The Winnipeg Jets surprised everyone advancing to the conference finals against the St. Louis Blues last season, but the quick 4-0 sweep in that series was still a hard pill to swallow. In order to achieve the number one goal – winning the Stanley Cup – you have to be able to beat the best in a seven game series. The Jet Management Group decided the team needed to be upgraded in certain areas to provide the best chance to advance.
KEY ADDITIONS: RW Jeff Carter, RW T.J. Oshie, RW Justin Abdelkader, LW Brendan Pirri, LW Magnus Paajarvi, RD Alex Petrovic, LD Kevin Connauton
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: LW Mathieu Perreualt, RW Blake Wheeler, RW Nail Yakupov, LD Tyler Myers, C Alexander Burmistrov, LD Paul Postma
Michael Hutchinson – Hutchinson was a large part of Winnipeg making the playoffs then advancing last season. He finished the season near the top with a .923 save percentage. Firmly entrenched as the #1 goaltender, and will look to play up to 65 of the 82 games this season.
Conner Hellebuyck – Hellebuyck emerged as the backup goaltender midway through last season after the trade of G Pavelec. He was phenomenal as the backup posting a 5-1 record, 2.15 GAA and .930 save percentage. Conner was re-signed in the off season for $755,000/season until 2020.
Andrew Ladd –Ladd struggled with injuries last season, but was undoubtedly the team leader. He also posted a 0.99 PPG average (69 points in 70 games) during the regular season, and 7 points in 9 playoff games (Ladd missed the first playoff series due to injury). The Jets look for Ladd to continue the leadership and production this season and over the next 5 seasons with his new contract.
Nickolaj Ehlers – Ehlers missed almost all of last season with a fractured knee cap, so this will be his rookie season – the sequel. Already in the preseason he has 3 goals and has been dominant on the second line. The Jets are anticipating big things from Ehlers this season.
Drew Stafford – Stafford was a huge contributor in the Jets postseason last year with 8 goals and 11 points – most of the goals in critical situations. He has consistently put up 15-19 goals per season, and is going to be counted on to produce those numbers again.
Brandon Piri – Pirri was acquired in a trade with Florida for his goal scoring potential. He is still young at 25, and has room to grow into a possible 3rd or 2nd line role in the future.
Magnus Paajarvi – Paajarvi was signed as a free agent in the offseason as a depth forward. He is also still young at 25, and could develop further over the next two seasons into a permanent role.
Bryan Little – Little was the first-line center all of last year, and has great chemistry with LW Ladd. He posted 62 points in 80 games last season, and the Jets are hoping he can improve even a little on those numbers. Centering Ladd and newly acquired RW Jeff Carter should help.
Mark Scheifele – Scheifele was very productive as the third-line center last season posting 14 goals and 29 assists. The plan this season is for him to center the second line moving Tyler Bozak to the third line. He is only 23 and has a lot more offensive potential, so the Jets are looking for him to move further toward an elite level.
Tyler Bozak –Bozak was acquired in a trade with Toronto last season, and has been very solid ever since. He was co-MVP of the Jets postseason last year (shared with LW Stafford) with 2 goals and 12 assists in 17 playoff games. He centered Mathieu Perreualt and Nail Yakupov last season, but will be moved to the third line with Stafford and Abdelkader to provide offensive punch from the third line as well as defensive reliability.
Vincent Trocheck – Trocheck was acquired from Florida last season for RW Joel Armia, but has been disappointing for the most part. He has been moved to the fourth line center with the hopes he develops further this season enough to possibly move up the lineup.
Mark Letestu – Letestu was acquired last season as a throw in a trade with the Oilers, and centered the fourth line from then on. He was steady but unspectacular. Letestu will move in and out of the lineup as a center and LW.
Jeff Carter – Carter was acquired in a trade with the Kings in the offseason with the hopes he will duplicate his 40 goal output from last season. He will work on the top line with Ladd and Little providing a top-tier number one line.
T.J. Oshie – Oshie was acquired in a trade with Washington in the offseason for Nail Yakupov. He will work as the second line RW on a line with Scheifele and Ehlers providing a top-line caliber punch. Even though Yakupov has tremendous potential, Oshie was further along in his development – the Jets are in win-now mode.
Justin Abdelkader – Abdelkader was acquired in a trade with Detroit in the offseason mostly for his two-way forward capabilities. He has 19 goals and 37 assists last season with the Red Wings playing on their top line, but the Jets would be thrilled with part of that production as he will be the third line RW. His defensive prowess was a major incentive in acquiring him, and he will help anchor the PK unit.
Chris Thorburn – Thorburn is a tough defensive forward who is one of the PK leaders. He is one of those glue guys on the team, and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves when necessary. He has been a mainstay on the fourth-line.
Dustin Byfuglien – Byfuglien was recently signed to a big contract late last season, and is expected to continue to produce goals and toughness from the defense position. He is a team leader. The Jets hope he can keep the injuries to a minimum though.
Jacob Trouba – Trouba could be argued to be the Jets best defenseman even at the young age of 22. He will be counted on for offense and defensive reliability. Trouba is a keystone to the Jet D-corp.
Tobias Enstrom – Enstrom is paired with Byfuglien as the Jet top D pair. He is mostly an offensive defenseman, and is counted on to produce similar numbers as last year (7 goals, 21 assists). He is also counted on for his veteran leadership.
Trevor Daley – Daley was acquired from Chicago for a prospect last season, and the Jets have been thrilled with his contribution ever since. He had 3 goals and 15 assists in 41 games for the Jets, as well as 2 goals in the postseason before he was injured. Daley also provides a defensive presence to the second D-pairing. The team is currently looking to extend his contract.
Mark Stuart – Stuart is a defensive defenseman who provides leadership (one of the alternate captains). His play has declined somewhat, but will still provide defensive stability and steady PK play.
Alex Petrovic – Petrovic was acquired as part of the Blake Wheeler deal with Florida. He was brought in as a lower-cost 6th/7th defensive defenseman. The Jets are hoping he develops over the season and can solidify a spot on the bottom D-pairing.
Kevin Connauton – Connauton was recently signed as a FA to compete for the 6th defenseman spot. He is an offensive defenseman, and will be rotated in with Petrovic to provide offense when necessary.
The Central Division is stacked from top to bottom, so Winnipeg may have to battle to the last game of the season again just to get into the playoffs. One main concern from last season was the amount of shots Hutchinson and Hellebuyck were facing. Jets management feels they have improved on forward defensive capabilities though, so hopefully the improved defense will work well with the improved goal-scoring capability. Achieving that goal will come down to a better divisional record than last season.