On a (right) wing and a prayer
Wheeler, Frolik legitimate top two, but after that...
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/06/2014 (3199 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
If there was one sign that would best represent the right-wing position with the Winnipeg Jets, it would be painted in black and yellow and feature two words:
As we open up the second installment of our third annual “Jets At The Draft” series examining the team’s depth at five positions — centre, left and right wing, defence and goal — it could be said no one position underwent more of a makeover during the 2013-14 season than the right flank.
And there is still likely to be more significant change in the days, weeks and months ahead.
Consider that at the end of the 2013 lockout-shortened season the Jets’ depth chart featured the following at right wing: Blake Wheeler, two converted centres in Mike Santorelli and Kyle Wellwood, along with Antti Miettinen, Chris Thorburn and Anthony Peluso.
Knowing he needed an upgrade and would have holes to fill — Santorelli, Wellwood and Miettinen were all unrestricted free agents heading into last summer — GM Kevin Cheveldayoff made two deals and added a free-agent piece in late June/early July.
First, he sent third- and fifth-round draft picks to Chicago for Michael Frolik and less than a week later shipped a second-round choice in this year’s draft to Minnesota for Devin Setoguchi. That was followed up by grabbing Matt Halischuk, coming off shoulder surgery and an unrestricted free agent, on the open market.
One move turned out to be solid — Frolik finished the season on the Jets’ first line and brought a winner’s approach to a dressing room — while the other, Setoguchi, was an absolute bust. As for Halischuk, he played in only 46 games (5 goals, 5 assists), and only occasionally flashed the skill set that made him a dependable and versatile option for the Nashville Predators.
But the massive makeover didn’t end there by any means. It was during a slump in mid-January when former head coach Claude Noel moved Dustin Byfuglien from defence up to right wing in a desperate attempt to find some sort of spark that would help put the brakes on a downward spiral.
When Paul Maurice replaced Noel not long after, he was also intrigued with the idea of using Byfuglien as a hybrid and so the big man continued to take a regular shift on the wing in five-on-five situations and then man the point on the power play.
There are three key factors the Jets must consider going forward with Byfuglien, the franchise’s most interesting player:
1. As much as he can still be a difference-maker, is a third-line winger/power-play specialist worth $5.2 million a season?
2. He is 29 and has always been criticized for his fitness level. (He has missed time in each of his three seasons in Winnipeg; 25 games total, which actually isn’t that alarming, given the minutes he had been logging).
3. Noting all the above, is there a potential trade market for him leading up to the draft? No player, outside of Evander Kane, has had his name linked to more trade rumours than No. 33.
All of this just feeds the ongoing discussion about the lack of depth up front. Right wing is hardly the picture of stability, what with Frolik and Halischuk restricted free agents (Frolik and the club are headed to salary arbitration), with Thorburn and Peluso both unrestricted and essentially providing the same skill set, with Setoguchi all but certainly gone and Byfuglien’s future with the team and at the position not set in stone.
That might make Jets fans cringe, but at least two people are intrigued by all the uncertainty — Scott Kosmachuk and J.C. Lipon. Yes, by the start of training camp in the fall two of the organization’s top prospects might be closer to the NHL than they think.
This is the second in a series. Monday: Part 3 — left wing.
BLAKE WHEELER: Posted career highs in goals and points and is finding more consistency in his game. If his slumps become shorter and his game continues to mature, his offensive totals could only grow. Only three RWs in the entire league had more points than Wheeler this past season — Corey Perry, Phil Kessel and Alex Ovechkin. Wheeler FYI: Age: 27. 2013-14 numbers: GP: 82; G:28; A: 41; Pts: 69. Contract: Five years left with annual cap hit of $5.6 million.
MICHAEL FROLIK: Posted his best point totals since 2009-10 but, just as importantly, was a lead dog in showing his new teammates how to be responsible in both ends of the rink. A true pro. Frolik FYI: Age: 26. 2013-14 numbers: GP: 81; G: 15; A: 27; Pts. 42. Contract: Restricted free agent headed to club-elected salary arbitration (cap hit was $2.3 million last season).
DUSTIN BYFUGLIEN: The physical gifts are unique and he did tie a career high in goals and set a new high in points. Good teammate, too. Byfuglien FYI: Age: 29. 2013-14 numbers: GP: 78; G: 20; A: 36; Pts: 56. Contract: Two years remaining at $5.2 million.
