Jets’ top five forwards among league’s best shooters, passers
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/01/2020 (1114 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
After dropping recent home games against the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, the Jets travelled to Eastern Canada and took some revenge.
Despite finishing up the road trip through half the Atlantic Division with a close loss to the Boston Bruins Thursday, it was a pretty successful week for a Jets team that had been trending a bit downwards of late.
The wins against the Habs and Leafs kept the Jets in a wild-card playoff spot, a precarious position the team will have to fight tooth and nail to maintain as the season drags on through the second half.
It’s startling how quickly expectations can change but after being a Cup contender in recent seasons, making the playoffs at all this season should be seen as a pretty big accomplishment for the Jets. Connor Hellebuyck will be the biggest reason for it if the team does make it, but there are other players who deserve some credit, as well.
All teams rely on their stars to carry them, to a certain extent, and the Jets are no different in that regard. What has helped them a ton this year is that their top group of five forwards have complementary skill sets or, at least, their performances have been complementary.
Comparing players in all situations, the Jets have three of the top 30 shooters in the entire NHL this season.
The Jets’ top shooter this season has been Kyle Connor, hitting the net eighth-most in the entire NHL. But, it’s not just his overall volume that’s impressive. Connor is one of the NHL’s premier net-front players, registering 61 shots on goal from the inner-slot so far this season. Only Brady Tkachuk has managed to better Connor in that area. Connor is no slouch from the high-slot area, either; he’s put the 13th-most pucks on net from that area in the league. Overall, the only player in the league who has ripped more scoring chances on net than Connor is Alex Ovechkin, so if this level of performance continues, you can say it’s a safe bet that Connor sets a new career high in goals.
Next on the list for the Jets is Patrik Laine, who is scoring fewer goals than might be expected but has added some high-quality playmaking to his game that will see him set a career high in assists. He’s still shooting a ton though — only 12 players in the league have hit the net more than he has.
Among the top 30 shooters in the league, Laine shoots the least-often from the inner-slot. He relies more on the strength of his shot than his positioning and only a handful of the top shooters take fewer shots from the slot overall. Laine could probably really help himself by being more aggressive with his shooting position, but he’s maintained a near-point per game pace despite mostly playing on the perimeter.
The surprise name on the list is the Jets’ most underrated player; Nikolaj Ehlers has put the 23rd-most shots on net this year among forwards, putting up the same number of scoring chances as Laine with the same balance between the high-slot and inner-slot, but with fewer perimeter shots.
Ehlers has converted more successfully on his shots; he has three more goals than Laine so far and I think a big reason for that might be that when he’s on the perimeter he prefers to pass the puck instead of shoot, which backs off defenders a little bit and allows him to get better lanes. He doesn’t have the shot that Laine does — almost no one does — but he’s been excellent.
Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler haven’t been shy about shooting this year, either; they’re 58th and 62nd in the league in shots on goal among forwards, but their primary contributions have been playmaking.
In offensive-zone playmaking, the Jets have only two players in the top 30. I say “only,” but that’s still above average by double — most teams are lucky to have one. Scheifele and Wheeler are almost exactly tied in total passes made in the offensive zone this season; with the 18th- and 19th-most passes completed in the league among forwards.
Cutting things down to the most important types of passes, Wheeler and Scheifele rank 17th and 18th, respectively, so not quite as highly as Connor ranks in shooting, but still in excellent company.
Wheeler doesn’t attack much off the rush, but Scheifele has completed the eighth-most passes off the rush in the league this season with 44, which has really taken advantage of his two high-scoring young linemates.
Where Scheifele likes to attack off the rush, Wheeler likes to make long, lateral passes across the ice to get goalies moving. Both strategies are quite effective for creating goals.
Just like Scheifele and Wheeler were highly ranked but outside the top 30 in shots, the three top shooters on the Jets are doing very well in the passing game as well. Connor ranks 66th among forwards in completed offensive-zone passes, Ehlers ranks 72nd and Laine ranks 73rd. Keeping in mind that each team has a first line, meaning there are 93 top-line forwards in the NHL, that means the Jets have five first-line quality shooters, and five first-line quality playmakers all going this season.
That goes a long way towards floating a team with some flaws into the playoff picture.
Andrew Berkshire is a hockey writer specializing in data-driven analysis of the game.