There is a parasite named Pleistophora Mulleri that likes to inhabit the muscles of Shrimp near Northern Ireland. Like most parasites, they have a creepy, violent sci-fi ability to influence their hosts. The ability? This little bugger influences these shrimp to eat their young.
Apologies in advance to any Dallas suits who liked to read this blog. I'm not saying the Dallas organization makes cannibals of their prospects. Just that Stephen Johns and Jamie Oleksiak might be feeling a little like violated Irish shrimp.
Granted, this is the fate of any prospect; sink or swim. Eat or be eaten. Cannibalize or abnegate.
Still, prospect development is a patient enterprise. This is what makes the mortal kombat scenario between Johns and Oleksiak to figure who should be protected for expansion somewhat confusing. Statistically, this tale of the tape looks something like Ronda Rousey versus Penny Oleksiak. But let's run through some of the beats anyway. All stats via Corsica Hockey.
At even strength for this season, Johns is 6th on the team in shot attempts against per hour (best among defensemen with over 200 minutes of ice time). Oleksiak is 23rd. Johns is 5th on the team in scoring chances against per hour. Oleksiak is 14th. Johns is 2nd in expected goals against per hour. Oleksiak is 16th.
On the penalty kill, Johns is 1st on the team in unblocked shots against per hour. Oleksiak fares better in this category, placing 3rd. Though it should be noted, Johns has played 117 minutes on the PK versus Oleksiak's 41 minutes. On the PK, Johns ranks 3rd on scoring chances against per hour versus Oleksiak's last place among 14 Dallas skaters with at least 30 minutes of ice time shorthanded. Johns ranks 4th in expected goals for per hour versus Oleksiak's 13th.
As a DBD reader pointed out in four simple graphs, Johns has been relatively unlucky when it comes to being on ice for goals against, but has nonetheless trended in the more positive direction.
What’s odd about this Thunderdome situation is that Johns has already been trusted with top four minutes. Against Minnesota and St. Louis in the playoffs, Johns and Johnny Oduya formed the backbone of Dallas’ shutdown pair, which played well. Even this season, Johns averages more minutes per game than Oleksiak.
A top four role is not something Oleksiak has ever been given, nor is it a role he’s earned. Should 12 games really be the variable Dallas uses to decide which of these two should be protected when we have access to data that spans far more than 12 games?
More to the point, the season has been an unmitigated disaster. What percentage of Johns’ struggles (and I’d include Oleksiak in this conversation) can be connected to the collective breakdown in systems, and execution by the coaches and forwards? When Dallas was healthy, and had an identity, Johns exceeded despite his status as a rookie. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that his struggles (which he’s not alone in) have coincided with the team’s overall failures.
The debate itself feels like a red herring in some ways. After all, Dallas is not a good defensive team. Anybody worrying about either one of them being taken in expansion might want to put on their McPhee goggles. If Vegas is looking for defensemen, chances are they’ll prioritize roster selection from good defensive teams. Which, safe to say, leaves Dallas out of that particular equation.
Still, possibility seems to scare people (especially GM’s) more than probability.
This isn’t to harp on Oleksiak (well, maybe a little). Oleksiak’s played with a swagger and confidence missing in previous seasons. I’m not opposed to Dallas giving him another shot.
But Dallas has Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and John Klingberg in their prime. Any young player trying to crack the lineup can’t be a two year project. At minimum, they should be able to do things like this. Dallas doesn’t have any other right handed defensemen in the system ready for the kind of minutes Johns has been tasked with. Klingberg, Honka, and Johns down the right side sounds like the left-right symmetry Dallas often talks about coveting. The sudden ‘dispute’ between Johns and Oleksiak over expansion protection feels like a lot like this season; abrupt, and unconvincing.