Jacob Trouba was once thought to be a future cornerstone in Winnipeg, maybe even a Norris Trophy candidate in years to come. Now his name is more grist for the rumour mill.
Trouba may still be that cornerstone piece, and many still view him that way, but others see him as a disappointment, a struggling youngster who needs a change of scenery. It depends on who you talk to. What can’t be debated is this: Trouba took a big step forward in his first NHL season, more of a leap really, and hasn’t matched that kind of play since. Is this a sign of Trouba hitting the wall at a young age, or are Jets fans just too impatient?
Big expectations followed Trouba into his early NHL career. Much like current Jets prospect Kyle Connor, he had a stellar freshman season at Michigan following his draft year, and he followed that up with an impressive first NHL campaign that saw him net 10 goals and 29 points. He spent all season showing off smooth skating, a heavy shot, and the speed, size, and timing needed to throw big hits. Everything seemed to point to future superstardom. There was even talk of a Calder Trophy nomination despite a neck injury that kept him on the shelf for a month.
That summer, in their annual pool guide, The Hockey News projected over 40 points for Trouba from the back end, and after his impressive rookie campaign, who was to argue with them. The physical and mental tools were all seemingly there for the Rochester, Michigan native, and they still are.
Everything that seemed to go right for Trouba in his rookie season seemed to cruelly mock him in what was a rough sophomore season. However, for a star youngster to endure a sophomore slump isn’t unheard of or unexpected. Many fans were prepared to grant the 9th overall pick in 2012 a free pass on a down season. After all, Trouba wasn’t going to set the world on fire every year. His rookie season exceeded expectations, and for 19-year-old defensemen to succeed in the NHL is a rare thing indeed. Most defensemen haven’t even sniffed the NHL by that age. Trouba was the exception, not the rule.
This season, therefore, his third in the NHL, would be the true measuring stick, and it didn’t seem to measure him favourably. He played in 81 games, a good sign after missing time in both his previous two seasons, but posted his lowest offensive totals to date. It was enough to make some people wonder if he might be on his way out, and when the Travis Hamonic speculation began, Trouba was one of the names thrown into the mix. That his season included a few noticeable defensive gaffs wasn’t helping his case.
The defensive lapses were always there, at least in part, for the young defenseman, as they will be for every youngster who patrols a blueline, but with the offense drying up they became less forgivable. With the production waning in the offensive end of the ice, miscues in the defensive end were magnified. That it was a contract year for Trouba didn’t help.
Don’t Panic on Trouba
The history of the NHL is rife with examples of why you should be patient with young players, especially with defensemen. Trouba made the leap to the NHL at a very young age, but it doesn’t mean people should expect him to play like a ten year veteran. The Jets own Josh Morrissey is a reminder that even highly drafted defensemen have an adjustment period when it comes to the pros.
And in spite of the decrease in offense, signs show Trouba has been adjusting. He panics less, still plays physical, and even drops the gloves in defense of his teammates every now and again. The offense will come with time and confidence, and with a little maturity.
Trouba also trains with the legendary Gary Roberts in the offseason, and you can bet Roberts will have the kid in top shape in no time. This is the same Gary Roberts who helped turn Steven Stamkos into a 50-goal scorer and, a little closer to home for Winnipeg Jets observers, helped turn Mark Scheifele into a top NHL centre.
Scheifele’s progress may be part of the reason some people are down on Trouba. Scheifele has turned into a 29-goal-scorer and an obvious choice for future number one centre, so why hasn’t Trouba blossomed the same way? Well, Trouba is a defenseman, for one thing, and it’s a well known fact defenders take longer to develop; it’s one reason they often fall in the draft as teams don’t want to wait for them. For another, Scheifele has been given linemates in Nikolaj Ehlers and Blake Wheeler that bring out the best in him. The Jets haven’t found that partner for Trouba yet. They thought it could be Mark Stuart, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Still, Trouba’s allegedly leaked asking price of $56 million over eight years, almost as much as they gave Dustin Byfuglien per season when he re-signed in February and over a longer term, has fueled the flames of a trade rumour. This being the start of the busiest time of the year for speculation, it wasn’t long before a trade scenario was reasoned out.
Sportsnet's @FriedgeHNIC: Avs want Jacob Trouba, dangling Barrie but not Duchene
— Adrian Dater (@adater) June 5, 2016
Type Trouba’s name into Twitter and you’ll get a bevy of results suggesting the Colorado Avalanche are targeting him hard. And while the alleged offering of Tyson Barrie may be hard to ignore, it would be harder still to watch Trouba blossom into the top-tier defenseman he seems destined to be with a division rival.
If meetings between Trouba’s camp and the Jets can’t do any better than that huge contract then the Jets should consider trading him, but I hope it doesn’t come to that. One hopes Trouba realizes he hasn’t yet earned Byfuglien money and accepts a bridge deal that would give him a chance to strike in rich in two or three seasons. It might be just the motivation he needs to bring back the big-time play that almost got him a Calder Trophy nomination three seasons ago.