak corsi numbers (which means the other team was putting more pressure on his net then he was on theirs) under very sheltered minutes. I’m not dissing him, just tempering the unworldly opinion some people place on him. I think he’s earned his shot and is, at worst-case, a serviceable and younger Thorburn, if not an upgrade. Noel will probably play Thorburn over him since he likes him but ultimately I’d rather Thor in the pressbox and Mach on the bench. He’s tough enough to drop the gloves and isn’t afraid to throw his body. Look for a slight or dramatic increase in production relative to Thorburn.
Antti Miettinen: Poor guy doesn’t do as well without his former line-mates pushing up his numbers. I’m sure entering the NHL partway through the year didn’t help him either. He is a decent two-way player, albeit not offensive enough for scoring role or defensive enough for checking/energy role. He makes for a serviceable upgrade on Stapleton in being the depth forward, albeit will never match Stapleton’s unworldly power play production (I would guarantee that Stapleton wouldn’t have matched that this year give the same opportunity). Look at his production being the same or surpassing depending on how much ice time he gets due to injuries and such.
Chris Thorburn: The guy got pooped on by the "stats people" (myself included… ps we stats people watch the games too) since he played outside of his abilities on the third line. He got praised by the "watch-the-game people" as most 4th liners do since they "work hard" (it’s the NHL people, almost everyone works hard). Given 4th line, sheltered minutes, he could improve to as good Machecek (effectiveness-wise, not that crazy PPG-wise). Noel will most likely choose him over Machecek though because he loves the veterans… but I’d still be nervous if I was Thorburn. Look to him improving over his impressive plethora of scoring last year, depending on amount of time on ice.
I like rolling the three scoring lines as it allows for more options with cold/hot streaks and makes it more difficult to line up against. The first line is an almost completely new first line that has some potentially elite pieces. The second line is almost the same as last years first line with Wellwood replacing Wheeler; I can see this have similar success as it would most likely take advantage of it facing lower tier competition with the big guns facing up against the first line. The third line, which includes all former USSR countrymen, has ability to work both a shutdown role, and still score effectively and dangerously. The fourth line will probably be more of a jumble of players coming from the pressbox to the bench, being mostly players that can take advantage of highly sheltered minutes
I read and hear a lot of complaints about the Winnipeg Jets scoring abilities and depth. Chevy’s biggest complaint was our size down the middle and up front. My problem was that our depth sucked. Ben’s (and a few others) problem was that Pavelec had some rough times. Well in one offseason, and two pickups they seem to address the first three.
Using the earlier point production model for line placement and not taking in any improvement, our first line averages around seventeenth best in the league; our second line averages around fourth best in the league; our third line averages around the league’s best.As I stated before, the system has some real flaws as a solid statistical evaluation, but gives a good idea that scoring depth should not be a problem with the Jets next year.
I think the size part is obvious and I will end that part here.
Last season, a good portion of the Jets’ offensive responsibilities were placed on Little’s line, while a good portion of the defensive responsibilities were placed on GST’s line. Our lack of depth placed too many responsibilities on those centres, made it easy to match up against us when being the visiting team, and pushed some players beyond their abilities (Little, Burmistrov, and all of GST). I can see this improvement in depth helping out us in both zones.
This actually helps against Ben’s Pavelec worries (hopefully). Any goalie, no matter how elite or terrible, can be better than they are with a better team in front of them.