Winnipeg Jets Roster Analysis: Is Bryan Little a Second Line Center?

Posted by Richard Pollock in Roster Analysis,Winnipeg Jets on September 29, 2012 — 1 Comment

With the National Hockey League (NHL) and National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) bickering over countless issues thereby delaying the start of the 2012-13 season, let’s take an opportunity to take a closer look at the Winnipeg Jets roster, specifically center Bryan Little.

Little was the 2006 first round draft pick of the Atlanta Thrashers.  The 5”11, 185 pound right-handed shooting center was drafted out of the Ontario Hockey League where he suited up for the Barrie Colts.

Since beginning his NHL career in 2007-08, the Edmonton native has posted 16, 51, 34, 48 and 46 points through his first five NHL seasons.

Little is not given the same media attention as the likes of Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler or Evander Kane.  The former two being his linemates for the majority of last season and the latter being the lightning rod of talk radio in the City of Winnipeg.

Is he not given that attention because of his seemingly quiet demeanor or is that instead a product of his middle-of-the-road offensive statistics?

Last season Little played first line center for the Jets, which had as much to do with the team’s lack of talent up the middle as anything else (see: drafting Mark Scheifele in 2011 NHL Entry Draft in order to improve the organization’s depth up the middle).   Few will argue that Little is a first line center with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Brad Richards or Henrik Sedin.

There is a reason the Jets went out this summer and signed a bigger, more proven NHL veteran center in Olli Jokinen.  Jokinen may or may not lineup on the team’s proverbial “first line” but based on past track record, including his performance last season, opposing teams will be treating the former Calgary Flame as the Jets’ number one center.

That then begs the question:  Is Bryan Little a second line NHL center?

To answer that question, let’s look at the top two centers on every team in the NHL:

Certain players on the above list are head and shoulders above a player of Bryan Little’s talent level.  As a result, players are highlighted that are in the same realm as Little.

There are 20 highlighted players.  With 59 available top two line center spots (Little’s own spot has not been included) that means that 39 centers are superior to Bryan Little without much room for significant debate.

Clearly the top 30 NHL centers would constitute first line centers (of course, two first line centers can be on the same team).  So, we have are already almost one 1/3 of the way through the top-end second line centers.

Here is the list of the 20 highlighted players and some significant statistics that help in judging their respective values:

There are some teams that have a huge hole at center like the Calgary Flames.  Consequently, the numbers for a player like Mikael Backlund (he was injured for significant portion of last season) and Roman Cervanka (played overseas) may not represent true top two center value.  In any event, this analysis is not entirely scientific and leaves room for interpretation.

The average total point output for the last two seasons for these second line centers is 35 points.  Sounds low, but people often compare statistical output to that of what it used to be in the 80s or 90s.  Remember that few players, if any, even eclipse 100 points anymore, so the middle of the road second line center are not exactly setting the world on fire.

Of more importance is how Bryan Little’s output compares to his peers.

Little’s offensive numbers compare favourably, but there is a red herring.  Little logged more even strength ice-time per game than every other comparable listed.

Let’s take this opportunity to analyze his efficiency in terms of points, quality of competition and quality of linemates (courtesy behindthenet.ca):

Bryan Little was below average in regards to his even strength points-per-60 minutes of ice-time but above average when it came to the power play.  Maybe of more importance, he was playing tough competition on the other side, tougher than the average among his comparable peers, and was also playing with a lesser quality of teammate than his comparable peers.

We ought to mention that quality of competition and teammates were not included for power play time and Little, unlike many of the above listed counterparts, played with the top unit on the Jets’ power play for the majority of the season.

As an aside, we should note that players such as Shawn Horcoff, Brandon Sutter and Tyler Seguin, Valtteri Filppula were not included above, as they were considered to be third line centers on their respective teams for the purposes of this article (although we are aware Seguin played the majority of last season at right wing).

Overall, Little’s numbers find him in the top half of the 40-60 range of NHL centerman.  Somewhere in the 45-50 range which would classify Little as a average to below-average second line NHL center.  Even if the omitted players were taken into account, it would not still leave Little in the below-average class of second line NHL centers.

There is a reason the Jets went out this off-season and signed a big proven center like Olli Jokinen.  Only one problem: Jokinen is a below average number one NHL center and Little probably a below average number two NHL center.  Can you win the NHL that way?

If there is an NHL season, we will soon find out.

  • garret9

    I disagree… Usage is a big determinate but also who was the Jets second line centre to take some of the pressure off of Little? Burmistrov, who will be solid but isn’t there yet. Just looking at even strength:
    Little was 16th in goals for the NHL in G for a C.
    Little was 20th in corsi for C in NHL with a +RelQoC and +30GP
    Little was 31st in G/60 for C in NHL with a +RelQoC and +30GP

    Not bad for a guy that had no one to take the pressure off of him. He’s not an amazing playmaker and he’s not going to get +30 goals unless he starts shooting more (he has taken the same amount of shots almost every year; only his sh% changes), but he does what Noel wants for a top line. Take the tough minutes so the second line (Kane’s line) can take advantage of the weak minutes. Which bodes well for Jokinen to finish easy competition next season.