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30 in 30

Jets aim higher in second season in Winnipeg

Saturday, 08.18.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

The Winnipeg Jets were a smashing success in their first season in Canada -- everywhere but in the Eastern Conference playoff race, a situation they're hoping to remedy in year two.

The transplanted Atlanta Thrashers were beloved in their new home, which pined for NHL hockey since the original Jets left for Phoenix 15 years earlier. A crowd of 15,004 fans packed MTS Centre for each of the Jets' 41 home games, giving the franchise the kind of love and support it rarely enjoyed down South.

The Jets responded by going 23-13-5 in front of the home folks, up from 17-17-7 in the Thrashers' last season. MTS Centre quickly developed a reputation as one of the toughest places in the League for road teams -- and with another season of packed houses all but assured, visitors figure to have an even tougher time winning in Winnipeg.

Jets count on Jokinen to fill hole in the middle

Saturday, 08.18.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

The Winnipeg Jets filled their biggest need by signing arguably the best center on the free-agent market this summer.

Olli Jokinen
Center - WPG
GOALS: 23 | ASST: 38 | PTS: 61
SOG: 223 | +/-: -12

The Jets chased a playoff berth last season without a whole lot of production at center. That should change now that they've signed Olli Jokinen to a two-year deal. While the 33-year-old may not be the offensive force he was a few years ago (91 points in 2006-07), he's a huge upgrade for the Jets -- Winnipeg's top four scorers last season were wings or defensemen.

Jokinen also is used to the pressure of playing in Canada, a consideration he doesn't take lightly.

"Very excited about joining the Winnipeg Jets and getting a chance to play in front of the loudest fans in Canada!," he said via his Twitter account after the signing.

Kane's future at top of Jets' six questions

Saturday, 08.18.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

Though the Winnipeg Jets didn’t make the playoffs, they were one of the NHL's feel-good stories of 2011-12. The return of hockey to Winnipeg was greeted by a packed house every night, and the Jets dominated the local sports scene in a way they never did while playing as the Atlanta Thrashers.

But the novelty of having a hockey team back in Winnipeg has faded, and the fans who welcomed the Jets so warmly a year ago are going to want to see more progress from a franchise that hasn't made the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2007 -- and has qualified for the postseason once in its history.

Here are six questions the Jets face as they enter their second season in Winnipeg:

1. Is Evander Kane ready to become a big star?

Kane emerged as a 30-goal scorer in his third NHL season, showing the combination of skill and power the franchise envisioned when he was taken by the Thrashers with the fourth pick in the 2009 NHL Draft. At 21 years old, the restricted free agent looks like he's capable of more.

Jets' top 10 prospects get boost from recent drafts

Saturday, 08.18.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

For a franchise that has picked fairly high throughout its history, the Winnipeg Jets don't have a lot to show for those picks. They've made the playoffs once since entering the NHL as the Atlanta Thrashers in 1999, and none of their first-round picks prior to 2006 are with the team.

But the past two drafts have brought promising young players who figure to have prominent roles in Winnipeg in the not-too-distant future.

Here's a look at Winnipeg's top 10 prospects:

Mark Scheifele
Center - WPG
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 1
SOG: 5 | +/-: 0

1. Mark Scheifele, C: The Jets' first pick (No. 7) in the 2011 NHL Draft showed enough to start last season in the League and even scored a goal during his seven-game stay before being returned to his junior team, the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League, where he put up 63 points in 47 games. He also was part of Team Canada at the World Junior Championship and joined the Jets' American Hockey League team in St. John's for playoff action after his junior season concluded.

He'll have to add muscle to earn more than another cameo with the Jets this season, but they like his playmaking skills and vision. Scheifele may have to go back to junior hockey for another year, but he has the skill to be a first-line center.

Two more new faces likely to join Oilers' young core

Friday, 08.17.2012 / 7:25 PM / 30 in 30

Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

Sure, the Edmonton Oilers were lodged near the bottom of the NHL standings again last season, but something changed in Central Alberta. The Oilers, led by a trio of talented phenoms, were fun to watch again, and a legitimate sense of hope evolved.

