© Geoff Brookes
What’s going on with the Jets?
Why is it so hard to predict how they will play on any given night?
Why do they keep getting behind in games, and lose to weak opponents?
You can turn off the lights, put a cold, damp cloth on your forehead, but
these questions keep swirling in your mind, like a migraine headache that
won’t go away. Just when you think it might be gone, it comes back again.
Aren’t all of these talented young players supposed to make us better?
Shouldn’t a finalist for 2016 US college player of the year help us win
battles for the puck? Shouldn’t the 2016 World Championships MVP help us to
score more goals?
Kyle Connor is beginning to show why he dominated US college hockey. Patrik
Laine is already living up to his reputation as the next Ovechkin. But it
isn’t changing the results in the standings – yet.
The answers are there. They just aren’t necessarily what we want to hear.
(I’m in the same boat, by the way – an avid fan who quickly erases the PVR
for the losses, and revels in the victories.)
The reality is that it takes time for even the most talented young players
to learn how to apply their skills at the major league level. It’s why
baseball players spend years in the minors before making the big leagues. To
a lesser extent in hockey, the same logic applies.
Young players often spend a couple of years in junior hockey, college
hockey, or in the AHL, before making it to the NHL full time. Even the
exceptional 18 year-old NHL rookies still need extra time to learn how to
play the NHL game. Only a few become NHL regulars right away. What’s most
important is that they get an opportunity to play, to learn, and to refine
their game – at the right level for where they are in their development.
Kyle Connor has his first NHL goal, and is looking better every game. Patrik
Laine has already scored 6. As of the end of the team’s back-to-back wins
last week (through game 8), both Connor and Laine had somewhat negative
Corsi when the Jets were at even strength. You might say, “So what?”.
Corsi simply measures the percentage of shot attempts taken by the Jets and
their opponents. When applied for a specific player, it is the shot attempts
while he is on the ice. It’s not rocket science. What it means is that the
Jets were slightly outplayed, on average, while Connor and Laine were on the
ice, at even strength.
Does this mean that the young players are “busts”? That they will not reach
the potential that they (and the Jets) still hope to attain?
Of course not!
It just means that they are still learning how to do the things that players
like Bryan Little have already learned to do in nine previous NHL seasons.
When talented players learn from those experiences, they tend to get more
shot attempts and scoring chances. This should happen for Connor and Laine
as well, as they progress through their first few NHL seasons. It’s easy to
forget that Laine won’t turn 19 until after the end of this 2016-2017
regular schedule. Six goals in nine games is a good start!
And we have a bunch of great prospects playing in the AHL, CHL and US
colleges right now, too.
It’s interesting that one of the players who has been “developing” for the
past few seasons is now showing the results of that hard work.
In both the “eye test” as well as the advanced stats, Joel Armia has been a
superb player for the Jets in these early days. His speed, fore-checking and
puck possession have been amazing. Armia, Matthias and Lowry might be the
most entertaining Jets line at the moment, as well as being 3 of the top 5
Jets in Corsi. With all of this hard work, the goals should start
accumulating. But even if they don’t score a bunch, their puck control has
meant that the Jets are not surrendering many goals while they are on the
And that’s the issue for these 2016-17 Jets so far – the entire team needs
to play like Armia, Matthias and Lowry. The “Schwhehlers” line has been just
as good at controlling the game (although they need to get their mojo
working earlier in games). The other Jets lines need to play like
“Schwhehlers” and “Larmias”. (Yeah, I know, that doesn’t really work as a
line name. We need some help from Illegal Curve on the names!)
The Jets also need their third pairing defensemen to play as well as the top
4 d-men have – including Morrissey, who is having a superb beginning to his
first season with the Jets, after spending an extra year in Junior hockey,
and another year in the AHL.
Yes, we need Little and Myers to be healthy (and to a lesser extent,
Stafford). But every team must cope with injuries. The key is to get four
lines, and three defense pairings, to play like the rest of the guys –
playing “shinny” with the other side.
And for the young guns like Connor and Laine, that might take a little
while. Until then, expect a few migraines from time to time.