Tyson Jost made his Minnesota Wild debut on Wednesday, and the Wild flashed signs of their pre-All Star break ways against the streaking Boston Bruins. It was a hard-fought game, even with Boston playing on the second of back-to-backs and without star center Patrice Bergeron.
So that’s it, right? We can proclaim Bill Guerin General Manager of the Year with his fleecing of Joe Sakic and the Colorado Avalanche? In his first game, Jost helped lead the Wild to their first win against a true contender since they defeated the Carolina Hurricanes over a month ago. What a steal!
Jost’s first game played out exactly how most fans would have imagined. The defensive forward was slotted into the fourth-line center role vacated by Nico Sturm’s departure. One skilled, defensively-minded center swapped out for another won’t lead to drastic improvement.
Guerin likely targeted Jost because of his untapped offensive potential, not necessarily to fill a grinder role. But unless Ryan Hartman or Freddy Gaudreau struggle mightily or get injured this season, Dean Evason will task Jost with fourth-line duties and penalty kill minutes.
However, following his first game donning the green sweater, it’s clear Jost will make an impact on the Wild this season, possibly in more ways than Sturm could have. Let’s take a look at what Jost showed in his first game.
Nobody was surprised to see Evason use Jost on the penalty kill this season. But it was a little surprising to see him jump over the boards as the third forward pair on the Wild’s first penalty last night. Evason started the kill with his usual forwards: Jordan Greenway, Marcus Foligno, Eriksson Ek, and Kevin Fiala. Seeing Jost as the fifth forward on the ice just a day after arriving with his new club speaks to his reputation as an above-average penalty killer.
One particular area of concern with the Wild’s penalty kill over the past month-plus has been their propensity to allow opposing teams to easily enter the offensive zone and get set up. Strong power plays enter the offensive zone consistently. They often do this by successfully moving the puck east to west across the royal road. Once a power play unit can cleanly pass the puck from one side of the ice to the other, penalty killers are less able to aggressively pursue the puck carrier because they need to settle into their box or diamond penalty kill formations.
One way to accomplish this is to push into the offensive zone and immediately make a pass across the ice high in the zone near the blue line. Jost’s strong stick stood out to me on that first penalty kill. As Boston entered the zone and looked to make a cross-ice pass, Jost was there in perfect gap control, easily placing his stick in the passing lane and deflecting it back into the neutral zone. Too often Wild penalty killers are seen lunging out with their sticks in failed attempts to break up passes. Jost did so easily with better positioning. If this continues, Evason could elevate Jost into even more penalty-killing minutes.
Defensive Zone Coverage
Sure, it’s only one game, and we should not use small sample sizes for blanket statements, but Jost was excellent at eliminating Boston’s chances in the middle of the ice last night.
The shot chart above shows how the fourth line operated throughout the game. Nick Bjugstad, Jost, and Brandon Duhaime spent a lot of time in their own zone, and they were the only Wild players who posted a Corsi-For% below 50%. Jost was the best of the trio, but he finished at just 40%.
Surely Evason would prefer that his fourth line didn’t spend most of the game defending. However, they did a great job suppressing high danger scoring chances. That’s something we haven’t often seen from that line this year when opponents hemmed them in their own zone. Again, it’s a small sample size, but it’s a move in the right direction. It’s further proof of how good Jost is at controlling the middle of the ice in his own end – something Sturm has struggled to consistently provide this year.
Securing Evason’s Trust
With under two minutes remaining in the game and the Wild clinging to a one-goal lead, Joel Eriksson Ek‘s line put together a fantastic shift by hemming the Bruins deep in their own end and forcing goaltender Jeremy Swayman to stay in his net. With only a minute remaining, Boston finally settled the puck and carried it up the ice with Swayman skating to the bench for an extra attacker.
As the Wild’s most dominant line of the night rushed to the bench for a line change, Evason sent Jost over the boards to defend in his own end in the final minute. Jost disrupted Boston’s entry at his own blue line and cleared the puck back out to center ice. The fact Jost had earned Evason’s trust in such a pivotal moment should not go unnoticed.
“He hasn’t shown anything else, right?” Evason responded when asked about that trust in Jost. “So you have to put him in spots and see how he handles it. We know he’s a good defender. He’s done that against us and we’ve seen him. He competed his butt off all night. … It’s a real good start for his first game with his new teammates.”
Interestingly, Evason made a point to reference Jost’s style of play against Minnesota when he was with the Avs. Perhaps Evason had formed his trust in Jost’s play before the Wild traded for him. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman revealed an interesting anecdote about the trade on the Jeff Marek show yesterday afternoon.
“Apparently this was a deal they had talked about a few months ago, and then it rekindled that day (Tuesday.)” Friedman reported. “It was something that had been discussed in the past.”
If the Wild were truly pursuing Jost in January, perhaps this was more than just a “change of scenery” decision. Maybe Evason and Guerin had identified Jost as a great defender and competitor who could benefit the Wild long ago. That would explain Evason’s trust in his new center at the end of yesterday’s game.
Overall, the slight defensive improvement Jost provides over Sturm will not move the needle meaningfully. As Guerin stated so aptly last week, there are no trades he can make that will turn the season around for the Wild. The improvements need to come from within, and that’s what bore out in their win over Boston.
However, it’s clear Jost has a role on this team. His strong penalty killing and great defensive skill set will help the Wild be a more consistently complete team. It’s going to be intriguing to see if Evason’s burgeoning trust in Jost leads to more expanded roles down the stretch.