The Jets’ playoff run was filled with two close match-ups where both teams battled things out tightly. Or… not. The Jets embarrassed the Oilers in four, then failed to win a single game versus Montreal. They had so many defensive struggles that it was a must to upgrade in that area this offseason. And hey, they did! Winnipeg does not look half bad, especially now that Connor Hellebuyck has some help.
Offseason Additions: D Nate Schmidt, D Brenden Dillon, F Riley Nash.
Offseason subtractions: F Mason Appleton, F Mathieu Perrault, G Laurent Brossoit, D Derek Forbort, D Tucker Poolman, F Trevor Lewis, F Nate Thompson, D Jordie Benn, D Sami Niku.
A great season for Mark Scheifele was dampened by a dirty playoff hit on Jake Evans that had him suspended for the rest of the second round and even the start of this season. Scheifele does not have the best underlying numbers, but he can put points on the board, with 21 goals and 42 assists for 63 points in 56 games last season. He is an efficient player, as he has sustained a 16 percent shooting rate and a 102 PDO over his career. The same could be said for Kyle Connor, who has a 15.4 percent shooting percentage over his career. Connor scored 26 goals with 50 points last season. He has not missed a game over the past three seasons, scoring 98 goals in that span. Blake Wheeler played a good amount of center in 2019-20, but he moved completely away from that position last year, taking just eight draws. He scored 15 goals with 31 assists in 50 games. The Winnipeg captain has been on pace to reach at least 70 points, or just hit the mark in every single year since 2015-16. The most underrated Jet is easily Nikolaj Ehlers, who quietly averaged about a point-per-game last season, with 46 in 47 games. 21 of those points were goals, extending his 20+ goal streak to five seasons. After coming over from Columbus for Patrik Laine, Pierre-Luc Dubois was a big disappointment. He scored just eight goals with 12 assists in 41 games. Dubois has the talent to be a borderline first line center, but the Jets didn’t see that. Dubois now has a new number, honoring late teammate Matiss Kivlenieks. In his return to Winnipeg, Paul Stastny scored 13 goals with 16 assists, while winning 54.7 percent of his face-offs. The veteran’s CF% of 57.4 was significantly higher than the team’s average. Andrew Copp had a breakout season, establishing himself as a very good middle-six winger. Copp averaged over 18 minutes a night, scoring 15 goals with 39 points. All three of those were career-highs for the Ann Arbor native. Ginormous center Adam Lowry signed a five-year extension with the Jets midseason, carrying a $3.25 million AAV. He scored ten goals with 14 assists, while laying 161 hits. After losing Mason Appleton to Seattle, the Jets need 2017 first-rounder Kristian Vesalainen to step up and be a third line wing. Vesalainen had just an assist in 12 NHL games last season. In the AHL, he scored a goal with four assists in six games. 21-year-old David Gustafsson played for three teams last year; the Jets, the AHL Moose, and Tingsryds AIF in Sweden. He had 17 points in 16 games overseas, plus 19 points in 22 games for Manitoba. Gustafsson only got into four NHL games. Jansen Harkins drew into 26 games last season, but did not do much while averaging under eight-and-a-half minutes a game. Harkins had a goal and an assist. His father Todd and uncle Brett both played in the NHL. In comes Riley Nash, a veteran who does not offer much offensively but is very skilled in his own end. He had seven points in 37 games for the Blue Jackets last season, and despite not playing in a single regular season game for them, Nash played in two postseason games for Toronto. Dominic Toninato only got into two games for Winnipeg last year, and he scored three goals in three AHL games. Toninato was a semi-regular for the Panthers in 2019-20, with 11 points in 46 games.
The Jets trust Josh Morrissey to be a top-pairing defender, but he has really struggled in that role, to the point where his new seven-year deal looks dicey. Morrissey had 21 points in 56 games, with a very ugly 3.05 xGA/60, which cannot happen to a number one defenseman. He could be helped out by the arrival of Nate Schmidt, the energetic defender who did not have a fun season in Vancouver. Schmidt had 15 points in 54 games, a year after he had 31 in 59 contests for Vegas. Schmidt finished 13th in Lady Byng voting, taking just two minor penalties all season. The other key defensive add for the Jets, Brenden Dillon, is the polar opposite of Schmidt. He is a defensive-minded, physical player who will spend a decent amount of time in the penalty box. In his only full season for the Capitals, Dillon had 19 points with 49 penalty minutes, 61 blocks, and 143 hits. Neal Pionk is the team’s best power play option on defense, as ten of his 32 points were on the man advantage. He may not be the biggest guy, but Pionk had 137 hits last season. It was pretty surprising to see the Jets expose Dylan DeMelo in the expansion draft, and then get to retain him. DeMelo is a very good defensive player, although he was underused last season, with his ice time being cut down to under 17 minutes a game. Former first-rounder Logan Stanley was decent in his rookie season, although he did not get a chance to shine. Stanley had four points with 31 blocks and 49 hits in 37 games. Stanley scored two more times with 21 hits in the playoffs. Nathan Beaulieu has been a depth option for the Jets over the past two seasons, although he has struggled. Beaulieu had just an assist with 20 penalty minutes, 30 blocked shots, and 39 hits in 25 games last season. Ville Heinola has five points in 13 NHL games, although none of those points came in his five games last season. The 20-year-old had 11 points in 19 games for the Moose.
While his overall numbers may not look amazing, Connor Hellebuyck is an absolute star, and arguably the league’s top goalie. He has been overused, seeing more shots than any goalie in each of the last three seasons, but Hellebuyck has still been good. Behind an awful Winnipeg defense, he had a .916 save percentage with a GSAA of 11. Hellebuyck was great in the first round, with an all-around playoff save percentage of .931. With Laurent Brossoit leaving for Vegas, Eric Comrie will finally get a chance to be an NHL backup. He started his career with the Jets, but bounced around last year and now returns. Comrie played in one game for the Devils. In four AHL games, he allowed just five goals.
Kyle Connor – Mark Scheifele – Blake Wheeler
Pierre-Luc Dubois – Paul Stastny – Nikolaj Ehlers
Andrew Copp – Adam Lowry – Kristian Vesalainen
Jansen Harkins – David Gustafsson – Riley Nash
Extras: Dominic Toninato
Josh Morrissey – Nate Schmidt
Brenden Dillon – Neal Pionk
Logan Stanley – Dylan DeMelo
Extras: Nathan Beaulieu, Ville Heinola
The Jets are not a total defensive hole anymore. They may be in trouble if the injury bug hits them, but they have a strong roster. Hellebuyck can take over games. This team is sneaky-dangerous. They will make the playoffs, even making it into the divisional spots, passing the wild card.