The Winnipeg Jets made things interesting in the off-season by actually spending some green, something they haven’t really done since relocating from Atlanta in 2011. They signed goalie Steve Mason and defenceman Dmitry Kulikov off the free agent market and made moves to protect key players in the expansion draft.
The Jets did win 40 games last season, but it wasn’t enough to propel them into the post-season. They finished seven points behind the Nashville Predators for a wild card spot. There were problems, including the fact that Winnipeg allowed far too many goals against to be a contender and the fact that the club lost 355 man-games to injury last season.
With more stability in goal and experience on the back end, the Jets may have begun to address those problems. And there are plenty of bright spots on the young roster, but a push for the playoffs may still be a touch out of reach. For now.
Patrik Laine is the future for the Jets, obviously. The 19-year-old scored 36 goals for a total of 64 points last season. He posted nine goals on the power play and had 204 shots on goal. He was first among rookies with 0.88 points per game and displayed defensive responsibility, even when the chips were down. Laine also had three hat tricks in 2016-2017, the only player in the league to do so.
Mark Scheifele came out Tuesday and said he was pushing to be a better player than Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby. That may seem like a lofty goal, to say the least, but the 24-year-old scored 82 points in 79 games last season. He’ll centre Laine on the top line in Winnipeg and that could mean big things for the Kitchener native, who has all the offensive instincts to put together a stellar campaign.
Blake Wheeler had 74 points in 82 games last season and continued to be the consistent, under-the-radar skater he’s always been. Wheeler has scored 26 goals in each of the last three seasons. He had 21 power play points last season, including five goals. He has surprising wheels for a dude who’s 6’5, 225 pounds.
Nikolaj Ehlers came up with 25 goals and a total of 64 points in his sophomore season. He had a dozen points on the power play, including five goals, and he’s seeing more ice time. There’s every reason to believe he’ll be good for at least 20 goals in 2017-2018, but if he sees time on the top line he could produce even more.
Dustin Byfuglien is one of the best defencemen in the league when it comes to piling up statistics. He usually hits double-digit goal numbers and has even reached 20 goals a couple times in his career. Last season, the 32-year-old had 13 goals and 39 assists for 52 points in 80 games. He had 14 points on the power play and averaged 27:26 of ice time a game.
Jacob Trouba had his best season to date, with 33 points in 60 games. He scored eight goals, two of which were on the power play. Contract issues meant he didn’t start until November 7 last season, but the Jets are hoping he’ll be ready right out of the box in 2017-2018 and will be ready to contribute. He may see more time on the top power play unit, too.
Josh Morrissey collected 20 points in 82 games. The 2013 draft pick has good offensive upside and will be set for his second full season with the Jets. He averaged 19:29 of ice time a game last season and can lead the charge from his own end, plus he can mix it up in the tough assignments.
Mason will battle for the starting position in Winnipeg. The Jets signed him with intentions on providing some stability in goal and he could find himself splitting time evenly with Connor Hellebuyck. The 29-year-old is used to starting heavy games. He won 26 of 54 starts last season in Philadelphia and posted a .908 save percentage with three shutouts.
Hellebuyck will certainly challenge for the top spot. The 24-year-old had 53 starts last season and won 26 games (sound familiar?), plus he snagged four shutouts with a .907 save percentage. If that’s any indication of what’s to come, we should see the Commerce native put up a good fight for the starting post.