The natural conclusion to make after watching Jordan Greenway play hockey is, “Wow, that guy can do anything.”
Greenway is an imposing 6’6”, 227 pounds, making him one of the tallest players in NHL history. He’s no lumbering giant, either, Greenway skates very well and has decent hands, unusual qualities for a player his size.
Despite all that, he’s left the State of Hockey wanting, especially after his recent playoff performance. Given a top-line spot alongside Kevin Fiala in Game 1, Greenway went scoreless in four games with more penalty minutes (eight) than shots (six).
Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin definitely expects more from Greenway. After August’s playoff elimination, he told Michael Russo on Straight from the Source, “He’s gotta dedicate himself to the game a lot more, and it’s time for him to take a step in maturity and work ethic and preparation and all these things.”
Harsh words from a GM. Rarely do they air grievances like this publicly. Still, it’s clear that Guerin sees the untapped possibilities of an unleashed Greenway. “His potential,” he said, “is through the roof.”
What Needs to Improve?
The first and most obvious thing that stands out about Greenway’s statistical profile is his lack of points. He has the strength and speed of a modern-day power forward, and has flashed that ability before, but overall has little to show for it. Of the 326 forwards who played 100 games over the past two seasons, Greenway ranks 238th among them with 0.35 points per game.
This has, to some extent, been the story of Greenway’s hockey career. He looks like he should be dominant and instead is just fine. He scored nine goals and 43 points in 53 games for the U-18 USA team in his draft year. That’s fine. He had 15 goals and 57 points in 76 games in his freshman and sophomore years at Boston University. Again, fine!
Even in his junior year, when he had 13 goals and a point-per-game, he sat outside the nation’s top-50. Outside of a star performance (eight points in seven games) at the 2017 World Juniors and a five-game stretch in the AHL, Greenway hasn’t really scored anywhere.
There are two culprits here: his hesitancy to shoot and a dump-and-chase game. Greenway averaged just 5.9 shots per hour at 5-on-5 over the past two years, well in the bottom-fourth of the league, and he’s one of the most dump-and-chase happy players in the league. Neither is particularly conducive to generating offense.
Greenway might well improve after an extended offseason to train. But can he fundamentally change the way he plays offense? At what point is he who he is? His answer to that will determine his future with the team.
Don’t Forget, Though: Greenway is Good
Fortunately for the Wild, for all the grousing about untapped potential that follows Greenway, he was a very good player for Minnesota this year.
Greenway’s defense was among the best in the NHL. He allowed just 1.87 expected goals per hour, which ranked 14th among forwards with 500-plus minutes. The only Wild players to finish ahead of him were defensive aces Marcus Foligno and Joel Eriksson Ek. He was also Minnesota’s most impactful penalty killing forward as well.
Thanks to this, Greenway was able to be a positive force at even strength, even when not scoring. When Greenway was on the ice at 5-on-5, the Wild out-scored opponents by a healthy 37-31 margin (54.4%).
Contrast that to the recently-traded Luke Kunin, who had scoring numbers that Greenway couldn’t touch (15 goals and 31 points for Kunin last season), but Greenway did a stronger job at driving both offense and defense. When you look at the overall impact of the two players, it’s no surprise or mistake that Greenway is still here.
It wouldn’t be wrong at this point to see Greenway as a mini-Foligno, or even his eventual successor. Greenway’s defensive impact at both even-strength and short-handed equals 4.6 Goals Above Replacement, according to Evolving Hockey. Foligno was at 5.1. Greenway offers about 90% of Foligno’s impact while being significantly younger and cheaper than the soon-to-be free agent.
All this will be true of Greenway next season, even if he doesn’t improve one iota this offseason. It’s tempting to look at Greenway and see the player we think he can be, but it’s important to also realize that the Wild have a good player in him right now.
What’s His Best-Case Scenario?
We have a pretty good handle on who Jordan Greenway is, but do we know what he could be? Thanks to the Evolving Hockey Similar Skater tool, we have some ideas as to how Greenway’s career could play out.
It will not surprise anyone that most of his most similar comparables are defensive aces: Cal Clutterbuck, Johan Larsson, Eriksson Ek and Foligno populate this list. Those seem to be the medium-case scenarios. There are also worst-case scenarios including flameouts like Nail Yakupov and Tomas Jurco.
Let’s go back to the shooting. Generally, shot rate tends to be somewhat consistent throughout careers. Players who rack up shot volume early in their careers tend to maintain that skill, and it’s rare to see a player who doesn’t shoot suddenly pour shots on net.
There is one exception to this trend on Greenway’s comparables, however. When Wayne Simmonds was Greenway’s age (21-22), Simmonds shot just 6.5 times per hour. Then after a trade to Philadelphia, that improved to 8.2 over his next five seasons. That feels like the best-case scenario.
Now, Simmonds had an elite ability to tip in shots on the power play that Greenway will probably never have. Still, if shooting more could get Greenway to the 16 even-strength goals per 82 games Simmonds had in that five-year stretch in Philly, that’s a huge jump in value.
Guerin shouldn’t ask Greenway to spend one minute focusing on defense or the physical game this offseason. Greenway’s priority needs to be focused on doing the things that’ll get his offensive potential unlocked. He needs to get faster, more confident with the puck and to improve his shot.
We know he can play in his own end. We need to know what happens if he can play in the other one.