Jacob Middleton has earned his stripes.
After a decent rookie season with the San Jose Barracuda back in 2017, Middleton was rewarded with a fancy entry-level contract during the Rookie Showcase, and since then has proven that he is worthy of one.
His trek to the Top 25 Under 25 rankings has been an interesting one. The seventh-round draft pick in the 2014 Entry Draft by the L.A. Kings never signed an entry-level contract after an above-average season with the Ottawa 67s. Instead, Middleton settled for an amateur tryout with the Kings’ ECHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs. He then decided to forgo an overage year in the OHL, and was signed to an AHL contract by the Barracuda in 2016.
The ‘Cuda were heavy with defensive talent and Middleton struggled to crack the lineup in the first few months. But by the end of the regular season and into the playoffs, he was a mainstay on their third defensive pairing. Last season, with the departure of both Joakim Ryan and Tim Heed to the mother club, Middleton assumed first-line duties with partner Nick DeSimone and even gained a big ol’ A on his chest.
Middleton is more of a stay-at-home defenseman, but his offensive production took a big jump from his 2016-17 campaign. Averaging 15.01 minutes per game last season, Middleton had 0.09 goals per game, .21 primary points per game and 1.7 shots per game, which is a far cry from his rookie season in which he only managed to average 0.02 goals, 0.08 primary points and .86 shots in nearly three fewer minutes per game. He led all Barracuda defensemen in total points last season with 28 points, which is good for a defensive defenseman, but shows that the Barracuda definitely could have used some scoring from the blueline (though they did have Tim Heed for 10 regular season games and four playoff games, for some reason).
Emmanuel Perry’s NHLe model suggests that Middleton has roughly a 30% chance of making the NHL, but because of his growing production at the professional level, it isn’t a wild guess to say that Middleton is the closest out of the current defensive prospect batch to make it to the NHL in terms of timeline.
Much like his defensive partner, Nick DeSimone, Middleton doesn’t exactly drive the team’s offensive production. This is shown with Evan Oppenheimer’s betweenness data, which essentially measures how much a skater is reliant on his teammates by using primary points only. Middleton registered at -.0442 last season.
Before the Dylan DeMelo re-signing, all signs were pointing to Middleton making the jump to the NHL for the upcoming season. However, barring a strong training camp and/or injuries, he will most likely find himself back with the Barracuda for a third season, giving the Barracuda defensive corps some stability that they’ve lacked.
What We Like
Middleton is a prototypical defensive defenseman, who you can almost always depend on when the puck is in the Barracuda’s defensive zone. He also excels with breaking the puck out, but unfortunately there aren’t any zone start stats in the AHL, so I’m near forced to use the eye test here. He doesn’t have that A on his chest for no reason, either, because over the season he’s shown great leadership qualities, which is definitely something the front office took note of over the season.
Areas of Improvement
Middleton isn’t exactly the fastest skater, but he can definitely make up for it with his defensive skill. Another concern is his uptick of penalty minutes last season. He was second in penalty minutes for the Barracuda with 80, the highest he’s ever had in his career.
Middleton’s last of three power play goals on his season shows that he can make an impact when he wants to get involved in the play.