We continue our look at 3C options for next season, and arrive now at one of our more interesting cases. We’ve talked already about Scott Laughton and Jori Lehtera, and in a way they felt like easy options—we’ve seen them play center for the Flyers (or elsewhere in the NHL) for extended periods of time, so we get it. Like it or not, choosing them for a promotion makes sense.
So, with them done, who’s next? The Flyers have made that easy for us. Asked time and again who they’ve been looking at to become the new 3C, Ron Hextall’s been pretty direct in listing their options. That list of names isn’t surprising, save perhaps one—Jordan Weal.
Unlike Laughton and Lehtera, Weal hasn’t seen an extended run of games at center in the NHL, in fact it’s been just the one. And it was a little rough. The first shift saw him drift out of position and blow a coverage in the defensive zone, immediately leading to a goal against. Now, this shouldn’t be too harsh of an indictment—the driftage that happened was one that looked natural to a player that had spent the whole season to date playing wing, going to where he was used to, and it just happened to lead to the absolute worst possible outcome. It was a less than stellar start, but we won’t begrudge him that too much.
But that’s about all we have to go on. And Hextall’s named him on not one, not two, but three separate occasions as someone who they’re considering for a move to center. And that sure is something. And we’ve got some thoughts about that. Let’s break them down.
2017-18 Regular Season Stats
Since we’ve turning to the numbers at about this point in our past two articles, we’re just going to keep with the pattern. Is it important to reiterate that these numbers were acquired while Weal was playing wing? Sure. But we’re going to have a look anyway.
So what have we got here? We have a scoring pace that just about equals what he was able to put up in a third of the games the previous season. But it’s not all bad news—his Corsi and Expected Goals numbers have him just about breaking even, don’t exactly present him as being underwater, despite what the lag in results on the score sheet might suggest. In short, he was just fine.
And, like I broke down in his season review, something about these numbers seems unsustainably low. He shot at 3.8 percent at 5-on-5 (and 7.7 percent in all situations) last season, and that’s bound to come up even just a little bit in the future, so we’ll also see a reflective uptick in scoring. And maybe that will help us feel a little bit better about him in general, and as a candidate for promotion.
I still have some concerns though.
Like, you said it in the intro. He’s only played one game at center. And now we’re just supposed to be cool with him moving to a brand new position and expected to succeed?
Well, it’s not exactly new. Not really. It’s true, he’s only played the one game at center with the Flyers, but he was drafted as a center. He played center in juniors, and in the AHL. He’s a natural center who was moved to wing when he moved up to the NHL. It’s a different, higher level, absolutely, but it’s not like they’d be forcing him into a brand new position that he’s never played before in his life.
He’s small too.
That’s my concern.
Okay, now you’re just nitpicking.
It’s legitimate! Center is a more physically demanding position and he is not a large dude! Even by winger standards!
Sure. I’ll give you that one, actually. But he’s also, to use Hextall’s favorite term, thick.
That felt weird to say. I didn’t like it.
But you get what I’m saying. He’s still strong? Enough? Probably? I hear you, but I’ll assume strength or durability is an issue when I see it being an issue. What else you got?
I mean, there’s also the fact that he couldn’t even crack the lineup at the end of the season. It took near-elimination desperation from him to even get in for a game.
Now that’s a really legitimate concern. Part of that came from poor results stemming from some pressing, and a lot of bad luck. But Hakstol’s trust certainly seems to have begun to waver, to say the least.
But, at the same time, you’ve got to think that if Hextall comes down and is like “Dave, my dude, this kid’s a center. Make it work” that Hakstol has to play him in the new role…right?
Okay, maybe we don’t all have that much trust. That’s fine. But either way, let’s wrap this up.
It’s hard to say how he’ll fit stylistically, I think? We’ve been leaning heavy on what we know about how the centers have been playing with their wingers to judge how they might play with their prospective third line wingers. But we don’t quite have that same benefit here, you know, because of that small sample at center in the NHL. But we can make a couple guesses.
Our first instinct might say that Weal could be a weird fit with Simmonds and Lindblom—as a faster guy, there might be the potential for some clash with guys who we’ve already established aren’t going to be flashing a ton of speed next season. However, the flip side is that in his first season in the NHL, Weal was paired almost exclusively on a line with Simmonds, and it’s a pairing that worked, and that Hakstol seemed to like. It even showed some potential in the early part of last season, and might have shown more results, if Simmonds hadn’t been so banged up. But there was chemistry there. And while that’s hard to quantify, it’s certainly not nothing.
So what does it come down to, here? Weal remains something of an open question, but it seems like he’s earned Hextall’s faith, and he’s going to get a longer look at center in preseason. And maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t, but it’s something brand new for us to keep an eye on. And that’s pretty exciting.