Michal Jordan is part 5 of a 7-part series ‘7 D in 7 days.’
Most of my discussion of Michal Jordan this season has not been favorable. I gave him credit for playing very well filling in in the top pairing with Justin Faulk in the Canes last preseason game. But when James Wisniewski was injured, I jumped right past Michal Jordan and wanted Brett Pesce in that slot. Along the way I pointed out Jordan’s struggles in the #4 D slot.
My perspective on AHL/NHL fringe players who break through
Based on how I analyze Canes games and players, one might guess that I am against Michal Jordan. Strangely, the opposite is true. As a fan, I have always loved the stories of players who pay their dues and then finally receiving their chance in the NHL even if it ends up being a short one.
A couple of my favorite Canes stories in this vein are:
Aucoin played 4 years of college hockey, then started in the UHL and played for 7 different teams over the next 5 years. As an unheralded, undrafted 5 foot 8 inch player, he was never supposed to play in the NHL or even get close really. ut he worked his way up step by step and managed to get a handful of games (6 to be exact) with the 2005-06 Hurricanes. Those 6 games were not enough to get his name engraved on the Stanley Cup, but he is in the team’s championship photo. After another cup of tea (8 games in 2006-07) Aucoin finally broke into the NHL to play 38 games in the 2007-08 season probably about doubling his career earnings in the year he turned 30 years old. In the 2013-14 season in which he turned 35 years old, he signed his first 1-way contract that guaranteed him $625,000.
Peters was actually drafted high (38th overall) and had NHL pedigree. But as is often the case with goalies, he just did not seem to be NHL quality. He played well in the AHL and showed promise in a short stint in the NHL in the 2009-10 season going 6-3 with a 2.83 GAA. But Canes management never committed to him as the backup, so he was limited to short injury call-ups here and there over the next few years. In the 2013-14 season at the age of 27, he finally found a combination of regular starts (due to Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin both being injured) and a streak of solid play. He parlayed these into a solid 2.50 GAA and .919 save percentage to go with a 7-9-4 record. In the process, he earned his first 1-way contract with the Washington Capitals. Peters is now 29 years old and back in the AHL, but his breakthrough contract earned him $950,000 per year for 2 years and was a nice return for years of hard work.
I think fans underestimate just how elite NHL players are and even more so where AHL level talent would rate in another profession. In rough terms there are about 25 AHL/NHL players per US state and Canadian province from a pool that includes Canada, a big chunk of the United States and a large piece of Europe. That is pretty elite company, so I am happy for the fringe players who break through and at least get 1 good NHL contract for their years of work.
That is Michal Jordan
Like many others, Michal Jordan’s path to get where he is today has been quite a journey. He is from the Czech Republic but left his home country as a 17-year old to play hockey in the Canadian juniors league and increase his chances of making it to the NHL. He was drafted in the fourth round of the 2008 NHL draft and has been gradually working his way up since then. After juniors, Jordan logged most of 4 seasons with the Charlotte Checkers before finally getting an extended run in the NHL last season. (He did get a few NHL games in the 2012-13 season.) After impressing Hurricanes management, he was rewarded with his first 1-way contract for $625,000 on the heels of earning approximately $375,000 in 20014-15 split between the AHL and NHL. It sounds like a bonanza to earn $1 million over just 2 years of work, but in professional hockey careers are short and one never knows how many years he will get. I am happy for Jordan getting his reward for an 8-year journey to make it to the NHL.
Sentimental story aside, where does he fit?
Michal Jordan entered the 2015-16 with a 1-way contract and the expectation that he would play at the NHL roster 1 way or another. He figured to be something between #5 and #7 on the blue line depth chart. When Hanifin proved ready and Murphy had a decent training camp, Jordan was pushed to #7. But that quickly changed when James Wisniewski was lost for the season on his first shift. The next game, Jordan was parachuted straight into the top 4 and on his off side to boot. Most noticeable for me was how much he struggled handling the puck on his off side. It gradually started to creep into other parts of his game. The trial was ended when the team recalled Brett Pesce from Charlotte. With that going well, Jordan slid back to the #7 slot in the press box. He did see 1 game of action stepping into Hanifin’s slot next Murphy and looked better in a lesser role and importantly playing on his natural left side.
Over the course of a long 82-game NHL season, there can be many twists and turns, but right now I see him as on the outside looking in on the future with the Carolina Hurricanes for a number of reasons:
- It is too early to declare it certain, but Brett Pesce is on the brink of jumping him on the depth chart by virtue of being better in that same #4 slot so far.
- Even if Pesce does not ultimately hold that position, Jordan seemed to play his way out of being slotted that high.
- That would seem to push him into a possible depth role, but if his struggles this season are interpreted to mean that he does not have either side flexibility that is not a great fit for someone who must fill in where needed.
- In addition, John-Michael Liles role mentoring Pesce could significantly increase his value and probability of being re-signed this summer. After all, the Canes do have a bunch of young defensemen in the pipeline.
- But the Canes also want to leave some potential openings for youth moving up.
I think the upshot is that Jordan projects to be only a depth NHL defenseman. In a small sample size, his struggles playing on his off side are problematic. And for the Canes specifically, I think they might prefer to keep Liles and let him go if they can make the $ work. My guess is that the Canes would be happy to keep Jordan as a #7/#8/AHL depth if he will take a 2-way contract. In that role, he gets slotted for the AHL and paid appropriately at that level, but he has enough NHL experience that he is not in over his head as an injury fill in. The question will be whether he do better elsewhere in terms of getting a 1-way contract (doubtful) or in terms of having a better shot to crack the NHL roster (possibly).
But with 70 games still to go in the NHL season, my skepticism about Michal Jordan’s role in Raleigh could just put the ball on the tee for him to dial up his play and seize a bigger role as the season progresses.