© Chuck Duboff
“I expect us to be really really exciting and always working hard.” Paul Maurice
“You have to do everything at full speed, all the time.” Patrick Laine.
The Winnipeg Jets are heading into the 2016-2017 with more excitement than they have had since the move back to Winnipeg from Atlanta. Adding players like Patrick Laine, Kyle Conner, Josh Morrisey, Conner Hellebucyk, Brandon Tanev to the roster, along with sophomores Nic Ehlers, Joel Armia and Michael Hutchinson, has Jets fans more optimistic than they ever have been. Augmenting this great young talent with players like Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien, Bryan Little, Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford and Matthew Perrault has everyone talking playoffs (even a long run, perhaps)
The excitement around the team this season is tangible; everyone is so excited about the possibilities…however, I’d suggest that everyone temper that enthusiasm just a little. I think the success of this team is dependant upon two major factors:
a) How long will it take the kids to adapt to the NHL game?
There is a unanimous consensus amongst hockey people. that Patrick Laine is a talent; watching video of him certainly demonstrates his talent. However, watching him closely in preseason, you could see that he was struggling to find his game, to adapt to smaller rinks and a more physical game. Much like Nic Ehlers, who struggled out of the gate last season…Laine will find his game. Kyle Conner, Brandon Tanev and Josh Morrisey all had great training camps…Conner, the sniper, Tanev, the energy and Morrisey playing a smart defence. Will they be able to continue this into the regular season? I think under the coaching of Paul Maurice, they will come around sooner, rather than later…their maturation will be a key factor in how well the Jets do this season.
b) Can Michael Hutchinson and Conner Hellebucyk give the Jets the goaltending that they need to get into the playoffs?
Let me preface my comments about the goaltending with a personal comment about Ondrej Pavalec. Pav came under so much scrutiny and criticism these past five years…at times warranted, while at other teams he provided the team with great goaltending. As much as management wanted him to be the man, he could never take it to another level and that left Jets fans frustrated…and they took out their anger out on Pav. This past Monday, Pav and his $4 million contract were put on waivers; Pav wasn’t claimed and was sent down to the Moose. He has handled it with the utmost professionalism: “I was expecting something to happen.” He hasn’t complained or uttered a single negative word about his demotion. That is class…good luck to you Pav.
Hellebucyk and Hutchinson now have their opportunity to be a number 1 goalie in the NHL; no longer is Pav sitting in the wings. I would suggest that this will take some pressure off of both goalies, while at the same time there will be that knowledge that this is their team. I’m excited about both; I’ve always liked Hutch and given regular playing time, I think he can do the job. It’s Hellebucyk that everybody is excited about…can he be the great goaltender we’ve been waiting for: “I’m not satisfied just making the team, I want to win a Stanley Cup here.” I love that attitude!! He has been great at every level he has played at and during a stretch last season we got to see the talent that everybody talks about. Knowing that they are now the Jets goalies for this season will take their confidence to another level…I see both goalies being given an equal shot early in the season, but by the end of November, early December, I can see Hellebucyk being the man!
The rest of the team
Wheeler, Scheif and Ehlers will pick up where they left off last season and be a dynamic unit. Of the three, I can’t wait to see the next level that Scheifele will take his game to. Little with Mathias and Stafford has possibilities, that could be one of those hard working, productive lines. Putting Matthieu Perrault between Laine and Conner is smart; he is a talented playmaker and has the speed to keep up with the two young kids. As for the fourth line, so far it looks like Brandon Tanev, Joel Armia and Adam Lowrey…I think that line will be a work in progress; there are a lot of forwards down with the Moose who are knocking on the door. I was very surprised to see Andrew Copp sent down, but from what I’ve heard and read, it sounds like the Jets want him to work on his offensive game while with the Moose. Players like Copp, de Leo, Petan are just a walk down the hall from being called up…nice to see this kind of depth up front.
The defence carries a lot of uncertainty. The continued holdout/contract situation with Jacob Trouba has left a big hole on the Jets defence. It would seem that Josh Morrisey has his game at the NHL level…it would have been great for the Jets to have had both Trouba and Morrisey on the defence, along with the big three of Buff, Myers and Enstrom; however, because of the Trouba absence, we are left with a 5/6 pairing of Chairot and Stuart. Many were hoping that Stuart would just be an extra piece this season…but, it looks like he will be on a regular rotation. If Trouba is moved, here’s hoping we get a top four left handed shooting d-man…otherwise our defence could be a problem.
Coach Paul Maurice is the perfect fit for the way this team is made up this season. He has patience and will give the kids a chance to grow. Will the fans be patient? Will the media jump all over the kids if they struggle out of the gate?
Patience has been the Mantra for this team the past five seasons; it was a different kind of patience early on…”we need time to draft and develop the kids”…now the patience is more short term, with an exciting future just around the corner. I can see the team struggling the first month, month and a half…but, I also see the team getting its mojo and making the playoffs. Yup, that’s right, I’m predicting playoffs for the Jets.
Get ready folks, it all starts tonight.