There are things to be positive about with the Winnipeg Jets after a 3-2-0 start. The play of their bottom-six forwards isn’t one of them.
For starters, many Jets observers would like to see the Jets get away from a top-six and into a top-nine mentality (i.e. rolling three scoring lines). It’s been a goal for the Jets since they arrived in Winnipeg, and this seemed to be the year they would reach it.
The first five games, however, demonstrate that Winnipeg has a long way to go. Through their opening week of hockey, the forwards rotating through the Jets third and fourth lines have a grand total of one goal.
Tanev has looked good on the 4th line. Matthias has no place in an NHL top 9. Then again, big divide between the Jets top and bottom six
— Jacob Stoller (@NHLStoller) October 10, 2017
Brandon Tanev has taken some heat this season since he made the team, but he does have the lone marker for the bottom six, a shorthanded goal against Calgary on October 7. And that’s where the offense has ended.
It gets worse. Tanev scored shorthanded and Andrew Copp’s assist, the only other point from the bottom six, came shorthanded as well on a Tyler Myers goal. The Jets third and fourth lines do not have a single even-strength point through five games.
Now, maybe you’ve never won a Jack Adams trophy, but chances are you’ve got enough hockey sense to look at that and realize that’s not a winning formula.
The Jets have managed to (partially) overcome this. They’re getting scoring from elsewhere, as Nikolaj Ehlers has been brilliant the past three games – all Jets wins. The dashing Dane can’t do it all alone, though.
Armia Invisible So Far
Nobody expected Shawn Matthias to set the scoresheet ablaze this year (though it’s worth noting he scored in the Jets first game last year), or Tanev or Copp for that matter, but Joel Armia has been disappointing through five games.
It’s early yet, but Armia is coming off a year where he seemed to show some real growth. His start has been as devoid of offense as the rest of the third and fourth line, and he was a healthy scratch against Edmonton.
Armia was counted on to take another step forward this year and solidify the depth up front for Winnipeg. There’s still time for him to do so, but he looks a far cry from the player who was a one-man shorthanded army last season.
Again, there’s no shortage of time for Armia to turn it around and live up to that potential, but his start isn’t promising. He has no points, sits minus-four and has posted atrocious underlying numbers through his four games. He needs to figure it out in a hurry.
If Armia were the only one struggling, it could be swept under the rug. He’s not, however, or else this piece of writing wouldn’t exist. All seven forwards who’ve seen regular ice time in the bottom six in Winnipeg have been disappointing.
Nic Petan and Marko Dano have almost certainly got the highest offensive skill level of any of those seven forwards. They’ve shown flashes of it here and there, but aren’t producing and are getting virtually no ice time. They’ve both been healthy scratches this year.
For Petan in particular, this has been tough to watch because he’s been posting surprisingly good underlying numbers but getting virtually no ice time, averaging less than nine minutes per game. Petan’s usage (or misusage) has been a long-running source of frustration for Jets’ fans.
Petan may see some power play time but the power play has been bad for the Jets this year too, as they’ve gone two-for-19. The penalty kill, which was supposed to be a specialty of the bottom six (and part of the reason Tanev made the team) has been similarly bad at just 71.4 percent. Only Edmonton is worse.
The special teams of any franchise are governed by the 100 percent rule. If you add the PK and PP percentages and get over or at 100 percent, you’re doing well. If not, they need improvement. You probably don’t need to add the above numbers up to tell the Jets need improvement, and the poor play of the third and fourth lines is contributing to that.
Where is Kyle Connor?
Over the summer, many observers hailed this forward core as the deepest the Jets had ever iced. Of course, most of those projected deep lineups included Kyle Connor.
Connor was sent to the AHL after Copp came off IR, laboring in the minors in favor of less offensively gifted but allegedly more defensively responsible veterans. With the team in need of an offensive infusion into their second tier of forwards, he must be looking pretty good right now.
As of this writing, Connor has put up three goals and five points in four AHL games. Mathieu Perreault going down hurt against Carolina means that if he’s out for any length of time, Connor is his likely replacement.
The problem is that Connor should’ve been in Winnipeg to begin with. His skillset would be hugely useful to both a Jets third line that desperately needs a shot in the arm and a Jets power play in need of the same.
His return to the minors represents a lingering mentality with the Jets that much of the NHL has long since abandoned. The fact that this article even references “top and bottom six” is a sign that the Jets haven’t evolved with the times.
These days, successful teams run top-nines up front. Three scoring lines, and ideally four. And the Jets have the players to do this too. So far, they’re not.
Look at the Colorado Avalanche, whose start caught the whole hockey world off guard, through six games. They’re getting contributions from up and down their lineup. Gabe Landeskog, Tyson Jost, JT Compher, and Carl Soderberg have all scored so far.
Those may not sound like “bottom six” players, and that’s because they’re not. They’re top nine players. Actually, Soderberg hasn’t even been that for most of the year. The Avs are rolling four lines and getting scoring from all of them.
As for Winnipeg, it’s only two lines carrying all the water for them up front. And that’s not sustainable. The Jets have the horses to roll at least three scoring lines. It’s time to let them out of the stables.