A year ago, we took a look at the Winnipeg Jets' largely unheralded top line of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler. We explained to you that - If you don’t think the Winnipeg Jets trio of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler is a bonifide top line chances are you're a stupid baby.
In that piece we looked at the quality possession game that LLW played. We also showed how they managed to beat a number of what many people consider to be better first lines head to head. None of that has changed and this is despite Blake Wheeler getting shuffled off the wing. In steps Michael Frolik. On goes the possession parade. LLF is also a very capable line that can hold their own versus anybody.
Behind that analysis there was always a bit of a caveat related to Bryan Little. Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler scored like legit first line forwards - Bryan Little did not. Sure, Little was rock solid defensively. Sure he could push the possession game, but his lack of offense was surely holding the team back. Right?
Perhaps, perhaps not.
The thing is, that argument doesn't work anymore. Bryan Little is scoring! Infact, Bryan Little currently ranks 30th in NHL scoring and 14th in scoring among centres. If that isn't legit first line production, what is?
Let's take a look at the top scoring NHL centres:
What is apparent?
- Well, Bryan Little isn't Sidney Crosby (nobody is).
- That said, Bryan Little is the 14th highest scoring centre in the NHL (13 if you count Pavelski as a winger).
- Two teams (SJ and Pit) multiple centres ranked above Little.
- That means only 11 teams have a number one centre that has produced more than the Winnipeg Jets.
- Bryan Little is outproducing David Backes, Eric Staal, and Patrice Bergeron among others.
- Bryan Little is only a couple points behind Anze Kopitar and David Krejci.
That isn't to say, Bryan Little is better than everybody who is ranked below him - he is in the conversation though.
Bryan Little is criminally underrated and this likely has a lot to do with the Winnipeg Jets' lack of team success.
- Ladd, Little and Frolik are the Winnipeg Jets best possession line.
- Bryan Little starts more shifts in the defensive zone than offensive zone.
- For reference: Little has a 47.9% O zone %, Wheeler is at 55.1%.
- Bryan Little leads the Winnipeg Jets in 5 on 5 per minute point scoring.
- Bryan Little is third is powerplay per minute scoring behind only Dustin Byfuglien and Blake Wheeler.
- Bryan Little leads the Jets in shorthanded per minute scoring.
He does all of this despite routinely matching up against the opposition's best players. That isn't easy to do.
To sum it all up - Bryan Little is pretty f***ing good!
Bryan Little is also in his prime. At 26 years old, he isn't about to shrivel up and die, plus his underlying numbers (On ice SH% and PDO) are actually down from a year ago. And while his personally shooting percentage is up a little, it isn't way out of line - this suggests he isn't riding a wave of good fortune. This production may be repeatable.
What does that have to do with Mark Schiefele?
Nothing really. All it does is set a really high bar. If Bryan Little puts up 60 points while playing a rock steady 200 foot game it will take a ton for Scheifele to jump him. Is it possible? Sure, but Scheifele will be 20 years old and apart from a stint with Kane hasn't proven to be a possession plus player.
Could Mark Scheifele put up 60 plus points and push Bryan Little down the roster? Sure.
Is it likely? No. Not really.
For reference, here is the list of 21 year old centres who have put up 60 or more points within the last decade:
Holy Heck Dem's Some Good Players:
- There are only ten names on that list.
- Six of those ten names are engraved on the Stanley Cup.
- There are three 1st overall picks on that list.
- There are two 2nd overall picks on that list.
- There is one of each a 3rd and 4th overall pick on that list.
- There are nine players on that list who would be in the conversation for the NHL's 10 best centres.
Is it fair to assume twenty one year old Mark Scheifele will put himself in that class of players next year?
Not so sure.
What does it all mean?
It would be amazing for the Winnipeg Jets, over both the short and long term, if Mark Scheifele could take the same kind of step forward next year, but that doesn't mean it is likely. Plus, the Jets already have a centre, in Bryan Little, who is playing like a legit number one. If Eric O`Dell can stick and his possession game holds steady, the Winnipeg Jets will be fine down the middle next year regardless of whether or not Mark Scheifele can become the alpha dog.
Regardless, Kevin Cheveldayoff can focus on fixing the goaltending situation. Adding a couple of legit NHL defenders wouldn't hurt either. Without those issues getting resolved, not even Patrice Bergeron could carry the back end of this roster into the playoffs. But the Jets don't have Bergy. They have a young stud in Mark Scheifele and a two way workhorse who can still put up 60 in Bryan Little. It would be great if Mark Scheifele could relegate Bryan Little to the second line. Bryan Little would be an ELITE second line centre, but that may not happen for at least a year or two and it won't be the end of the world if it doesn't. The centre position is in good hands.
Pretty Picture via our own Garret Hohl
Location denotes deployment, blue is good.