The signing of defenceman Dylan Samberg this week is a significant move for the Winnipeg Jets and the best hockey news in our market in nearly a month.
After selecting the 21-year-old in the second round (43rd overall) of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, the team secured his services for at least the next six years and immediately improved their organizational depth on the blueline.
He will undoubtedly compete for a job and be given every opportunity to make the team based on his size (6-foot-4, 215-pounds) and elite positional play, which includes a solid, active stick and physicality. But there also needs to be a level of caution surrounding the product of Hermantown, Minn., regarding his readiness and his ability to saunter right into the lineup next fall and assume top-four minutes.
Samberg will undoubtedly be a good player for the Jets at some point and that may be sooner-than-later, but the speed of the NHL game will be a major adjustment for a player who needs foot speed improvement, along with better decision making with the puck, especially relating to his first pass out of the defensive zone. And for a stay-at-home rearguard, those are two important and crucial areas to master.
As such, Samberg likely will find himself with the AHL's Manitoba Moose at least to start next season, where a quick transition to the NHL could follow. Until then, one wonders where he’d actually fit currently on the blueline behind veteran Josh Morrissey and other left-handed shot prospects like Ville Heinola and Logan Stanley and left-handed Sami Niku, who almost prefers to play his on opposite side. Again, based on his size and style of game he could supersede one of the aforementioned prospects for a roster spot since the team is devoid of his type of game and possesses an abundance of smaller, offensive-minded blueliners.
One other hindrance to a potential quick ascension to the NHL could be based on the potential for some salary cap relief that will be available to the Jets this off-season. As such, there’s a solid possibility that they’ll most certainly be in play for a veteran free agent on the left side of the ice, too. That potential could knock Samberg down the depth chart to start.
However, there is nothing diminishing his potential and the experience Samberg possesses from two NCAA championships as a member of the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs and a pair of U20 (World Junior Championship) medals (silver and bronze). Both will serve him well in making the jump to the highest level of competition, perhaps as soon as October.
LAINE'S 200-FOOT GAME
At the risk of the analytics community firing road apples at my front door, if you’re looking for one metric to understand the improvement in Patrik Laine’s defensive game this season it has to be the maligned plus-minus statistic.
I acknowledge that the measurement can be misleading, but over a larger sample size it does give you a tangible reading of a player’s ability to defend the opposition while helping his team score on them.
At the conclusion of last season, the soon-to-be 22-year-old Finn was a team-worst minus-24, while this year he’s fourth on the Jets at plus-8 and the second-best forward behind teammate and friend Nikolaj Ehlers. That 32-tick improvement speaks volumes about his improving trend as a 200-foot player.
Sure, there are some analytics that still need to be amended, but the eye test will also tell you he’s harder on pucks, better at forechecking, backchecking, protecting the puck and general defending.
This season, Laine was on pace for career-bests during 5v5 play in rebounds created (19) and hits (93), along with other prorated statistics that were likely to rise had the season not been paused. This is not to mention that he was also on pace for his fourth straight 30-goal campaign.
Of course, it wouldn’t be sage to confuse praise in this space for anything else but acknowledging the improvement in Laine’s game overall, as he still has vocational elements to work on including giveaways, high danger scoring chances against and puck possession.
But there is enhancement and that growth comes from two sources specifically: the Jets coaching staff understanding his usage, providing more trust in his game while at the same time diligently driving home a consistent message on how his game can develop without mentally damaging the player; and, Laine himself for understanding where he needs to improve and taking the necessary steps in applying that on the ice in order to become an all-around, elite NHL player – one that he assuredly strives to be.
Prior to the league going into COVID-19 abeyance, the Jets had lost four straight games that went overtime after winning four straight to start the season when their games were decided in the five-minute extra frame. There is certainly no science behind either trend, as most teams spend little time in practice focusing on the execution of 3-on-3 overtime play. But the best-on-best format is entertaining – win or lose – for the fans….One of the new wrinkles hybrid icing has featured in the NHL of late is a scheme teams are using to dump and chase into the offensive zone from the defensive side of the ice. More and more this season we witnessed certain teams using the opportunity to shoot the puck in from their side of the red line in hopes of having a teammate beat the defensive player to the puck before a whistle for icing. The idea – which works surprisingly more than it doesn’t – is to gain possession in the attacking zone and, thus, create a scoring chance off that. I’m not sure this stylish pattern was part of the original design for hybrid icing, but it is certainly one becoming more popular in the league whereby teams transition quickly without being contested in the neutral zone….Laine indicated recently that he has stopped using a new stick for his team’s power play opportunities. He used to change sticks every time from 5v5 play to when the team went on the man advantage….I truly wonder what the future holds for Bryan Little. Of course, everyone is cheering for him to return, but you wonder if there might be something within him that says he’s had enough based on the severity of injuries he’s incurred the last handful of years, which includes a fractured vertebrae in his neck and his current eardrum issue. I’ll watch with great interest in the coming months and quietly cheer for his return….Where does Kristian Vesalainen fit into the Jets plans next season or is another year at the AHL level a necessary step to continue his development? At this point, I’m very uncertain an NHL spot is held in trust for next season especially with the emergence this season of Mason Appleton and Jansen Harkins as full-time NHL players....One of the most frequently asked questions during this unprecedented time in our society has been what we’ve been doing as a family to stay occupied, busy and stimulated? Aside from emailed homework for the kids, we have been active in a variety of things such as: snowmobiling, ice fishing, building puzzles, treadmill time, movies, reading, PVR cleanup, general house cleaning, baking and some video games. Oh, and I filed my taxes this week, too.
Stay safe and healthy everybody!