Tucker Poolman was always going to get another chance with the Winnipeg Jets this year. The Jets were just hoping it wouldn’t come at the expense of their top right-shooting defenseman.
The news came down early in the morning on Jan. 29, broken again by Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun, that Trouba was hurt. He’d injured himself in Anaheim and would be out 6-8 weeks. It was a devastating blow to the Jets’ defense corps.
If the Jets got a taste of adversity with the Mark Scheifele injury, this is a big steaming plateful. Already missing their number-one center, the Jets now bid farewell to arguably their best defenseman for an extended period.
The old cliche states that crises are opportunities in disguise. While the Winnipeg Jets may not see it that way at first, it’s unquestionably an opportunity for Poolman.
The Jacob Trouba news certainly explains why Tucker Poolman wasn’t returned to the Moose along with Brendan Lemieux and Michael Hutchinson during NHL All-Star break. https://t.co/w49b0sfa3r
— Dave Minuk (@ICdave) January 29, 2018
It’s hard to fully evaluate Poolman’s time in Winnipeg so far. He’s played sheltered minutes mostly and has often been paired with Ben Chiarot, whose advanced stats are typically among the Jets’ worst. Yet Poolman’s possession metrics are better than solid.
Now we’re going to find out in a real hurry if Poolman can handle a heavier workload. Dmitry Kulikov is out. Trouba is banged up. The Jets are in the midst of the stretch drive. Somebody is going to have to answer the bell the way Blake Wheeler has since Scheifele’s injury.
Throwing Poolman Into the Deep End
Poolman hasn’t had tons of ice time this year, but unless Paul Maurice wants to overwork Dustin Byfuglien, that will change. The Jets will still shelter Poolman a little bit no doubt, but they can’t overdo it.
At any rate, Poolman has played the right way and earned his ice time. The points haven’t been there yet the way they had been at UND, and that’s ok. The points weren’t there for Josh Morrissey in the first half last year, but that changed in the second.
Poolman did break the ice with his first NHL goal against the Islanders this year. He also began to round into form offensively in Manitoba with the Moose. After going pointless his first six AHL games, he put up a goal and five assists in the next seven.
Now, to be clear, the Jets don’t need Poolman to be an offensive dynamo. They do, however, need someone to take up some of the slack in Trouba’s absence. As Trouba is the Jets second-leading scorer on the back end, some of that slack is offensive.
There’s no fear of Byfuglien and Tyler Myers not providing offense. But Toby Enstrom and Ben Chiarot aren’t likely to set any scoresheets on fire. Poolman may have to step it up on that front. Who knows? He may even see power-play time.
Of course, scoring is going to be secondary to Poolman taking care of his own end. Luckily, he’s played the right way on that front so far. Poolman is one of those rare players that can defend both with his stick and his body, and be effective with either.
The first time I ever saw Poolman play a live game, he scored a goal, but that wasn’t what struck me. He was nasty. He threw reverse hits Peter Forsberg style and took care of business in the corners with his shoulders as well as his stick. When that was done, he was capable of skating or passing the puck out of trouble.
If that sounds familiar, it should. No one is suggesting Poolman is Trouba 2.0. At this stage of his career that would be ludicrous. There are stylistic similarities, however, and some similarities in the underlying results of that style.
Every stat on there, while impressive, comes with the caveat of Poolman’s sheltered minutes and offensive zone starts. Yet these stats do indicate a player ready for more responsibilities. He’ll have to be because he’s about to get it whether he’s ready or not.
Poolman Follows Jets Into Stretch Drive
It’s crunch time in the NHL. The playoff picture is taking shape, albeit slowly, and the major players at the trade deadline are falling into order. It’s entirely possible the Jets will be among them.
The Jets need players to step up if they want to keep up. They did a good job stockpiling points while healthy and still have a tenuous grip on the top spot in the Central Division. Now that grip is being hacked away at by injuries.
As mentioned above, Wheeler stepped up when Scheifele went down. Who will step up without Trouba remains to be seen. Poolman is as good a candidate as anyone.
A saving grace for Winnipeg is that Scheifele is getting closer to health. He skated in a non-contact jersey over the break and should have about 10 days left in his recovery period.
If the Jets can survive those 10 days and (touch wood) heal up, they can resume their playoff push at full strength. Until then, however, Poolman is about to become a key cog in the Jets’ machine.
Poolman is about to get the best opportunity of his young pro career to date. Whether he runs with it or not will go a long way in determining the Jets’ standing when Trouba returns.