We have a lot of time to fill between now and the end of the Stanley Cup Final. The Buffalo Sabres find themselves watching the best playoffs in sports for the eighth year in a row. This summer Jason Botterill will try to improve his roster so the longest playoff drought in the NHL won’t extend to nine years.
There are some big names that could hit the open market this summer and they’ll be worth discussing down the road. We’re going to start this new weekly series I’m going to put together up until July, with an under the radar depth signing.
That player is none other than 26-year-old forward Jordan Weal. The former third-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings broke through into the NHL with the Philadelphia Flyers. He burst onto the scene with eight goals and 12 points in 23 games during the 2016-17 season. Weal didn’t live up to offensive expectations the following season and was eventually traded to the Arizona Coyotes in January of this season, before being moved again to the Montreal Canadiens at the trade deadline.
Weal scored four goals and 10 points in 16 games for the Canadiens. He was an important part of their bottom-six and playoff push that just fell short this season.
In each of the last two seasons Weal has scored at a 10 goals and 27 points per 82 game pace. His career high of eight goals won’t blow your doors off in regards to offensive production. However, fourth line players that can score 10 goals and around 25 points a season consistently are not bad to have on your team.
The Flyers moved on from him thinking he was no longer an offensive threat and the Coyotes moved him in exchange for much needed defensive help at the time. Credit Marc Bergevin for targeting Weal and having a coach that knew where to put him to succeed.
Where the North Vancouver native really exceeds is his impact defensively at 5 on 5. An area where the Sabres could use an upgrade. He can provide that secondary scoring from the bottom of the lineup and even step into your power play in a pinch. His ability to be a shutdown defensive player has been undervalued so far in his career as the chart below from Micah McCurdy lays out.
Over the last three years, he’s been a positive impact player at 5 on 5 offensively and especially defensively according to Evolving Hockey’s regularized adjusted plus-minus (RAPM) model.
He had a strong 2016-17 season with the Flyers when he provided that offensive production.
Had a small dip in the 2017-18 season offensively.
Rebounded well last season playing for three different clubs.
Last season, Weal, had a xGA impact of -2.63. Which, would be the best on the Sabres. Oveall he had an impressive xGPM impact rating of 4.27. He ranked sixth overall among all forwards this season in xGA per 60 at even strength at -0.206 and 10th overall in xGPM per 60 at 0.335.
At 5 on 5 Weal has been a plus position player in Corsi in two of the last three years. Only the 2017-18 season was he below a 55 CF%. He’s been a positive in scoring chances for/against and high-danger chances for/against in each of the last three years as well according to Natural Stat Trick.
He was fifth on Canadiens this season in on-ice xGoals percentage (56.2%) at 5 on 5 during his time there and was even ranked the best on the Flyers in that same category during the 2016-17 season.
Great work by Jordan Weal leads to an Ivan Provorov goal.— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) March 29, 2018
2-0 Flyers pic.twitter.com/n6ar1t0iF1
Possession player that is on the ice for more quality chances for than he his against sounds like a good idea.
That game winning goal feeling— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) February 7, 2018
Jordan Weal scores with only a few seconds remaining in overtime to snag the win. pic.twitter.com/R4EZBB14Mr
Weal is exactly the type of player Jason Botterill should be looking for to upgrade a bottom-six of his lineup that has needed it for a few years now. It’s likely one or both of Johan Larsson and Zemgus Girgensons won’t return next season. Weal could slide into one of those vacated roster spots.
He makes $1.75 million this season and will likely be looking for a raise on the open market, but won’t be expensive by any means. Riley Nash’s deal (three-years, $2.75 million cap hit) and Matt Calvert’s (three-years, $2.85 million cap hit) signed last July as free agents are some decent comparables for Weal. It may even be possible he comes in a little lower than both of those players.
A smart team is going to sign Weal in July to add speed, secondary scoring, and depth to their lineup. Hopefully, the Sabres are one of those teams that are in on him and eventually sign him when free agency opens.