The Winnipeg Jets are known for having one of the least played fourth lines in the league, and really, who could blame them? With fourth line staple Jim Slater centering the ever rotating group of fringe NHLers such as Chris Thorburn, Matt Halischuk, Anthony Peluso, TJ Galiardi (and later adding Jiri Tlusty and Lee Stempniak at the deadline) you can’t really fault Paul Maurice for not playing the bunch more. They are limited.
To clarify, I’m not complaining about having a gritty fourth line, it’s about the excess of players that probably shouldn’t be in the NHL when the Jets have younger, and potentially far better players waiting in the wings who could do great things once they got their feet wet.
For the most success now, and in the future the Jets should use the fourth line as a way to get young guys ready for the NHL. Instead of having a group of six or seven players that would struggle to make most rosters, why not slowly introduce prospects to the NHL game by giving them sheltered minutes on the fourth line? A line of Nic Petan, Andrew Copp and Joel Armia sounds a lot more productive than say, Halischuk-Slater-Thorburn.
The line of rookies I proposed has size and grit, two things coaches tend to want in a fourth line, but the rookies have something most fourth lines don’t have. Skill.
The aforementioned prospects have three different styles of play that together give a perfect blend of size, skill, speed and tenacity that would make up a dynamite fourth line for any hockey team. Petan’s passing, Copp’s two way game, and Armia’s scoring touch give the Jets an excellent line that, once the players are ready, can be moved up as needed.
The prototypical face-punching fourth liner is being phased out of the game at a rapid pace, and this scenario, is the best way for a team with a wildly deep prospect pool, like the Jets, to get young players ready for the NHL - in the NHL. While of course still keeping a more experienced option, such as Thorburn or Halischuk on the roster when the kids need a rest or in case of injury.
This change would impact the future of the Jets greatly, and (I believe) will speed up the time in which the Jets are serious contenders to win the Stanley Cup. Sheltering prospects on the fourth line would also give Chevy room to trade a future expensive player like Andrew Ladd or Dustin Byfuglien as the time sees fit, giving him more room to make a big signing or trade…because you know, that’ll happen.