It’s no secret that the Winnipeg Jets have sorely missed having Bryan Little in their lineup since he was injured near the beginning of the season.
The veteran centre/winger only played in one game before being sidelined for almost two months, finally returning to the Jets’ lineup last Tuesday against the New Jersey Devils. He wasn’t eased back into the routine of things like one might typically think, and actually had just over 20 minutes of ice time. In fact, he hasn’t missed a single beat. Since being activated on the Jets roster, Little has scored four points (three goals, one assist) in six games on 12 shots while boasting a plus-4 rating.
His absence has been felt, but his individual impact on his team as a whole since returning to the ice has kept him in the spotlight for all the right reasons.
Providing All-Around Depth
Mark Scheifele’s rise to stardom has been well documented throughout the first quarter of the 2016-17 season, but it hasn’t been enough to propel the Jets into a comfortable playoff position. With the 23-year-old missing back-to-back road games this weekend due to illness — against two Cup contenders who are also divisional rivals in Chicago and St. Louis — Bryan Little couldn’t have picked a better time to step back onto the ice. He played a vital role for the Jets to win both games, which are crucial to the team’s goals of making the playoffs this spring.
Little, at the age of 29, is on the right side of 30 and is exactly what the Jets need to provide relief for Scheifele, who’s shouldered quite the workload so far this year. He’s not your standard centre in regards to size (6 feet, 191 pounds) but has a variety of tools at his disposal and, when healthy, is consistently a threat to score anywhere from 24 to 30 goals and 60 to 65 points. His offensive instincts are often overlooked, but they shouldn’t be. I’m convinced that if he plays the full 82 games next year, he’ll likely crack the 70-point plateau for the first time. With five points in six games this season, his best days — offensively — are potentially still ahead of him.
When it comes to talking about Little’s skill set, there’s no such thing as “too much defense.” I can only emphasize so much as to how strong his two-way game is. The Jets have been in dire need of his defensive skills. His ability to win faceoffs, block shots, check sticks, take bodies and clog up passing lanes creates extreme difficulty, and it’s never been more evident than it was this weekend, against some of the league’s top teams. He’s a workhorse, and simply doesn’t give up on plays. A proud, no-nonsense player who doesn’t hesitate to call out others on their mistakes and hold them accountable, perhaps Little’s personality can give the team a kick in the rear from a perspective that perhaps head coach Paul Maurice just can’t.
More Than Just Stats
He’s one of those character guys that every general manager in the NHL would like to have in their locker room, and it also helps special teams units that he can play on the wing with ease. There’s a certain sense of calm around him and it rubs off on his teammates. Leadership and the ability to mentor younger players is often underrated in today’s NHL, but it’s exactly what the organization needs, and Little provides that. Players in their early 20s, such as Nic Petan and Marko Dano, will feel less pressure and can now continue to develop at their own pace.
Buff with the pass, and Little makes no mistake! pic.twitter.com/y4JMRBD3B3
— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) 5 December 2016
With Scheifele likely to return soon, the Winnipeg Jets will have a solid one-two punch up front and a much more formidable top-six thanks to Bryan Little. His presence alone provides organizational depth and inspires great confidence in the team’s youth, and the fans in Winnipeg can only hope that their team will be able to rally around him moving forward and push through to the playoffs.