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Who should sit out now that the new guy is here?

The dust has settled on the Tanner Jeannot trade. We’ve all joined sides on the great Julien BriseBois Discussion Qar. Everyone is either Team Julien BriseBois is Insane and Destroying the Franchise or Team Julien BriseBois is Playing on God Mode and All His Critics Are Wrong. Okay, maybe it’s not that drastic, but we’ve all formed an opinion and discussed it. The trade is done and over with, there’s no going back. Luckily we can now spend the next two months lambasting Coach Jon Cooper on how he deploys Jeannot.

If you look at the forwards on the Tampa Bay Lightning there are several spots that are locked in. Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli, and Nick Paul aren’t leaving the line-up unless they are injured. Ross Colton and Corey Perry are probably safe as well. That leaves three players that Jeannot could possibly replace over the next 22 games – Vladislav Namestnikov, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and Pat Maroon.

In his debut, Jeannot took up residence on the third line with Namestnikov as a healthy scratch. He played 11:49 at 5v5, didn’t record a shot, generated one individual scoring chance, and threw 3 hits. There was a hit in the third period that kind of gave an indication of what the Lightning were looking for when they traded for him. The play was behind the Florida net and Jeannot went in and separated the Panther from the puck with a solid, legal hit. It didn’t lead to a goal, but it showed signs of the value he brings on the forecheck.

As a whole the new third line of Jeannot, Nick Paul, and Ross Colton was fine. Natural Stat Trick had them together for a team-high 8:01 of 5v5 ice time. They won the shot attempt battle when they were on the ice (6-5), but only one of those shots made it on goal. They were even on scoring chances (2-2) and gave up a high-danger chance while not generating any of their own.

It was a fine game, but as Paul said after the game their role is to be a “momentum changer” and to use the forecheck to set up the next line. They needed more of that pressure and their “execution has been a little bit of a problem the last couple of games”. Guess what? That’s exactly what Jeannot should be able to help out with!

Much like Paul, Jeannot is a better skater than it seems at first blush. Once he settles into the Lightning’s system, which can take a little while as we’ve seen with Paul, Hagel, Barlcay Goodrow, and Blake Coleman in the past, he should be able to get in on the forecheck faster then opponents anticipate.

With less than a day to acclimate to his new player, Coach Cooper was likely guessing as to where he would slot into the line-up and with the desire to make that third line a hard-checking, tough to play against line it made sense to try him there. With Paul and Colton pretty much locked into their roles, Namestnikov ended up being the odd man out. Should he continue to wear a suit instead of sweater during games moving forward?

Player comparison at 5v5 since January 1st

Player Average Ice Time Goals Primary Assists iXGF/60 iBLK/60 iHF/60 SH% FO%
Tanner Jeannot 11:21 1 2 0.87 2.51 19.54 3.33% 50%
Vladislav Namestnikov 9:47 4 1 0.63 2.66 9.06 19.05% 53.33%
Pat Maroon 10:56 1 3 0.43 0.66 11.15 4.55% 0.00%
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare 8:37 3 1 0.7 3.05 3.33 13.04% 60.26%

Starting on January 1st gives us a decent sample size of game action while still being relevant. Jeannot’s stats do not include the game last night, but the numbers for the trio of Lightning players do. His performance last night doesn’t really change what we see in the data.

Jeannot has been getting his chances, but that 3.33% shooting percentage has dampened his offensive output a bit. That should creep back up to the mean. Much like the 20% he had during his rookie year wasn’t sustainable, the under 4% shooting isn’t likely to hold for the rest of the season either. It will be interesting to see where he’s at the end of the season after getting some reps with his new teammates.

Looking at that chart, the one thing that pops out  is that Bellemare has been fine at doing what he’s been asked to do by the coaching staff. He’s winning face-offs and providing a little depth offense. That’s kind of what you’re looking for from a fourth-line center, right? While it would be nice to be so deep on the roster that your fourth best center is racking up 20 goals, that’s not reality. If he can go out there and win some face-offs and grind out 8-9 minutes while occasionally flipping the ice to set up the top lines, that’s a solid, honest night of work.

Coach Cooper stuck by him earlier in the season when he was struggling on the ice (and dealing with off-ice hearbreak) and is likely to stand by him now as well. It should also be noted that Bellemare is the top penalty killing forward in terms of ice time. His 127:37 of shorthanded ice time leads the next forward (Alex Killorn) by more than 17 minutes. The penalty kill has been working for most of the season and Coach Cooper isn’t going to toss that aside.

The second, and more glaring numbers belong to Pat Maroon. Look, we all love the Big Rig. He’s fun, he’s big, and plays a tough game of hockey. From all accounts he’s a big influence in the clubhouse and his experience has gone a long way into leading this team to three straight Stanley Cup appearances. However, going by the numbers, it seems that Jeannot not only plays a similar role, but does it better.

It seems counterintuitive that the Lightning would be a tougher team with Maroon in the press box instead of chirping on the ice, but here we are. Namestnikov has been playing a more physical style of game then he gets credit for and his Mathieu Joseph-esque inability to finish off chances has hurt his offensive production, but he’s outperformed Maroon in pretty much every aspect listed. Even the one stat Maroon has the edge, hits per 60 minutes of play, is probably closer than most people would think. Namestnikov also brings more offense to the ice than Maroon right now, something that this team needs.

The Lightning wouldn’t lose any of the protection that Maroon provides either. If a team decides to start taking liberties with Kucherov or Point, Jeannot can play the punchy-boy game with the best of them. At 6’2”, 208 pounds, “The Oxbow Ox” can take on any wannabe pugilists in any weight class.

Will we see a bottom six of Jeannot, Paul, Colton and Namestnikov, Bellemare, Perry in the near future? Possibly. Normally, the team would have the chance to explore some different combinations during a practice, but with the glut of games the Bolts have over the next month, it’ll be tough to work in a full practice even on their off days.

Coach Cooper has proved over his tenure that he is fiercely loyal to players he trusts, we need only flashback to the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals and remember him sending Cedric Paquette over the boards time and time again in Games Six and Seven when the Bolts desperately needed to score. That’s not a bad trait to have in a coach, after all it inspires confidence in players when they know the coach trusts them, but it does also sometimes blind the coach to a need for change.

Chances are they will rotate a couple of players in and out of the line-up over the next couple of weeks until they figure it out. That also could be a good thing. Not only does it give some older players a chance to rest, but a sense of competition for playing time is never a bad thing.

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