DEVIN SETOGUCHI: “Disappointing” doesn’t even begin to describe Setoguchi’s season. He had 73 goals over three seasons with San Jose, but those numbers have dipped in Minnesota and Winnipeg since, from 19 to 13 to 11. Hard to imagine any scenario where he is back in a Jets’ uniform next fall. Setoguchi FYI: Age: 27. 2013-14 numbers: GP: 75; G: 11; A: 16; Pts: 27. Contract: Unrestricted free agent (cap hit was $3 million last season).
MATT HALISCHUK: Had 15 goals in his last full season with the Preds (2011-12) but couldn’t keep his spot in the Jets lineup consistently. That, and perhaps the lingering effects of shoulder surgery, robbed him of showcasing his value on the bottom six. And now there are younger players with the same tools knocking on the big-league door. Halischuk FYI: Age: 26. 2013-14 numbers: GP: 46; G: 5; A: 5; Pts: 10. Contract: Restricted free agent (cap hit was $650,000 last season).
CHRIS THORBURN: Popular in the room and will do anything for his teammates, and to win. But Anthony Peluso can also throw ’em and there are young prospects at RW likely soon to be NHL-ready. Thorburn FYI: Age: 31. 2013-14 numbers: GP: 55; G: 2; A: 9; Pts: 11. Contract: Unrestricted free agent (cap hit was $866,667 last season).
ANTHONY PELUSO: Nobody with more than 10 games played for the Jets last season had a lower average ice time than Peluso’s 5:46. Let’s agree he has better skills than he gets credit for, but as the Jets contemplate fixing their bottom six, should a bodyguard-type be guaranteed a spot and a one-way deal? Peluso FYI: Age: 25. 2013-14 numbers: GP: 53; G: 2; A: 3; Pts: 5. Contract: One year remaining at $562,500.
TOP RIGHT-WING PROSPECT
SCOTT KOSMACHUK: Superb numbers in his last year with the Guelph Storm — 49 goals and 101 points — then followed up with 28 points in 20 playoff games as his club went all the way to the Memorial Cup Final… Worked to become a more complete player by paying attention to detail in his own zone (there are no Corsi ratings for junior but, for what it’s worth, his plus/minus has gone from minus-10 to plus-52 over three years)… Sniper’s touch, with an average of 38 goals over the past three seasons… Likely to start next season in St. John’s.
ANDREW GORDON: A former Capitals’ draft pick who has been a productive AHLer. He’s 28, but had 19 points in 21 Calder Cup games and was second on the team in scoring this season.
JEROME SAMSON: Another veteran AHL player — he’s 26 — Samson had 27 goals and 56 points in 68 games this year for the IceCaps. Both Samson and Gordon, for the record, will be unrestricted free agents next month.
J.C. LIPON: Third-round pick last year who flashed some grit in his first pro season. Had 41 points and led St. John’s in penalty minutes.
CARL KLINGBERG: Cranked up his game this past season and got the offensive production to show for it (22 goals, 43 points in 65 AHL games, plus a couple of call-ups to the big club). Versatile enough he has played both right wing and left wing.
AUSTEN BRASSARD: A fifth-round pick in 2011 who has hit a rut. Was a healthy scratch throughout the playoffs after missing a good chunk of the season at home on what the IceCaps called personal business. Had three goals and five points in 29 regular-season games.
BLAIR RILEY: Career AHLer who, at 28, is not destined for the NHL.
Jimmy Lodge: A third-round pick last year who has managed close to a point a game over the last two years with Saginaw of the OHL despite an assortment of injuries.
THE NHL’S BEST
By comparison, a look at some the NHL’s top right wings (ranked by 2013-14 scoring):
1. COREY PERRY, ANA: 43G, 39A, 82 Pts.2. PHIL KESSEL, TOR: 37G, 43A, 80 Pts.3. ALEX OVECHKIN, WASH: 51G, 28A, 79 Pts.4. MARTIN ST. LOUIS, NYR: 30G, 39A, 69 Pts.4. PATRICK KANE, CHI: 29G, 40A, 69 Pts.4. BLAKE WHEELER, WPG: 28G, 41A, 69 Pts.