The Winnipeg Jets most underrated and second most embattled player is Bryan Little, first line centre and all-around versatile player. Like Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little also battled injuries this season, missing ten games near the end of the regular season with a dislocated rib. When he was not hurt, Little was once again a huge part of the Winnipeg Jets offensive attack and defensive strategy.
Little started 28% of his shifts in the defensive zone and was a key part of the line that took tough defensive match-ups for the Jets. Little was able to do this while being asked to play the role of a shutdown centre. While the first line centre matching up against other teams top lines is not unusual, not every player can hold their head above water when tasked with this job. Little has the ability to not only play his peers even, but outperform some of them possession wise, which is a boon for the Jets.
Little also has a 2.0% CorsiRel, which means the Jets did better with Little on the ice than off it. The Jets were a team that beat the opposition with their top three lines more so than their fourth line or a single dominant defencive pair. The Jets lack of depth only made top line players like Little more important because there was no one to fall back on scoring wise, when he had a normal cold spell.
Little did miss ten games at the end of the season with a dislocated rib. While he returned in time for the playoffs he did not look like himself. That is probably because dislocated ribs is a painful injury that can take a while to recover from. While there is no set timeline for recovery, the injury can occur from contact sports and the rib needs to moved back into place when it pops out.
This graph does present some concerns about Little. While he is a strong defensive centre, since the 2012-2013 season he has struggled in shot suppression, but he was an elite defensive centre the past two seasons for the Jets and that is important because defence takes longer than offence to develop at a NHL level. Little's shot rate is also low. It should be pointed out that Little is a high percentage shooter who does not take many shots in the first place. His shot rate is quite low and it is something to watch over the next few years because players who are percentage shooters tend to age worse than volume shooters, but Little does so many little things well that he could have a prolonged aging time even though he is a percentage shooter.
Little is still a key piece to the Jets present and future plans. Depending on how he ages, he could be a Jet past his current contract that runs through 2018. The Jets have a litany of prospects at centre, but not all players remain centres in the transition from junior to the NHL. For the time being, Little is the Jets best centre and until a better option presents itself, the job is his on merit. In the future, Mark Scheifele will hopefully be able to challenge Little some day, but until Scheifele proves himself capable of taking on the defensive load off of Little, Little is the man.
Chart from ownthepuck.blogspot.ca, all stats from War on Ice and Puckalytics.