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Josh Jooris wants a job on the Leafs — is there a spot for him?

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The oft-travelled depth centre wants to win a job and keep it as the Leafs fourth-line centre.

Minnesota Wild v Calgary Flames Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images

It’s surprising to me that Josh Jooris has played more NHL games in his career than Adam Cracknell.

Cracknell, who is 33 to Jooris’s 28, has 208 games compared to 213. Neither one scores much, and they’re both right-shooting winger/centres. It’s that handedness that got them their jobs on a Leafs team that has struggled to have a right-handed and a left-handed faceoff man on the fourth line and on the PK on a regular basis.

This isn’t of crushing importance, but it is a slight advantage, and there’s no reason not to have all four lines set up with one competent faceoff man for each side. If the idea persists that Mike Babcock is too concerned by this because he played Ben Smith instead of someone who was not a centre, then I think people are judging that situation wrongly. The phrase “while tanking” needs to get slotted into that analysis.

Jooris is good at faceoffs (Cracknell is not and usually plays wing), and his career percentage is just over 51 per cent, so enough said on that score. He fits the bill.

But what else has Jooris got to offer that has kept him in the NHL without personal scoring skill? Largely, it is just that usefulness as a depth centre, something not always easy to find. The Pittsburgh Penguins traded for Jooris last deadline as an “in case” depth insurance player, and ended up moving him to the AHL. He didn’t see any NHL playoffs.

He’s only played nine playoff games, all back in 2014-2015 for Calgary, a season where he scored close to half of his career NHL points in 60 games. He’s also spent some time in press boxes, judging by his games played. He’s rarely played in the AHL, likely because his skill set is rare enough that he’s a risk on the waiver wire, so he sits when he’s not needed on the ice. Or it’s because he’s called, Josh, one of the two.

His plans on the Leafs are to challenge for that 4C spot:

“Any time you go into training camp, jobs are on the line no matter who you are and you’ve got to perform,” Jooris said. “I understand that. I’ve been around now (enough) to know that and nothing is ever given to you, you’ve got to earn it so that’s definitely going to be my mindset.”

Who is he?

Outside of the faceoff circle, Jorris is not a very versatile player. His personal shot rate is low, and his career shooting percentage is more like a defenceman’s than a forward’s. Excepting last season, where it was historically low, Leo Komarov’s is much better. And Komarov is always the man I have in my mind as the sort of bare minimum offensive value you can have in a forward. Jooris actually shoots a lot more than Komarov, but then you likely do too.

Jooris, like a lot of successful depth players, shoots from pretty good locations. He favours the slot and a little bit from the circles. The exception to this is one season in Arizona, where he just shot from wherever and had his lowest points rate ever. I’ve never really thought of Arizona as having an offensive system really at all, so that’s not all that surprising.

He takes very few penalties, draws at least as many, and plays some PK, but isn’t a specialist at it, nor is he very good at it either. There’s no reason to think he’d supplant any of the Leafs fast, young forwards from the PK units for any reason other than the occasional defensive-zone faceoff.

I’ll look at his Corsica Rel T stats, the same way I did for Cracknell, but I’m not expecting this to look as intriguing.

NHL seasons 2014 - 2018

RelT FF% RelT FF/60 RelT FA/60 RelT xGF% RelT xGF/60 RelT xGA/60
RelT FF% RelT FF/60 RelT FA/60 RelT xGF% RelT xGF/60 RelT xGA/60
1.14 -0.62 -2.6 2.02 -0.07 -0.26

Negative results mean below team average unless they are xGA or FA, then negative means above average. Rel T means the stat has been weighted by strength of teammates.

This is pretty similar to Cracknell’s stats. Jooris is a little more defensively strong, but like with Cracknell, when you switch to Expected Goals and weight for shot quality allowed, he looks less impressive defensively. His offence is not his strength, and he’s never been above average there.

This set of stats includes his one good year in Calgary, which has never been repeated. When I un-aggregate these four seasons, I see the opposite effect from Cracknell’s career year-by-year, where some of his best seasons were recent. In fact if I take out that Calgary year, and confine things to Jooris’s seasons since, any hint of offensive value goes away and his defensive results suffer quite a bit in terms of the volume of shots allowed.

In Jooris’s 2017-2018 time in Carolina before the trade to Pittsburgh, while he played on the fourth line with Marcus Kruger and Joakim Nordstrom, he was used in situations where nothing much mattered. That means he saw the ice most when the score couldn’t be affected by either a goal for or a goal against. Bill Peters, a coach very similar to Babcock and who trained under him, was publicly frustrated with Jooris and Kruger, and they both ended up in the AHL.

Jooris looks like a player who can only be used in heavily defensive situations, but who might do very well at that thankless job. When he maintains his offensive style of driving up the slot, his offensive impact is minimal, but not horrible.

As to why the Leafs signed him, aside from the right-handed depth callup option thing:

Jooris is no stranger to the Maple Leafs brass. Kyle Dubas worked on recruiting the then-16-year-old to Sault Ste. Marie. Jooris eventually chose the college route.

“He was my family advisor when I was going through the process there at a young age,” Jooris recalled. “Obviously, a wealth of knowledge and he’s come a long way since then.

I’m not sure there’s much to choose between Cracknell and Jooris, although Cracknell is more winger than centre, more offence than defence. The one thing that separates them is that, in the AHL, Jooris doesn’t get any better at scoring the way Cracknell does. It might be more happenstance than a reflection of value that Jooris has held down semi-regular NHL roster spots while Cracknell has seen more AHL time, although 60 games is the most Jooris has ever played in one season.

So far, the competition for fourth line jobs looks like a repeat of last season with the Eric Fehr vs Dom Moore contest. The end result for the Leafs would have been the same no matter who had won that one, with only Miro Aaltonen looking like a different sort of player, but never quite like an NHL depth centre.

The Aaltonen-like player in the mix this year is Pär Lindholm, and if one of these depth signings is not like the other, it’s him. But if he isn’t up to NHL duty, then the options to replace him likely start with Jooris. The choice might come down to Jooris’s defensive prowess vs what Lindholm brings, which I’ll look into soon.

At the very least, the Leafs finally have actual replacement-level replacement players who can just slot in and play fourth line minutes without any surprises, even if they start out in the AHL or the press box.

Acknowledgements

The listed stats are from Corsica Hockey. The rest of the words are full of stats from Natural Stat Trick and graphics from Hockey Viz, you just can’t see them.