NHL history shows that if you are not in a playoff spot when U.S. Thanksgiving rolls around, your chances of getting in are slim. The other side of that coin is, if you are in a playoff spot today, your chances of getting to the post-season are quite good (thanks captain obvious).
In the Central Division, the Winnipeg Jets sit in a tie for third with Chicago, each with 27 points. In the Western Conference they sit in a tie for seventh with the Blackhawks. The Jets are coming off back-to-back road wins over Columbus and Buffalo to up their road record to 8-4-2, and lift their record versus Eastern Conference teams to 8-3-2. They wrap up the road trip in Boston Friday.
Individually, many have contributed to the success the team has had, including Michael Frolik. The 26-year-old out of Kladno, Czech Republic has moved around the lineup, and as coach Paul Maurice has said, “whichever line he is on, plays well.” If the Jets have some players that are struggling and need a jump start, Maurice has put Frolik on their line for a spell.
“I feel like everyone is fighting to play with him,” Mark Scheifele said. “He makes all the best plays. He rarely makes a mistake. He just does everything right and that’s everything you want from a linemate.”
For Frolik, it’s a matter of playing his game.
“My game doesn’t change much no matter who I play with,” he said. “I try and play the same way.”
Maurice was recently asked about what makes Frolik the player he is.
“He’s an honest, quick player,” Maurice said. “Quickness to get to the right spots, his consistency shift-to- shift, great personality, always has a smile. There is not a lot of negative after a bad shift. He’s a swing guy, good defensively but has an offensive side. His goal that got us on the board in Minnesota was key to our comeback.”
When he played in Kladno, Frolik was called “The Baby Jagr”, because people felt he looked and played a lot like his famous Czech countryman. Drafted no. 10 overall by Florida in 2006, Frolik made the move to Canada, joining Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior League. He showed his offensive skills with 31 goals and 73 points in 52 games in his rookie year, and after two more productive years in Rimouski, he made the jump to the NHL, starting his career with back-to-back 21 goal seasons.
“Stephen Weiss was my centreman and we had good chemistry,” Frolik said. “The most success we had was when Nathan Horton was on our line.”
When he was traded to Chicago, coach Joel Quenneville asked him to play a different role.
“I was always an offensive guy when I was younger, in Chicago it turned,” Frolik said of the defensive role he was asked to adapt to. “But I still think of myself as an offensive guy. I want to put numbers on the board and help the team that way. But a good defensive game is important and I’ve gotten better at that.”
His numbers with the Blackhawks dropped, but the tradeoff was a Stanley Cup. During the lockout-shortened season his regular season numbers were 3-7-10 in 45 games, his playoff numbers 3-7-10 in 23 games.
So what part of the game comes easier?
“It’s hard to put numbers up on the board and sometimes it can be frustrating. But you make sure the defensive side of the game doesn’t change. Don’t let cheating get into your game. Play defense and the offense will come.”
In his first season with the Jets, he posted 15 goals and scored twice in his first game with the team. So far this year, he sits fourth in team scoring at 5-5-10, and has four goals in his last eight games, including a shorthanded goal that stood as the winner Wednesday night in Buffalo.
Frolik was part of the Czech Republic team in four World Junior Championships, winning bronze in 2005. In 2007 and 2008 he scored nine goals in 12 games. He also won back to back World Championship bronze medals for his home country, competed at the 2014 Olympics, and has scored two NHL playoff penalty shot goals.
Paul Maurice put Blake Wheeler back on the line with Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd five games ago, and one can’t help but notice how the three have matured into complete players.
“In the past, their focus has been ‘we have to go out and score goals’, now I like to get them out against the other team’s best lines in the checking role,” Maurice said.
But not only have they been good in the checking role, the three share the team lead in goals at eight, with Ladd and Wheeler sharing the team scoring lead with 16 points each. Little has 15 and has scored the game’s opening goal in each of the last three games. The centreman leads all Jets forwards in average ice time at 20:09 per game, and is first on the team in faceoffs taken, surpassing the 500 mark. In the last game of the home-stand vs St. Louis, Little took 20 of the team’s 66 draws, winning 60 percent. In game one of the road trip in Columbus he took 30 of 67 draws winning 60 percent. And in Buffalo took 20-of-41 draws, winning 55 percent of them.
Welcome to the Central
To succeed in the Central you need good goaltending. The Jets tandem of Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson has been solid. In terms of team goals against average, the Central Division has the NHL’s top four teams , with St. Louis first at 1.97, Nashville and Chicago next at 2.06, with the Jets being joined by the Pacific Division’s Kings at 2.13.
With Toby Enstrom out the past two games because of injury, Jacob Trouba has led the team in ice time. Trouba led the Jets in ice time 21 times last year. So far this season, Enstrom has topped that category, leading the Jets in ice time 17 times.