12 games into the 2021 season, the Jets’ top defence prospect, Ville Heinola, despite playing very well and doing things that no other Jets defenceman can, has played just one game this season. Their number two defence prospect, Dylan Samberg, despite being a force in training camp, has not even gotten a sniff of game action.
This is on a team currently icing one of the weakest groups of defencemen in the NHL, especially in transition.
Heinola and Samberg are guys that are perfect fits in holes the Jets are missing at 5 on 5. The Jets also have a gaping hole at the point on their top power play. Heinola has showed he is very good on the power play in his time in Liiga and at the World Juniors.
With the exception of Dylan DeMelo, who is starting to settle in after missing the first four games of the season, Neal Pionk, who is looking pretty good in his own end, and maybe Derek Forbort, who has been the other half of a solid pairing with Pionk. there isn’t a guy the Jets would really miss if they came out of the lineup. Given that, there is absolutely no reason for Heinola and Samberg to sit right now.
What would change on the ice if Heinola or Samberg were in the lineup
Either player would be a huge help defensively. The Jets frequently get hemmed in their zone. Opponents get set up, start the cycle, and absolutely feast on the Jets. When they do successfully stop the attack, they have trouble making clean breakout passes, and when that outlet isn’t there, the guys they have don’t have the wherewithal to carry the puck out of the zone.
Stopping the cycle is something Samberg does very well, and he is pretty good in transition too. Heinola may soon be among the best in the NHL at cleanly exiting the zone, and can often stop the attack before it gets started by being in the right spot.
The Jets would likely immediately see a huge improvement in transition, and defensively by getting these two in the lineup. To boot, Heinola would likely be a boost to creating offence from the back end, as the Jets don’t really have anyone to consistently get involved in the offensive zone.
Heinola seemed to settle in immediately when he stepped into the lineup earlier this season, and with the way he seemed to help Josh Morrissey it really didn’t make much sense to take him out of the lineup. Samberg may not see the same results immediately, but the talent is there, and getting him in now would eventually pay dividends, and it’s possible that it would pay dividends right away.
Nathan Beaulieu has now played enough games for the Jets to meet expansion draft requirements
Nathan Beaulieu still playing this season made absolutely no sense, except for one explanation: him getting to the amount of games played such that the Jets would expose enough players in the upcoming expansion draft who have played enough NHL games over the last two seasons. It seems, though, that despite this, and the fact that he has had really poor results this season, that Paul Maurice thinks he gives the team a better chance to win than either of Heinola or Samberg.
Beaulieu struggles in every important area of the game at the NHL level. He doesn’t generate offence, he doesn’t have a good transition game, and he has struggled to defend this year. He’s also struggled on the penalty kill. He’s also past his prime being 28 years old, so there’s really no room left for improvement, as opposed to the two rookies. If the coach decides he absolutely has to stay in the lineup, it needs to be in very sheltered minutes.
Take the RAPM chart here from Evolving Hockey with somewhat of a grain of salt. Since it’s early in the season, and this season every team doesn’t play every team, the model can only account for quality of players with respect to the division they’re playing in. The sample is small enough that there are relatively significant error bars. With that said, within the North Division, the results, to be kind, have not been good for Beaulieu. The eye test would also confirm this.
To add to this, Beaulieu has been moved up to the top defence pairing. To try and figure out what this coach is thinking is something that makes one scratch their head, because Beaulieu has done the opposite of show that he should be moved up the lineup, and Heinola already showed well in the lineup this year. There are zero reasons to keep Beaulieu in the lineup now.
There are ways to get Samberg in the lineup if Heinola is already in for Beaulieu
There’s no doubt Logan Stanley has exceeded the expectations of most people coming into the season. With that said, the results have been fine, and better than a couple of guys the Jets have been dressing. One thing the team should be able to do though, is rotate Stanley and Samberg. The Jets can see what results they get with Samberg, and make decisions from there.
Another thing the Jets can do is let Josh Morrissey sit a game or two. He has not been playing well. He hasn’t had particularly good results with any partner this year except for one game samples with each of Heinola and Poolman, and we’ve already seen from their time as a pairing last year that Morrissey and Poolman are not a fit together.
Another option would be to run with 7 defencemen.
In the worst scenario, Samberg doesn’t pan out for this year, and it’s no big deal that he got those games. The big deal is not finding out what you have when the guy is already 22.
It is good for everybody if Heinola and Samberg both play
There isn’t a good reason for neither of Heinola or Samberg to be playing. We’ve already seen Heinola play well in the NHL. We’ve seen the Jets’ defence corps struggle mightily in areas where these two players are strong. It would help the team, and help the careers of these two great prospects for the Jets to play now.
There’s no reason for Nathan Beaulieu to play now. Tucker Poolman can stick around as a press box guy who can step in and kill penalties, but he hasn’t shown anything to suggest he should be a mainstay in the lineup. Josh Morrissey looks like he doesn’t belong playing hard minutes right now. Logan Stanley, despite looking decent, hasn’t showed anything to suggest he’s a better option than Heinola, and given what he did in college, it’s somewhat likely we would see Samberg outperform Stanley as well.
The bottom line is the Jets need serious help on the blueline. They specifically need help defending, and in transition, and they have players who so obviously fill this hole. It’s been very troubling to see the approach Paul Maurice has taken when it comes to playing the right guys on defence.