ECH Scouting Spotlight: Week 8

Welcome to week 8 of our weekly series, Scouting Spotlight!

Starting this week, we’re changing up the Scouting Spotlight format and integrating it with the Emerald City Hockey Podcast, which can be found on our YouTube Channel. Instead of highlighting three players every week, I’ll pick one player and do a deeper dive on him in this article every Tuesday. Then, Dylan and I will scout the player’s games over the course of the week and provide our thoughts and analysis on the podcast every Friday. That way, it’ll be easier for fans to follow along and get a better sense for what each player can bring to the Kraken.

Each Scouting Spotlight will now finish with a “Schedule Preview” which will look at the player’s schedule for the week and what his matchups look like. Thanks for following along with us. We hope you’ll like the new format.

Here’s our pick for Week 8 of Scouting Spotlight:

For our first solo edition of Scouting Spotlight, we’re focusing on Winnipeg Jets center Mason Appleton. Originally from Green Bay, Wisconsin, Appleton was drafted by the Jets in the 6th round of the 2015 NHL Draft (185th overall). After two years at Michigan State, Appleton joined the Jets’ AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose. With the Moose, Appleton immediately found a big offensive role. He scored 66 points in 76 AHL games in his first season with the team, leading the Moose in scoring and winning the Red Garrett Memorial Award as AHL Rookie of the Year. After another season in the AHL, the Jets organization had him projected as future a top-6 scoring forward.

While that hasn’t become the reality, Appleton has grown as a player in an unexpected way. He’s transformed his game and is now excelling in an entirely different kind of role. He’s been paired with Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp to form a hard-nosed shutdown 3rd line for the Jets.

Go to the 0:40 mark of the video and listen to Jets coach Paul Maurice talk about the kind of role Appleton plays and what he brings to the team.

“They play against the other team’s best an awful lot.”

“There’s offense there. It’s just gonna look different…Drive the net twice, once for a goal, once for a drawn penalty…That’s real offense.”

“As you move closer and closer to the playoffs and into the playoffs, that’s the style of game that’s played – and he should be able to excel in that.”

Maurice does a good job describing what Appleton’s job is for this Jets team. He faces top opposition night-in and night-out and shuts them down, all while contributing offense of his own.

This goal is the “perfect example” of Appleton’s different style of offense that Maurice mentioned in the press conference. Notice Appleton fearlessly driving to the net to tap home the rebound. He takes a wicked cross-check on the way there and ends up in the net, but he scores the goal.

Here’s another Appleton goal, this time from last season, that shows off both his defensive tenacity and offensive skill. Appleton steals the puck from Maple Leafs captain John Tavares and fights him off from the blueline in on his way to scoring a shorthanded goal.

So far this season, Appleton has been elite defensively – and the analytics community is taking notice. Evolving-Wild, founders of Evolving-Hockey.com, who I mentioned last week as a great resource for NHL analytics, placed Appleton in the top tier of their Selke Trophy (best defensive forward) frontrunners.

HBF Analytics was also impressed by Appleton’s breakout season, with their player card showing Appleton in the 99th percentile in expected goals against/60. They also assign him a market value of $6,610,000, making his current salary of $900,000 look like a steal.

Given his recent success, how likely is it that Appleton will be available in the expansion draft this July? Looking at our projected protection list for the Jets, it’s clear that Winnipeg will have a decision to make about their 3rd line.

The Jets have five forwards that will surely be protected. Having just two additional protection spots means that the Jets will only be able to protect 2/3 of their shutdown 3rd line. Right now, we project Appleton to be the odd man out. Lowry and Copp are more experienced players, have more ice time, and better offensive numbers this season. That said, Lowry’s contract expires in July and if the Jets choose to let him go, Appleton will probably jump into that protection spot. It’ll be a very tough call for the Jets to make but right now, we’re projecting Appleton has a 65% chance of being exposed.

Schedule Preview: Tues. 3/9 @ TOR 4PM PT – Thurs. 3/11 @ TOR 4PM PT

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Appleton and the Jets will be looking to right the ship this week after an embarrassing 7-1 shellacking at the hands of the Montréal Canadiens on Saturday. It won’t be easy, though, as they’ll start a three-game road series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, who currently sit atop the NHL standings.

Appleton and his shutdown 3rd line will be tasked with trying to contain Toronto’s “Big 3” forwards: Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, and John Tavares, who currently rank 4th, 6th, and 38th in league scoring, respectively. It’s a tall task, but so far this season the Lowry-Copp-Appleton line has successfully held their opposition in check. Who will win this unstoppable force vs. immovable object matchup? We’ll find out Tuesday and Thursday. The Leafs and Jets have only played each other once this season, so this series will be a chance to see how the top two teams (by points%) in the Scotia North Division match up.

Follow along with Dylan and I and tune into the Emerald City Hockey Podcast this Friday to hear our thoughts and analysis on Mason Appleton plus much more!

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