We have made it to the final season preview! The Jets just endured a very boring offseason, one that didn’t get spicy until training camp started, when they stripped Blake Wheeler of his captaincy, something that he has held since Andrew Ladd left in 2016. Message sent. Winnipeg was disappointing last season. Are they reformed enough to make a run at the playoffs?
Offseason additions: F Sam Gagner, G David Rittich, F Saku Maenalanen, F Kevin Stenlund.
Offseason subtractions: F Paul Stastny, F Evgeny Svechnikov, G Eric Comrie, F Zach Sanford, D Nathan Beaulieu, F Kristian Vesalainen.
A big problem with the Jets is that while they have stars, none of them play defense. Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler are a dynamic duo offensively, but they were the two worst forwards on the team in both goals against per sixty and expected goals against per sixty. Both of them missed a decent amount of games last year, which is uncharacteristic. Scheifele played in 67 games, but still scored 29 goals with 70 points. Wheeler, who has never been a big goal scorer, only had 17, but did have 43 assists to bring up his point total to 60 in 65 games. Last season was a big one for Nikolaj Ehlers, who scored 28 goals with 55 points in 62 games. Ehlers had his highest average ice time, and has developed into a star.
While most of the top-six missed a good amount of games last year, Kyle Connor did not. Playing in all but three contests, Connor scored a career-high 47 goals with 93 points, cementing himself as a superstar. Taking just two minor penalties all year, Connor secured the Lady Byng Trophy. Connor’s main center throughout the year was Pierre-Luc Dubois, who will continue to have trade rumors surround him as he can’t seem to figure out where he wants to play. Dubois scored 28 goals last year with 60 points, matching his breakout season of 2018-19. Drafted tenth overall in 2020, Cole Perfetti got a taste of the spotlight last season, scoring seven points in 18 NHL games. He added 15 more points in 17 AHL games.
Where the Jets are going to hurt this year is the third line, where they could not find anyone to replace Andrew Copp after he was dealt at the deadline. Adam Lowry is the strongest part of the line, but he suffered from a 4.16 on-ice shooting percentage at five-on-five. Lowry did score 13 goals, but he had a 37.8 GF%. His 1.95 GA/60 was the best on the team. Lowry played a lot with Jansen Harkins last year, but Harkins did not get a ton of ice time. Playing in 77 games but averaging less than 10 minutes of ice time a game, Harkins scored seven goals with six assists. After losing him to Seattle in the expansion draft, the Jets traded a fourth-rounder at the deadline to re-acquire Mason Appleton. In the 19 games to start his second stint as a Jet, Appleton had four points.
Sam Gagner has made his way to his seventh NHL team after reviving his career for the second time. Gagner was a leader on the lowly Red Wings last year and his production wasn’t bad either. He scored 13 goals with 31 points while playing in all but one game. Saku Maenalanen, who played in 34 games for the 2018-19 Hurricanes, is back in the NHL with the Jets. He played in 47 games for Karpat in Finland last season, scoring 13 goals with 28 assists for 41 points. While he has just one point in 28 career games over three seasons, David Gustafsson has performed at the AHL level. Playing in 45 games last year, he scored 15 goals with 15 assists. Dominic Toninato broke into the lineup last year, scoring seven goals in 77 games. Toninato didn’t play a ton while in the bottom-six, but he did record 92 hits. Coming over in the trade for Copp was Morgan Barron. A former star at Cornell, Barron had four points in 14 games after the deal.
The Jets used six main defensemen last year, and the expectation is that they will use the same six guys this season. Following a tough 2020-21 season, Josh Morrissey rebounded with a career-high in goals, with twelve, and points, with 37. While he isn’t overly big, Morrissey plays like he is, with 104 blocks, 150 hits, and 66 penalty minutes in 2021-22. However, he isn’t as defensively sound as his partner, Dylan DeMelo. While he had just 13 points in 76 games, DeMelo had 108 blocks and a 1.96 GA/60, the best on the defense.
In his third season as a Jet, Neal Pionk’s scoring pace was the worst, but he still had 34 points in 77 games. Pionk has been a valuable addition to the Winnipeg power play since coming over from the Rangers for Jacob Trouba. Pionk’s 185 hits were third on the team, trailing only Lowry and Brenden Dillon. Playing in his first year with the team, Dillon had 20 points while helping do the much-needed work of shoring up the team’s defense. Dillon’s 53.15 GF% was the best on the defensive core.
The other big offseason acquisition last year, aside from Dillon, was Nate Schmidt. With 32 points, his most since he was a big part of Vegas’ inaugural season, Schmidt delivered. He was nominated for the Lady Byng for the fourth year in a row, taking just 10 penalty minutes all season. Schmidt may not be a big hitter, but Logan Stanley is. Standing six feet and seven inches tall, Stanley had 131 hits in 58 games last year. He will have a role as long as he beats out Ville Heinola. The 21-year-old had five points in 12 games last season. Heinola would only be in the NHL if he had a starting job. That opens up the door for Dylan Samberg to be the seventh-defender. Samberg had five points in 15 NHL games last year. He added twelve more in 32 AHL games.
Connor Hellebuyck is such a weird goalie to evaluate, because the Jets are wearing him out. Hellebuyck has faced the most shots in the league for each of the past four seasons. He didn’t do so in 2017-18, but that year he had the most starts. Hellebuyck had a 2.97 GAA and a .910 save percentage last season, which is nothing too impressive. But he had 13.6 goals saved above expected, good enough for eighth in the league. While he didn’t get any Vezina votes, Hellebuyck is still good. The Jets don’t really need a backup for him, so they went for the cheaper option in veteran David Rittich. Playing in 17 games for Nashville last season, Rittich was really bad. He had a 3.57 GAA with a save percentage of .886.
Nikolaj Ehlers – Mark Scheifele – Blake Wheeler
Kyle Connor – Pierre-Luc Dubois – Cole Perfetti
Jansen Harkins – Adam Lowry – Mason Appleton
Saku Maenalanen – Morgan Barron – Sam Gagner
Extras: Dominic Toninato, David Gustafsson
Josh Morrissey – Dylan DeMelo
Brenden Dillon – Neal Pionk
Logan Stanley – Nate Schmidt
Scratched: Dylan Samberg