The Winnipeg Jets defence group is a funny one, with one clear number one defenseman, and the rest being capable 4/5 defensemen who are playing a bit higher than they would on a Stanley Cup contender.
Early on, Neal Pionk looked like he could be that solid number 2/3 guy, but his play has declined since his first two years in Winnipeg.
Brendan Dillon has athletic tools that stand out with great mobility and size, but all too often makes poor choices with the puck.
Dylan DeMelo has been unflashy and steady, a nice right handed complement to Josh Morrissey.
And Nate Schmidt has never performed at a top four level here, but is good in a third pair role. He’s just not paid like a third pairing guy.
Which brings us to our original question: Is Dylan Samberg the second best defenseman on this team?
I ran a poll on twitter earlier this week, asking who the second best defenseman was. With small sample size caveats in full force here, over 50% of you said that Samberg is.
Admittedly, I wasn’t expecting that at all. I wasn’t even sure I was going to include the youngster in the poll, but decided that Nate Schmidt wouldn’t receive a ton of consideration.
I would have been among the 25% that chose Dylan DeMelo, with Pionk second. But honestly, it’s pretty close.
One thing worth considering is how people may interpret the question. When it comes to the big picture, Samberg is undoubtedly the second most valuable defender on the team, being 24 years old with plenty of room to grow. He no doubt has top four potential, and is an excellent piece for the Jets to have.
But today, is he the second best defenseman?
I’m not so sure about that. Mainly because of the sheltered minutes he’s played in his career thus far. Not all players can translate success against bottom six forwards to success against top six forwards. The difference between checking Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor is quite different compared to defending Adam Lowry and Mason Appleton.
Tucker Poolman has struggled with that promotion in the past, despite playing well in a third pair, penalty killing role, similar to what Samberg is playing now.
The counter to that would be Ben Chiarot, who was very steady on the third pair before successfully navigating the challenges of playing alongside Dustin Byfuglien against improved competition. He was also 27 or 28 years old when he earned that promotion.
Samberg will have to prove he can do that before he can be considered a top four defenceman. The tools are there. The physicality, athleticism, and puck skills are there. If he avoids the sophomore slump this season and gets some meaningful time in the top four, then we can begin this conversation.
But for now, just 78 games into his NHL career, Samberg still has more to prove.