Each day for the past 30 days the FanSided Network has been previewing every team in the NHL. As the old maxim goes, “save the best for last” so today is my, and Winnipeg’s, turn.
The big news, obviously, is that a huge wrong was corrected over the summer when True North Sports and Entertainment purchased the Atlanta Thrashers and brought the Jets back. On the ice, however, there might not be much cause for optimism.
The Jets’ top line of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler looks to be at least an above average one. Last year Wheeler had an equal goal scoring rate to some Alex Ovechkin guy, and as I have covered with Ladd, he has the ability to direct play and dominate opponents despite playing against tough competition as well as starting a good number of shifts in his own zone.
Behind those three, there are hopes that Evander Kane can turn into potentially a 30 goal scorer, though that would require an 11 goal improvement next season. Still, Kane gets a lot of ice time at even strength and he gets some protected minutes (starting almost 54% of his shifts in the offensive zone), though he did play against the 2nd toughest competition amongst regular forwards, trailing only Ladd. Kane draws a ton of penalties and doesn’t take many, so he is great in that regard as well. He gets a good amount of power play time as well, so I think 30 goals is within reach, but I’d like to see him used on the penalty kill as well. He’ll be joined by Alex Burmistrov, who plays pretty well in his own zone, and Nik Antropov, who is a big enough guy and talented enough to take some attention away from Kane.
The news that the Jets were going to try to make the third line a scoring line was a bit surprising at first, but after the Kyle Wellwood signing it makes sense. Wellwood was actually one of the better players on the Sharks last year, and has the ability to make some plays, plus matching him up against some weaker competition will presumably match him against some slower competition and thus he will have his speed issues papered over a bit. Lastly Eric Fehr joins the third line from Washington, where he put up 21 goals in 2009-10. Just as it’s probable he got lucky shooting wise that year, it’s likely he was unlucky last year, when he had a 6.12 shooting percentage.
Lastly, the Jets have to decide what to do with a couple of the kids, namely Mark Scheifele. The 7th overall pick starred at the prospect tournament and has been great in the preseason. He could maybe hack it in the NHL this year, but I think it makes most sense to send him back to Barrie for a year.
Zach Bogosian already was good, but he has gone up and above this preseason, playing well defensively still while improving his offense markedly. It hasn’t totally showed up in terms of points yet, but he has much better offensive instincts than at any point in his career.
The other big guy on defense is obviously Dustin Byfuglien. Byfuglien isn’t the best guy defensively, but offensively he has been very good, putting up 20 goals and 53 points last year. He plays against soft competition, but he dominates it, so I can live with his contract for now.
Other than those two, the Jets have mostly filler guys, and guys who need to improve in a hurry if Winnipeg is to compete this year. Down on the farm, watch for Paul Postma and Zach Redmond, who look like NHLers once some contracts get out of the way.
Ondrej Pavelec has just under a league average save% at even strength over the past three years, and last year was his breakout as he posted a .928 mark. He probably will regress this year given the sheer amount of shots he faced last season, but I think the skills are real and he is a legit #1 goalie.
Backing him up is Chris Mason. Mason had a rough year last year (.902 ES Sv%) but his three year mark of .917 suggests he was a bit unlucky last year. He’s getting up there in years, but I think he has one more good year left in him. If he can’t hack it, Edward Pasquale, who had a great prospects tournament, looks to be the next guy in line.
Things look bleak for now. The previous regime in Atlanta did a pretty horrible job with trades and drafting. I think there are reasons to believe both will improve though: The Eric Fehr trade was a good one, their signings were all very good, and although I didn’t approve of some of their draft picks they didn’t have a ton of time to get the new scouting staff installed before the draft. Scheifele might not have the upside a #7 pick should, but he looks like a guaranteed NHLer, which is always nice.
I think Winnipeg will finish somewhere around 12 or 13 in the East and have a pretty high lottery pick next summer, when they will start to stock the farm system. But, no matter how things go in the standings, the prevailing sentiment is that it’s great to just be playing some NHL hockey in Winnipeg again. We’re back baby.