What started out four years ago as Canadian Hockey’s feel good story has rapidly evolved to a familiar Canadian hockey script. The first few years, the fans were just happy to have a team. After that though the bunsen burner started to rise, and 2014 -15 Jets were feeling the pressure of increased expectations.
Fortunately for the Jet’s they delivered as needed in 2014-15 with a playoff appearance. Initially progress was slow, but under Paul Maurice’s guidance the Jets gained a consistency that buoyed them into their first round appearance i the 2015 playoffs. And while the Jets didn’t get a “W” in a four game sweep by the Anaheim Ducks, it was a goal that was acheived, much to the delight of Jets fans everwhere.
But that was last year, what will this years version of the Winnipeg Jets deliver? Unfortunately, it might be wise for the members of Jets nation to temper their enthusiasm, especially considering the division the Jets play in, and what upgrades their GM has provided. A brief overview of the team:
Key Additions: Alexander Burmistrov
Key Departures: Michael Frolik, Zach Bogosian, Evander Kane, Jiri Tlusty, Lee Stempniak,
Roster Contenders: Nikolaj Ehlers, Josh Morrissey, Connor Hellebuyck, Andrew Copp
Andrew Ladd – Bryan Little – Blake Wheeler
Alexander Burmistrov – Mark Scheifele – Drew Stafford
Adam Lowry – Mathieu Perreault – Nikolai Ehlers
Jim Slater – Andrew Copp – Matt Halischuck
Dustin Byfuglien – Jacob Trouba
Tobias Enstron – Tyler Myers
Mark Stuart – Ben Chariot
The Winnipeg Jets have been the second favorite hockey team for most Canadian hockey fans, and for good reason.There’s not an abundance of raw talent here, but more than a dollop of try, and we like that. Unfortunately for the Jets they will need more substance to go with effort and their GM has failed miserably in providing it.
Last year, the Jets at one point had useful forwards like Michael Frolik, Lee Stempniak, and Jiri Tlusty to solidify a youthful but developing roster. All those players are gone now with only former player Alexander Burmistrov coming back in return. Not good.
Obviously Kevin Cheveldayoff is putting a lot of trust in his prospect pool. And lucky for him, he has the best prospect depth in the NHL. One thing Cheveldayoff did do was ensure he had among the best scouting staff in the NHL and Chevy will need at least one or two of those recent draft picks to step up.
Tops on the prospect list is future great Dane, Nikolaj Ehlers. Ehlers is the best forward prospect this side of Connor Mcdavid and is a year older. The Jets have no shortage of size so they can surround Ehlers with Gigantic forwards for protection. Based on his other-worldly production in the Q (1.98 ppg during the seasson, 2.21 ppg in the playoffs) Ehlers is an early candidate for the Calder.
Apart from that, Andrew Copp has shown well in camp and is believed to have a shot at the fourth line center spot, but that isn’t exactly game breaker territory. On the back-end Josh Morrissey could push for a spot, but the Jets aren’t desperate on defence, so there won’t be too many changes there.
Now in goal things could get more interesting as the Jets really don’t have a clear-cut #1 goalie. Last year it was done more by committee. Huctchinson carried the ball for most of the first half and when he began to falter, passed it back to Pavelec. My prediction is that one, or both, of Pavelec and Hutchinson could start to suck slough water, at which point the door of opportunity could open for Connor Hellebuyck. Hellebuyck is in my opinion the best goalie not in the NHL and could force his way into some games. That would be a good thing for the Winnipeg Jets organization, but if their goaltending falters for any stretch, that might hurt their chances for a consecutive appearance in the post-season.
So overall, the Jets have a decent top 9. Season highlights to watch for would be Scheifele continuing to take charge of the team, Burmistrov to make a strong return, and Ehlers to push for the Calder. But is it enough? Maybe, but they are in the league’s toughest division and don’t appear to have improved enough to keep pace. It’s hard count out a team coached by Paul Maurice but I would foresee the Jets finishing just outside of the playoff cut in the 93 -95 point range.
A developing subplot to the season will be looming UFA’s Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien. Look for Chevy’s lethargic decision-making to cost the Jets one or possibly both of these players and finally take some real heat from management.