The 2019-20 NHL season is currently on hold and it’s anyone’s guess when and if it will resume.
So, let’s take a moment to look back at how things have played out in a season that looked very precarious for the Winnipeg Jets from the outset.
From the trading of Jacob Trouba, to the loss of Ben Chiarot and Tyler Myers in free agency, to the Dustin Byfuglien decision to ponder his future in hockey, the Jets started the season on their back foot defensively. Despite those moves, the team never let up throughout the campaign.
At the moment the season was put on pause, the Jets had control of the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference despite all prognostications and expectations. So, lets have a look at the players who stepped up the most compared to last season to get them where they were.
The most obvious one if also the Jets undisputed MVP this season — Connor Hellebuyck.
Looking at Hellebuyck’s save percentage split by where the shots are coming from, it may not look like it’s a huge deal on the surface, but it’s very rare for a goaltender to improve their save percentage year over year in every single area, in every situation.
At even strength, Hellebuyck has gone from below average in the inner slot to above average, while in the high slot he’s gone from significantly above average to absolutely brilliant. Stopping more than 92 per cent of the shots he faces from the high slot when the expected save percentage from there is around 89 per cent is huge.
Even on perimeter shots, Hellebuyck has been able to increase his margins mildly when there isn’t much area to move to get better. Stopping more than 98 per cent of shots from the perimeter at even strength means the Jets never really have to worry about a soft, back-breaking goal being given up while Hellebuyck is manning the crease.
Shifting to all situations, it’s clear Hellebuyck’s dominance extends beyond just five-per-side hockey, where he has managed improvements in save percentage from all locations as well.
It’s not a surprise Hellebuyck is one of the Jets’ most improved players year over year, but the way he has accomplished that improvement should give everyone confidence about his play going forward as well. Hellebuyck hasn’t just seen incredible performance in one area while everything else has remained business as usual; he has seen his whole body of work drastically improve.
Patrik Laine is another Jet who has upped his game this season.
Laine had a tough go last season. He struggled to score on a consistent basis, scoring most of his goals in two short stretches and then going on long goalless streaks.
This season Laine was elevated to the top line, like he asked to be while negotiating a new contract over the summer, and the result has been a slight uptick in his goal scoring, but much more consistent production, and the best playmaking of his career.
Last season, the average Jets forward was involved in creating 6.46 scoring chances per 20 minutes of ice time at 5-vs-5. While Laine has an undeniably dangerous shot, his involvement in creating those higher-quality shots was relatively low at just 5.32 offence generating plays every 20 minutes.
Considering Laine’s game, where he likes to get lost in play only to pounce on a pass and score, often from the edge of the slot or the perimeter, that isn’t too surprising. But it did show that he was more of a complementary scorer than a play driver of any kind.
This season the Jets’ forward group is producing a little bit less, averaging 6.36 offence-generating plays per 20 minutes at 5-vs-5, but Laine has stepped things up big time, producing at a 7.26 clip.
Part of the improvement has been shooting the puck from better positions. Laine has been taking more shots on net from the inner slot and the slot overall compared to last season, but the bigger addition to his game has been to go from a third-line playmaker last season to high-tier second-liner, hitting way more slot passes.
Carrying the puck has also been a big deal for Laine, as he’s gaining the zone with the puck on his stick more than ever before. As a result, he’s completing more passes off the rush to dangerous shooters such as Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor, and shooting more off the rush himself as well.
These added levels of offensive contributions haven’t come at the expense of any other part of his game, and while he hasn’t blown me away defensively or anything, Laine has improved slightly without the puck this season as well, despite his line struggling to control shots overall.
It may not have shown up yet this season in a dramatic way, but this added playmaking ability Laine is showing will eventually become an asset to his goal scoring as well, because now opponents can’t just play the shot when he gets the puck. Players will always be more likely to play the shot with Laine because of how great his shot is, but adding the threat of him finding a player such as Scheifele or Connor in the slot with a pass that didn’t exist in his game a year ago will cause hesitation.
Hesitation is all a player such as Laine needs to make a team pay.
— Andrew Berkshire is a hockey writer specializing in data-driven analysis of the game.
Andrew Berkshire is a hockey writer specializing in data-driven analysis of the game.
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