Can the Winnipeg Jets Survive Without Jacob Trouba?
While the Metropolitan Division gets all the credit as the NHL's toughest, the Central Division has quietly been a meat grinder, too. Six of the seven Central teams have between 26 and 30 wins; the only outlier is the Chicago Blackhawks, who have 23.
The Winnipeg Jets are sitting on top of the heap with a 30-13-8 record, but they’ll be facing another challenge in a season that has been plagued with injury. Defenseman Jacob Trouba will be out six-to-eight weeks with an ankle injury.
While Trouba may not be a household name, his impact on the Jets can’t be understated. He leads the team in even-strength points per 60 minutes by a defenseman with 0.98, and the same can be said for primary points per 60 minutes (0.77). The Michigan native is also second among Jets defensemen in shots (his 14.05 per 60 minutes are just behind Tucker Poolman’s 14.11) and expected goals (0.1 points behind Dustin Byfuglien) per 60 minutes. He records 2.33 points per 60 on the power play as well, although that contribution trails behind Byfuglien (5.28) and Tyler Myers (8.41).
Trouba also plays a valuable role in controlling the game for Winnipeg. Among Jets defensemen, he starts the lowest percentage -- just under 48% -- of his shifts in the offensive zone. He’s also playing those shifts against the opposition’s leaders in time on ice and corsi for percentage, according to Corsica. That, combined with a not insignificant 125 total minutes of time on the penalty kill, paint the picture of a young defenseman with a sizable workload.
Trouba manages to control that challenging ice time, too. His even-strength corsi for percentage might be fourth on the team, but it’s hard to argue with a 51.02% shot share. The same can be said for his goals for and expected goals for percentages -- when a defenseman is taking on hard minutes and his team is scoring 53.66% of the goals during his ice time and are expected to score roughly the same amount, he’s getting the job done.
A telling stat for his value is expected goals for plus/minus. While he has the largest expected goals against among the Jets' defensive corps (30.58), he also has the highest expected goals for with 35.36. That gives him an expected goals plus/minus of 4.78, third highest on the entire team. Clearly, Trouba is a player who can take on the toughest opposition and drive the play in the other direction.
The good news is that, on paper, the Jets have the defensive depth to cope with Trouba’s injury. In their first game out of the All-Star break, head coach Paul Maurice rolled the pairs of Toby Enstrom-Byfuglien, Poolman and Ben Chiarot, and Myers and Josh Morrissey. The Enstrom-Bfuglien pair might be a bit slow, but Dmitry Kulikov should be back sooner rather than later to re-balance the pairs. Even if those duos are less than ideal, they should be competent enough for Winnipeg to tread water if they can play a couple of months of low event hockey that protects their weaknesses.
When push comes to shove, a good deal of the Jets' fortunes will come down to Maurice’s coaching ability over the next few weeks. If he can reorganize his defensemen into three cohesive pairs and downshift his team into a slower, more stable style, they should be able to weather Trouba’s injury. If they can’t adapt, though, the Central Division margins might just be too thin.