The 2020/21 Winnipeg Jets were majorly flawed defensively, and it cost them in the playoffs last season, and wow was that ever addressed. The hope for Winnipeg is to push for a cup now. Connor Hellebuyck has mentioned the group getting older and having to win now,
and I don’t think anyone would disagree. With that win now mindset, a proposed strategic change on the ice, and an overhauled defense group, the hopes are high for fans in Winnipeg.
The Jets may have had one of the more underrated off-seasons in the NHL, replacing Tucker Poolman, Derek Forbort, and Sami Niku with Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt for the cost of 2 2nd round picks and a 3rd round pick. The hopeful progression from Logan Stanley and Ville Heinola will be something to watch as well as training camp progresses.
Going into the season, this is how I project the lines to look, ** indicates PTO
Kyle Connor – Mark Scheifele – Blake Wheeler
Andrew Copp – Pierre-Luc Dubois – Nikolaj Ehlers
Paul Stastny – Adam Lowry – Kristian Vesalainen
Jansen Harkins – Riley Nash – Evgeny Svechnikov**
David Gustafsson, Mikey Eyssimont
Brenden Dillon – Neal Pionk
Josh Morrissey – Nate Schmidt
Logan Stanley – Dylan Demelo
Ville Heinola, Nathan Beaulieu
One interesting player to follow that isn’t mentioned on the list is Cole Perfetti. Cole Perfetti thrived in the AHL last season, and has had a very good camp so far, and may just force his way into the lineup as the season goes along. Ville Heinola, Cole Perfetti, and David Gustafsson should all get some games with the big club throughout the season as spots open up due to injury.
If the jets hope to have a good run this season, a lot has to go right, and a lot has to change. Starting with the top line, we need them to stay consistent. This line can’t take nights off like the tended to do last season, this needs to be a top-end top line for the Jets. The second line has one major question mark, and that’s Pierre-Luc Dubois. Which Dubois will the Jets get? The fringe middle 6 center we saw last season, or the high end second line center we saw in Columbus? If Dubois takes a step in the right direction, this line could be very lethal, especially with Nikolaj Ehlers driving the play. The Bottom 6 is really intriguing to me, lots of veteran presence, but at the same time, lots of up and coming talent. Adam Lowry, Paul Stastny, and Riley Nash have been very good bottom 6 players for the past few seasons, and while Stastny may fall off a bit, I’m not too worried about any of these 3 players underperforming. Kristian Vesalainen, Jansen Harkins, and, if he signs a contract, Evgeny Svechnikov, will be very interesting to follow. Vesalainen showed significant strides at the end of last season, showing he can be a physical, strong, defensive forward. Jansen Harkins, while he has had a mediocre start to his career, shows promise in his own end, and Evgeny Svechnikov is a project that could benefit from a change in scenery.
Defensively, Dillon – Pionk could be a lethal pairing. Pionk took strides as a 1RD last season, and playing with a very strong defensive defensemen could allow Pionk to thrive even more offensively. Morrissey – Schmidt is absolutely a high risk high reward situation. Morrissey had an awful season last year, being one of the worst defensemen in the league, playing top minutes with Tucker Poolman, who wasn’t much better, if at all. Morrissey, however, succeeded greatly with Trouba when they played a second pair role, and the hope is that Schmidt may be able to bring some of the same results. If we get a 2017 performance out of Morrissey, a throwback to Vegas from Schmidt, and chemistry between Dillon and Pionk, this could be a very strong top 4 to watch out for. Stanley – Demelo should be a good pairing as well. Stanley should only develop further, and Demelo was arguably our second best defender last year, and is very responsible in his own end. Putting these two together could work very well, as it did last season. The wild card here is Ville Heinola. He could very well force himself into the lineup as the season goes along, and his season will be intriguing to follow.
Connor Hellebuyck, this will be the first time in a few seasons where he has an actual defense group in front of him, and I’m very excited to see what he can show. Eric Comrie will be very interesting to follow as he’s trained with Hellebuyck, and will have his first shot as “the backup” and not just the third string who goes in when needed.
The Winnipeg Jets open their season in Anaheim to face off against the Ducks, with a 3 game road trip taking on the Ducks, Sharks, and Wild before coming home to take on the Ducks again for their home opener on October 21st.