Winnipeg Jets midseason grades

The Jets have reached the midpoint of their 2016-2017 season, and so far so good.  Winnipeg has been at or near the top of their division (and the league) through 41 games.  The biggest problem is that they have needed to be that successful to keep pace with St. Louis and Minnesota in their division, and with the Flames in the Western Conference.  Below is the preseason review of the Winnipeg Jets posted in September, and the midseason commentary + grade is in italics.

 

Goaltending
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.  Hutchinson had been good but not spectacular.  Last season he was with the league leaders in save pct., but struggled early (recently he has brought it up to .920).  He is near the leaders in the most important stat though – wins.  GRADE: A-
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.  Hellebuyck has continued his stellar backup play from last season with a 2.65 GAA and .925 so far this season.  Can’t ask for much more.  GRADE: A

Left Wings
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.  Ladd has provided what the Jets need from the top line LW with 16 goals and 19 assists while playing in all 41 games this season.  He seems to have developed good chemistry with RW Jeff Carter.  His value as a leader can’t be determined with stats though. GRADE: A
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.  Ehlers hasn’t performed as expected so far this season with only 7 goals and 9 assists in 39 games.  This while playing on the second line with other offensive talent.  The Jets are hoping his second half of the season makes up for what was expected in the first.  GRADE: B-
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.  Stafford was traded to the Devils this past Friday, but was having a sub-par season for the Jets.  He was counted on for goal scoring from the third line (3G, 4A), and was grading out below average almost every game.  He needed to start anew with a different team.  GRADE: C-
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.  Pirri started off the season slow going goal-less during the first month or so.  He has picked his game up tremendously of late from the third line LW position posting 6 goals and 8 assists.  Pirri seems to be finally putting everything together, and even sees time on the 2nd PP unit.  GRADE: B
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.  Paajarvi has played periodically during the first 41 games with little to get excited about.  He has posted 1 goal and 4 assists in 18 games played, but 1 goal and 2 assists came in one game.  Even though his ice time has been limited, he won’t get more playing time unless he shows he deserves it.  GRADE: D+

Centers
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.  Little missed three weeks on IR this season, so he has only played 30 of the first 41 games.  All but one of those 30 games were played as the top line center where he has posted 4 goals and 16 assists.  Winnipeg was expecting more from Little with the kind of talent on his wings like Ladd and Carter which lead to the recent acquiring of C Evgeni Malkin.  Little will now center the second line.   GRADE: C+
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.  Scheifele hasn’t progressed toward elite status as the Jets would have liked, but he has had moderate success as the second line center with 8 goals and 11 assists in 40 games.  He will now be moved back to the third line center centering Pirri and Abdelkader which isn’t too shabby.  GRADE: B-
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.  Bozek was recently traded to the Devils in the Malkin acquisition.  Tyler was having a solid season as the third line center and as a key component in the PK unit.  The Jets are hoping Scheifele and newly acquired C Joey Dudek can help replace him.  GRADE: B+
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.  Trocheck was traded to the Avalanche about a month ago due to his lack of productivity since being acquired from the Panthers last season.  He was also very unhappy with his playing time as the fourth line center.  Trocheck and the Jets never fit.  GRADE: D
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.  Letestu was demoted to the AHL because he was not performing as needed as a fourth line center.  Center Nic Petan was brought up in his place.  It doesn’t seem likely Letestu will be back unless several injuries warrant it.  GRADE: D

Nic Petan – Petan was brought up from the AHL mid-season to replace Letestu.  He performed moderately well as the fourth line center contributing offense which was needed.  He was included in the trade to New Jersey for Malkin, and should have more immediate opportunity there.  GRADE: A-

Right Wings
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.  Carter has been everything the Jets wanted when they traded for him in the offseason registering 20 goals and 22 assists in all 41 games.  He is the team’s leading scorer.  Perfect.  GRADE: A+
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.  Oshie has been solid as the second line RW and as part of the PP and PK unit.  The Jets would like a little more goal scoring (7G, 17A), but all in all he has been providing what was asked from him as a two-way forward.  GRADE: A-
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.  Abdelkader has filled the role that was expected of him and then some.  He has been solid on the PK unit (1 SHG, 1 SHA), and also has provided offense with 7 goals and 12 assists.  The Jets are very pleased with his acquisition. GRADE: A+
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.  Thorburn has provided a steady presence on the fourth line and PK unit.  His role is an unspectacular one, so it is hard to assess him on stats alone.  He has 1 goal, 6 assists and is a -1, but overall he has performed…OK.   GRADE: B

Defenseman
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.  Byfuglien started off the season very slow – didn’t register his first point until game #9.  He has been on a tear of late though, and now at the midpoint of the season he has 4 goals, 13 assists and is a +5.  It may be moving him to the second D pairing with Enstrom has motived him.  The Jets need a motivated Byfuglien.  GRADE: B
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.  Trouba has been Winnipeg’s best defenseman so far this season.  He started the season off hot offensively registering 7 goals in the first two months of the season.  His offense has cooled some since then, but all around his play has been tremendous.  And he is only getting better.  GRADE: A+
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.  Enstrom is typically an offensive defenseman, but halfway through the season he has a +12 rating.  That along with registering 3 goals and 16 assists, Tobias has been solid.  GRADE: A+
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.  Daley has decent offensive numbers this season with 4 goals and 8 assists, but his main position on the team was to be his defensive play.  He is worst on the team with a -10 rating though, so he has struggled.  He started the season paired with Byfuglien, but now is paired with Stuart.  Neither pairing seems to have helped.  The Jets are hoping he can improve the defensive play in the second half.  GRADE: C-
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.  Stuart has quietly put together a nice first half of the season.  His offense has been a pleasant surprise recording 2 goals and 10 assists so far this season (he had 4 goals and 10 assists all last season in 81 games).  His defensive play has been average, but part of this may be due to his pairing with Connauton then Daley.  GRADE: A-
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.  Petrovic was traded to Colorado, but spent most of the season as the 7th defenseman.  He started the first 4 games of the season, but his sub-par play combined with Connauton’s surprising play kept him on the bench.  GRADE: C
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.  Connauton was a surprise when he was added into the line up in game number 5 this season.  He has provided offense which was expected (3G, 8A in 28 games, +2 rating), but he also was solid defensively.  The recent acquisition of Erik Johnson has pushed him back to the bench, but the Jets are happy to have him as their #7 D.  GRADE: A

Erik Johnson – Johnson was acquired from Colorado to further solidify the D-corp, but was injured after playing one game with the Jets.  He is back in the line up, and so far has been decent.  Difficult to fully assess him now, but the Jets are hoping he can be a key to a Cup run.  GRADE: B

SEASON PREDICTION/PREVIEW
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.

MIDSEASON PREDICTION:  So far the preseason prediction has been coming to pass with the Jets battling the Blues and Wild for the division lead.  The addition of C Evgeni Malkin should help put the pressure on those teams though.  The Jets window for a Cup is wide open, they just need to make sure they have the chemistry down for the playoff run.

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