Wild

Jordan Greenway Must Find His Game Away From Joel Eriksson Ek

Photo Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie (USA TODAY Sports)

As much as the Minnesota Wild have had trouble landing a true No. 1 center, finding a true power forward has proven to be equally elusive. Charlie Coyle, the main target in the Brent Burns trade, was supposed to become the power forward this team has sorely lacked. However, production inconsistencies resulting from living life along the boards and outside the circles as a big man held him back. He is a nice guy but always seemed to lack that ‘it’ factor to attack the net with any regularity. Plus, the only consistent part of Coyle’s game was his movement from center to the wing and back again and up and down the lineup card. Coyle failed to become the power forward as much as the Wild failed to put him with regular linemates and give him a consistent role.

Alex Tuch was the 6’4″, big-bodied forward who had the skill to take the baton as the next power forward prospect for Minnesota. He also brought swagger and fun to the team when he “Tuch Walked” after a fancy move and goal in prospect development camp. Unfortunately, that’s all the Wild got to see from him because, after barely giving him a chance to adjust to the NHL, he was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights at the expansion draft. He became a skilled power forward, just not for Minnesota.

Enter Jordan Greenway. His stature makes him stand out on the ice, and he showed he had enough skill in the lower levels of hockey to be worth the second-round selection the Wild spent on him. His point production has increased every single season, and he seems to have found a home next to Joel Eriksson Ek. He has the frame and mobility to be a power forward in this league. He also has puck skills not usually found in players his size. Yet, the Wild are patiently waiting for him to put it all together. 

If last season was the year to show what he was made of after getting challenged by his GM, then 32 points in 56 games is a good start. Ultimately, he got loads of ice time, and with his line owning the SF% and xGF% categories, a lot of that time was spent pushing the puck north into the offensive zone. Ultimately, Greenway set a career-high in assists thanks to the offensive breakout of Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno having a career season. Things appear to be looking positive for Greenway and his future on the Minnesota Wild.

At least, that’s how they appear on the surface. How a player like Greenway isn’t considered for significant power-play time is puzzling. His combination of size and hands should make him a net-front beast with the man advantage. In turn, he should also be a menace at the top of the crease at 5-on-5. Not only is he not any of that in the little time he gets on the power play, but he also isn’t doing that at even strength. 

The Greenway/Eriksson Ek line combo was assembled a few seasons ago under then-head coach Bruce Boudreau. Even back then, it was apparent that those two were strong along the boards and can maintain the puck in the offensive zone. However, the biggest, most glaring issue was that they did not create enough havoc around the net in terms of shots and scoring chances. Fast-forward to this season, Eriksson Ek and Foligno added the havoc that that line desperately needed. On the other hand, Greenway reaped the benefits of merely being on the ice with them.

Even last season, Greenway was a perimeter player, looking to make passes rather than a volume shooter from the blue paint. A power forward plays like vintage Zach Parise but dominates with his size against the large NHL defensemen in a way that Parise couldn’t. Greenway has only shown flashes of that, and only when his coaches had to egg him on publicly. He needs to be more physical, more tenacious around the net, and way more available as an option in the offensive zone.

Courtesy of HockeyViz.com

This offseason, Eriksson Ek was awarded a brand new contract and was easily the best center on the roster. There cannot be any way Dean Evason reassembles that line this season when it’s best for the team to have Eriksson Ek play with the top scorers. How will Greenway change his playing style when he can’t even do that with the top center on the team? What happens to him when Eriksson Ek is no longer there to drive play?

Greenway becomes damn near invisible. According to Natural Stat Trick’s line stats, which breaks down a player’s impact on the ice with or without certain teammates, Greenway hasn’t been good without No. 14 at his side. If the Foligno-Eriksson Ek-Greenway line is what we deem as the full strength of that trio, as soon as you start taking players away, the impacts of the group begin to change. If all three together control both Goals For% and Expected Goals% to the tune of 60% or more, by removing just Foligno from the equation, the GF% drops to 52%, and xGF% dips just below the 50% mark. However, that dip in xGF% isn’t due to a drop in offense but a rise in xGA. 

Player 1 Player 2 Player 3 GP TOI SF% GF% xGF xGA xGF%
Eriksson Ek Greenway Foligno 39 318:58 52.78 67.74 10.87 7.19 60.19
Eriksson Ek Greenway w/o Foligno 56 267:16 48.60 52.17 10.66 11.48 48.16
w/o Eriksson Ek Greenway Foligno 39 48:55 36.54 33.33 0.92 1.76 34.40
w/o Eriksson Ek Greenway w/o Foligno 56 122:52 36.57 11.11 2.97 6.52 31.30

Stats Courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.com

Now swap Foligno in, and Eriksson Ek out. The 10.66 xGF drops to a non-existent 0.92 xGF. Finally, without either Foligno or Eriksson Ek next to Greenway, he is heavily out-shot, out-chanced, and out-scored by a wide margin. Greenway cannot drive the line by himself, and while Foligno can support him defensively, it’s clear why Greenway has been handcuffed to Eriksson Ek to this point. 

The Wild went out and acquired forward Frederick Gaudreau in free agency this summer. The deal alone looks to be a good value signing that can support the bottom six defensively. However, can he drive play enough to help Greenway achieve his potential?

Maybe a separation from Eriksson Ek will force Greenway to either get with it. If not, he’ll become another player that Bill Guerin ships off for some other asset as part of the rebuild. If that’s eventually the case, Guerin better hope that unlinking Eriksson Ek and Greenway doesn’t overexpose the former Boston University Terrier that he can’t get proper value return.

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Photo Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie (USA TODAY Sports)

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