Watching a team lose enough to secure players like Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov is not a lot of fun, but the end result -- a team that can compete for the Stanley Cup for multiple seasons -- might just be near for Oilers fans.

Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle were electric together when healthy. Maybe just as important were the steps forward for defenseman Jeff Petry and goalie Devan Dubnyk as the Oilers try to put together a well-rounded roster.

Flames' lineup will have a different look this season

Friday, 08.17.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

For the third consecutive season, the Calgary Flames just missed out on the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They also haven't won a playoff series since reaching the Cup Final in 2004.

General manager Jay Feaster has stated the franchise remains committed to competing in the present, and isn't interested in a full-scale rebuild like the one up the Queen Elizabeth II Highway in Edmonton. While Feaster was hamstrung a bit when he first took over as GM, he had more flexibility this offseason, and wasn't shy about spending to try and get the Flames back in the postseason party.

With Hartley on board, Flames expect different script

Friday, 08.17.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Brian Schiazza - NHL.com Staff Writer

When the Calgary Flames last took to the ice in 2011-12, they defeated the Anaheim Ducks to complete an eighth consecutive regular season with 90-plus points.

And as in the prior two seasons, the Flames failed to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Hanging around the bottom playoff seeds in the grueling Western Conference only to just miss out has become all too familiar for Calgary. The team certainly was reminded of what may have been by watching former general manager and coach Darryl Sutter take the Los Angeles Kings, who finished five points ahead of the Flames for eighth place in the West, all the way to the Stanley Cup.

As a result, the Flames' 2012-13 season will be greeted with few, but concrete, changes engineered by general manager Jay Feaster.

Hartley, Bouwmeester among six questions in Calgary

Friday, 08.17.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Brian Schiazza - NHL.com Staff Writer

Though Calgary Flames general manager Jay Feaster has been at the helm for a short period of time, he is not eager to break up the team and start a rebuild, which has been a common refrain by some fans and observers for a few years now.

With Scotiabank Saddledome always packed, and a not-quite-good-enough 118-90-38 mark over the past three playoff-free seasons, 2012-13 will be pivotal for the Flames organization. All of the team's key figures will feel the pressure to end the Stanley Cup Playoff drought and put off any thoughts of a roster makeover.

There are aging players and large contracts to juggle, and the Flames also need to see if any prospects can contribute now and in the future. They also will find out if they simply had been lacking the right man behind the bench.

Cervenka could change Flames' fortunes at center

Friday, 08.17.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Brian Schiazza - NHL.com Staff Writer

Calgary GM Jay Feaster has deemed Roman Cervenka as top-six-ready. (Photo: Getty Images)

For many NHL teams, the quest to identify and develop a No. 1 center is a perennial challenge, and the Calgary Flames are certainly on that list.

The latest possibility for the Flames’ top spot may be 27-year-old Roman Cervenka, who starred for the past two seasons with Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League.

The Flames certainly are rolling the dice that the Czech native, "a very significant free agent signing" according to general manager Jay Feaster, can eclipse the results created by the majority of past non-drafted talent outside the NHL.

With the departure of Olli Jokinen, who had a strong 62-point season as one of the Flames' top two centers, Feaster and the scouting staff have deemed Cervenka as top-six-ready, perhaps as the man to get sniper Jarome Iginla the puck while scoring a few of his own.

New draft philosophy helping Flames' prospect pool

Friday, 08.17.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Brian Schiazza - NHL.com Staff Writer

For an organization that once thrived with homegrown Stanley Cup-winning stars Joe Nieuwendyk, Theo Fleury, Gary Roberts, Al MacInnis, Gary Suter and Mike Vernon, the Calgary Flames have not had much fortune recently in developing and keeping high-impact players.

Assistant general manager John Weisbrod has furthered the team's drafting philosophy from what Darryl Sutter's regime began a few years earlier: identifying and snaring players with high hockey IQs.

"Sometimes you draft a guy that's a great skater or [has] great hands and all this, but then when he gets up to the next level, where everybody's a better skater and everybody has better hands, if they don't have the brain to figure it out and still maximize what they bring to the table, then they struggle," Weisbrod told NHL.com.

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