2019-20 Season Review: Jacob Middleton is an NHL player, technically

Is he replacement level or has he only played ten NHL games? Probably both!

The future of the season is uncertain, but one thing is pretty clear regardless of how the league may choose to return, or even if they don’t at all: the Sharks’ season is over. It’s been over for a long time. If the league is somehow able to make up this season in full, a handful of games still won’t put the Sharks in a playoff spot and even if by some miracle it did, the best they could hope for is a first round exit. I don’t think that even in the absolute best case scenario my opinions of this team will change drastically.

And if they do, then may this stand to the testament to one of the times I was Wrong Online. I’m sure there are many.

We’ll be doing these in ascending order of games played, with a minimum of ten games played because I am just not going to write about Brandon Davidson and his distressingly handsome face if I don’t have to.

Let’s review some boys, baby.

Here’s the thing about Jacob Middleton: He is utterly unremarkable.

He makes me wish I had ordered this series in literally any other way, or raised the games played threshold to 11, just so I don’t have to talk about how exceptionally average he is. For a player who was drafted in the seventh round, but let his rights expire before signing an AHL contract and eventually putting ink to paper on an NHL deal, he hasn’t broken the mould in any exceptional way since, filling in as what amounts to a bottom-pairing defender.

I’m not entirely convinced that Jacob Middleton isn’t just the runt of the litter of dark-haired white boy Sharks defenders.

On the flip side, Jacob Middleton has three assists in 13 career NHL games played on an emergency basis, with 10 of those games this past season on, well ... the 2019-20 San Jose Sharks. What exactly are we expecting? A bottom-pairing defenseman is still a rostered NHL player — not a terrible value for a 24-year-old former seventh-round pick.

The real concern is that Middleton’s AHL production dropped off pretty steeply this season, though that may be due to an injury at the beginning of the season (courtesy of the Golden Knights’ Ryan Reaves). Middleton was never projected to have much of an offensive production, but his six points over 32 AHL games this season is nearly half the points per game rate as his previous season.

Among the good things we can say about Middleton is that he’s very aware of his 6-foot-3 frame and has a decent shot on the rare occasion he uses it.

RAPM Chart (via Evolving-Hockey)

The graphic above illustrates a player’s Regularized Adjusted Plus-Minus (RAPM), a measure created here by the twins behind Evolving-Hockey to attempt to “isolate a given player’s contribution while on the ice independent of all factors that we can account for.” For more on their process, see this explainer on Hockey Graphs.

Even his fancy stats are boring.

Career Summary (via HockeyViz)

Middleton may have improved ever so slightly in his offensive contributions, but he also got to be nearly as much of a defensive liability. Just impressively average.

What Comes Next?

Middleton is coming off of the final year of his three-year, $735,000 entry-level contract and will become a restricted free agent in the 2020 off-season, whenever it shall now occur. The Sharks have a pretty good starting left-handed defense, but the depth chart below that is shot. Middleton isn’t going to break the bank, likely won’t see a ton of NHL time, and has a handful of NHL games under his belt. He’s also still young, having only just turned 24 years old in January.

Even if the Sharks give him three or four years — probably more term than most Sharks fans would want — at a league minimum contract, that’s still just a league minimum contract. If it does eventually go bad, it is incredibly easy to get rid of. Why not? Every dollar counts and someone has to play back up, y’know? Could be worse.