The Minnesota Wild return to play tonight after quarantining for two weeks due to a coronavirus outbreak. Many players who were sick are recovered and cleared to play, but tonight’s lineup will continue to be radically different.
The absence of Cam Talbot, Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin have required shuffling on the back end. Changes aren’t exclusive to the blue line, though, as the forward group is shaken up as well. Joel Eriksson Ek will finally center Zach Parise and Kevin Fiala on the first line, and Mats Zuccarello has returned from offseason surgery, giving the team a needed boost on the wing.
The most intriguing part of the new-look lineup might be that Jordan Greenway will finally see an increased role. Greenway was challenged to be better after last year’s playoff exit by general manager Bill Guerin, and received the message. He’s come back looking faster and leaner, and the results have paid off early.
Greenway leads the team with 10 points in 11 games, easily the hottest stretch of his career, but got little reward before the outbreak. He stayed on the third line and off the power play, even as Minnesota’s top-6 wingers struggled. And while Greenway’s been productive, that point-per-game rate is awfully hard to sustain without more opportunities.
After 11 games and an outbreak, the shorthanded Wild are giving him the chance he earned. Greenway will be playing alongside playmakers Marcus Johansson and Kirill Kaprizov. What’s more, The Athletic’s Michael Russo reported that he’ll receive power play time in the coming games.
He’s tasked with being a power forward. At 5-on-5, he’s going to be asked to go to the net finish opportunities from his linemates. He’ll be expected to be the ultimate net-front presence on the power play, getting to rebounds and screening goalies.
In short, he’ll be asked to do something radically different from what Greenway normally does. He may be an imposing 6’6”, but he’s never been the elite net-front player that frame suggests — he entered the year with a middling 5.8 shots per hour at 5-on-5 for his career. In 77 power play minutes, he has zero goals, three assists and seven shots.
This lack of goal-scoring punch isn’t unique to his NHL career, either. The last time Greenway scored more than 15 goals in any year was 2013-14, when he was in his age-16 season playing for the U.S. Development Team. He’s had a size advantage at every level, but hasn’t dominated as a goal-scorer anywhere.
Even this year, the new-and-improved Greenway hasn’t broken from this pattern. He’s had just two goals this year (one on an empty net), and is shooting less than ever in the early goings of the season. He’s mustered just 5.4 shots per hour at 5-on-5, and a look at his shot chart indicates it’s almost all from the outside.
Very few of his shots come from in the “home plate” area where the majority of goals happen. Natural Stat Trick has at just two rebound attempts on the year. Greenway hasn’t shown an ability to beat goalies from distance, nor generate opportunities on the rush. If he’s going to score goals, it’s gotta be by the net.
Fortunately, that is a skill that can be developed. In fact, Eriksson Ek has made a major leap in that area of his game, and has been rewarded with five goals. There’s no denying that Greenway’s got the size, skating and hands to crash the net with abandon. Can he find the same success Eriksson Ek has?
No one will know until Minnesota tries it, and it looks like Greenway will finally get the call tonight. He proved he can play his role from last year incredibly well, providing offense, defense, and energy on the third line. Now he gets his shot to prove that he can be more than that. After his work from this offseason, you can’t count him out.
All data from Evolving Hockey unless otherwise stated.