The Jekyll and Hyde behavior of Detroit Red Wings defender Jake Walman

Jake Walman's play has been somewhat of a roller coaster ride, but there is plenty left untapped to his game but the Detroit Red Wings need to find a way to extract it in 2024-25.
Nic Antaya/GettyImages

The Detroit Red Wings lost half of their top defense pairing during a pivotal final stretch of the regular season. Jake Walman was sidelined with a lower-body injury, which limited him to just two appearances over the final month of Detroit's season. Even when Walman was deemed 'available' to play, head coach Derek Lalonde quickly mentioned that although he's technically available, he just isn't 'himself,' which led to a ton of unwarranted speculation from the fanbase.

I have a tough time dissecting Walman's overall worth to the Detroit Red Wings. I understand this is a bold statement, and the human mind, for whatever reason, always reverts to an open-ended statement in a negative context. Still, I really don't mean it in a negative way. Walman always seems to grade out excellent analytically, and he's proven to be a tremendous shot-blocker; plus, he has a knack for chipping in with timely offense, yet he struggles to pass the eye test as a bona fide top-pairing defender at times.

You can't judge an athlete on one performance, but that game at home against the San Jose Sharks this past December continues to stand out in my mind. The Detroit Red Wings squandered a 4-0 lead in Patrick Kane's debut, allowing two short-handed goals on the same power play, followed by a third goal just as the Sharks penalty expired; Walman was the focal point of the lapse and displayed lackadaisical effort on two of the goals, in particular. Detroit eventually lost the game, and many are quick to point to the Red Wings pair of losses to Arizona late in the season (rightfully so) as games they needed to win to secure a playoff position. Still, those unacceptable losses through the first half of the season shouldn't be disregarded.

I am not suggesting Walman isn't a valuable piece for the Detroit Red Wings moving forward, but it's not unfair to question the overall effort on a game-to-game basis. This is out of my realm of familiarity, but some fans are quick to point to the fact that Walman's play is quick to decline immediately following the release of any new Fortnite game. Is it true, or is there any merit to the speculation? I would certainly hope not, but I can't confirm nor deny but I am sure plenty of readers can squash or confirm the timing of his slumps.

Again, at $3.4 million per season, Walman is exceeding his contract with his overall worth; I just question if he's a top-pairing defender on a playoff team. Moritz Seider has the ability to carry anyone he's paired with, and as previously mentioned, Walman does a great job of clogging up the shooting lane and is fearless when it comes to blocking shots, but he also struggles with defensive zone responsibilities (at times) and is often out worked, or overpowered losing a fair share of board battles on a nightly basis. There were times this past season while Detroit was hemmed in the defensive zone that Walman appeared slow to rotate to his assignment, which often came across as a lack of effort. Maybe it's a confidence thing; whatever it is, consistency is my biggest concern.

The 28-year-old defender has built up a robust online fandom backed by his now famous 'griddy' goal celebration, but my gut tells me he'd be a lot more valuable to the Detroit Red Wings in a second or third-pairing role moving forward. And if you think that is outlandish, I suppose spin it into a positive. If you are in the camp of Walman being a top-pairing defender, think of how improved the roster must be if he's on the second or third unit during five-on-five play.

Jake Walman should be used in a larger offensive role in 2024-25.

There is potential to see Walman this upcoming season in more of an offensive role if the Detroit Red Wings don't retain Shayne Gostisbehere. Walman notched a career-high 12 goals and 21 points last season, yet only one goal and four points came on the power play. I'd like to see Walman headman one of Detroit's power-play units in 2024-25 if Gostisbehere is playing elsewhere.

Walman has a big shot from the point and could see his career-high in goals he set this past season increase considerably if given the extra offensive opportunities on a more consistent basis. And while many of you will take the first half of this article as a negative, Walman is a much more well-rounded defender than Gostisbehere despite not having the offensive resume of Ghost, but it sure feels like the Red Wings have yet to extract everything Walman can provide.

There is some cause for concern regarding Walman's play this past season. Again, it goes back to the lack of consistency. Some nights he looks like a top pairing defender, other nights, a sixth, seventh, or eighth defender. This past year, Walman posted career lows in the possession categories with a Corsi For Percentage of 45.3, paired with a Relative Corsi For Percentage of -1.7 during even strength play. Walman also posted an xGF (expected goals for) of 35.5 to go along with an xGA (expected goals against) of 51.0 during even-strength play for a career-worst -15.4 this past season. In comparison, the spread was 7.3 two seasons ago.

Walman finished the year with 151 blocked shots, third on the Red Wings behind Seider and Ben Chiarot. Walman also totaled just 42 hits this past season, which ranked second lowest among the full-time Detroit defenders only to Gostisbehere. In comparison, the sparingly used Justin Holl still managed 59 hits over 38 games. Seider led the way with 211, followed by Chiarot's 163 and Jeff Petry's 150.