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Hextall on Hockey: Winnipeg Jets losing Bryan Little a big loss

Winnipeg Jets' Bryan Little (18) congratulates right wing Patrik Laine (29), of Finland, on a goal against the Minnesota Wild during the first period of an NHL hockey game Friday, Nov. 23, 2018, in St. Paul, Minn.
Winnipeg Jets' Bryan Little (18) congratulates right wing Patrik Laine (29), of Finland, on a goal against the Minnesota Wild during the first period of an NHL hockey game Friday, Nov. 23, 2018, in St. Paul, Minn. AP Photo/Hannah Foslien

After taking a Nikolaj Ehlers one-timer to his ear, don’t expect Bryan Little back in the Winnipeg Jets lineup any time soon. This is a huge loss for the hockey club.

Little is one of the most under-appreciated players in the NHL.

After missing the start of the season due to a concussion suffered in pre-season, Little returned to put up five points in seven games — including the OT winner in the Heritage Classic.

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It’s secondary offense the Jets so desperately need and which Little provides.

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But the bigger loss is on the defensive side of the game, as Little is a vital piece to the puzzle.

The past two seasons, Little has sacrificed his own point production playing with Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers. One might say he should score more playing with such talented line mates — but that hasn’t been his role. Little has done the heavy lifting defensively on the line in order to let 29 and 27 shine.

As a centre, he is the responsible forward on the ice. Which means he’s the first forward back to the defensive zone to manage the puck, to take care of the puck defensively.

But an even bigger loss than the secondary offence and defensive play at even strength is Little’s presence on the penalty kill.

READ MORE: Hextall on Hockey: Decisive win could be decisive moment in Winnipeg Jets’ season

As a right-handed centre, her can take face-offs on the P-K. This allows the Jets to deploy Little and not Mark Scheifele – which allows the Jets first-line centre to conserve his energy when the Jets are short-handed.

Which the team clearly is now — and it is clearly no little loss.

Leah Hextall has been an on-air presence for the largest networks in North America: ESPN, Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada. Follow her on Twitter @leahhextall.

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