Winnipeg Jets Season Preview

I don’t think there’s any doubt that the biggest change this off-season was the Atlanta Thrashers being bought by True North and moving to Winnipeg to become the Jets. It’s going to have a big effect on the division as far as travel goes and this could be the last season this team is in the Southeast if the rumored re-alignment does happen. Either way, the city of Winnipeg should be glad they have a hockey team once again and I’m sure they will sell out the MTS Centre every night. Unfortunately for them, the team they inherited isn’t that good, so the “Jets” first season in Winnipeg might be a tough one.

Forwards

Off-Season Additions and Subtractions

Robbie Schremp, Anthony Stewart and Eric Boulton didn’t make the trip to Winnipeg and all three are pretty replaceable in the grand scheme of things. Stewart lit the lamp a bit last year but a lot of that was attributed to a hot first 25 games, he was very poor after that and was never great at driving possession. Schremp was not terrible in his role but he is 100% replaceable and all Boulton was good for was getting into scraps.

New to the team are Tanner Glass, who takes over Boulton’s role and might do it better since he isn’t a liability defensively. I know Glass has the “enforcer” reputation because of how he was used in Vancouver but I think he’s better than that and can be solid on the Jets fourth line. They also signed Kyle Wellwood at a low cost who should give them some much needed depth on the wings. They also claimed Brett MacLean from the Phoenix Coyotes who only has 12 games of NHL experience under his belt and could be a solid addition to this team. He was Phoenix’s 3rd best prospect according to Hockey’s Future and is pegged as a “natural goal-scorer with great hands” so if he pans out, that will help out the Jets a lot. Winnipeg is also beginning the year with 18-year old first rounder Mark Scheifele on the big club.

Depth Chart

LW C RW
Andrew Ladd Bryan Little Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane Alexander Burmistrov Nik Antropov
Brett MacLean Mark Scheifele Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass Jim Slater Chris Thorburn
Patrice Cormier Eric Fehr (IR)
Tim Stapleton

Winnipeg has a lot of depth problems, especially at center. They have two players who aren’t even 20 yet centering their second and third lines and one of them only put up 6 goals and 20 points his rookie year. They are both very talented but the lack of experience is a concern and Burmistrov didn’t just have a weak rookie season through boxcar stats, he was abysmal at driving possession and winning faceoffs, too. I think he will improve, though and playing on a line with a proven talent like Nik Antropov should help him. Evander Kane didn’t have the breakout season that I predicted he would have last year but he improved on his rookie year and I see that trend continuing.

A good question is how Claude Noel will roll these lines because Bryan Little’s line is capable of playing the toughs but this is their best offensive line (sadly) so one would think that you would want this line to focus on scoring more. However, Burmistrov and Scheifele’s lines might need some serious protection to be effective. Craig Ramsay had to do that with Burmistrov last year and it didn’t work out so you have to wonder if Noel will do the same thing with him and possibly Shceifele. Either way, with Little’s line playing the tougher minutes, it would be good to free up players like Kane and MacLean to easier ice-time. Glass, Slater and Thorburn will likely see themselves buried with defensive assignments.

The Jets may have some serious scoring and depth issues this season with this potential roster but it could change if Kane has a break-out year or if Burmistrov improves. Antropov is 31 and might see his production go down but Little, Ladd, Wheeler, Kane, MacLean and Burmistrov are all 25 or younger and will be entering the prime of their careers very soon, so you can expect them to be on the rise the next few years. As of right now, this forward corps doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of other defenses and that’s generally the case when your top scorer is Andrew Ladd.

Defense

Off-Season Additions and Subtractions

Winnipeg didn’t lose any of their defense corps over the off-season but they did add Randy Jones and Derek Meech who apparently made the team out of camp despite the Jets already having six defensemen on the roster already. Jones isn’t much more than a 5/6 defenseman or a warm body you can play whenever a ton of injuries occur and Meech spent all of last season in the AHL.

Depth Chart

Left Defense Right Defense
Tobias Enstrom Dustin Byfuglien
Johnny Oduya Zach Bogosian
Ron Hainsey
Mark Stuart
Randy Jones
Derek Meech

The top-four here is actually a position of strength for this team. Enstrom and Byfuglien are two strong offensive forces from the blue-line and they both dominated above-average competition last season. Behind them is Oduya and Bogosian who take on the tougher assignments (like killing penalties) and while they didn’t have particular great seasons last year, they are both very solid defensive defensemen and Bogosian still hasn’t reached all of his potential. Behind them, there aren’t a lot of good things to say. Hainsey is coming off a pretty decent season, but that’s about it. Stuart didn’t play well in a 5/6th role against weak competition, Jones can’t play against tough competition and it’s been a whole year since Meech in the NHL. There’s depth here but not in a good way.

Also, it’s kind of alarming that two of Atlanta’s “best” defensemen don’t even kill penalties. Anyone who follows hockey should know who I am referring to here. Byfuglien accumulated 45% of his points on the powerplay last year, was constantly put out with the top line and didn’t play a major defensive role. Enstrom was mostly the same case. This is why many people will tell you that Bogosian is the best defenseman on this roster. Despite being in his early 20’s, he’s trusted with the toughest assignments on the team and that says a lot about what the coaching staff thinks of him and how little they trust Byfuglien and Enstrom.

Winnipeg should continue to have a strong powerplay thanks to this defense corps but their penalty kill is looking like it will be torched yet again. Can you honestly say that they did anything to address the PK other than re-signing Bogosian? Oduya and Bogosian might have bounce-back seasons but it would have been nice to get them some help in the form of someone better than Mark Stuart or Randy Jones.

Goaltending

Ondrej Pavelec had one hell of a first half last season but the amount of games he played and the number of shots the team surrendered nightly caught up to him and he slowly came back down to Earth. Ended up with a save percentage of .914, which isn’t bad but it’s pretty average. Pavelec was still pretty dominant at even strength but it’s tough for me to say that he will continue that. He was not a good goalie in the previous seasons and I’d like to see him repeat this kind of performance before I’m sold on him. If he flops then Winnipeg better hope that Chris Mason has a better performance than the .892 save percentage he put up last year. If not, then you can add this to the Jets multitude of problems.

Final Thoughts

Winnipeg really does not look like a good team this season but they have a lot of promising youth that could be great a few years down the line. The team’s lack of depth up front and on defense is going to really hurt this team unless some of their young forwards start to produce this season. Their goaltending situation has the potential to be ugly, too so that doesn’t give me much confidence in them. At least hockey’s back in Winnipeg.

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