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31 in 31

Inside look at Winnipeg Jets

Young core looks to build on run to Western Conference Final

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the Winnipeg Jets.

The Winnipeg Jets are ready to embark on the next difficult mission: winning the Stanley Cup, or at least getting closer to doing so.

The Jets reached the Western Conference Final last season, losing to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games. Winnipeg enters with heightened expectations, especially their own.

 

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"Making it to the conference final was an amazing feat, but at the end of the day, it did nothing and we didn't accomplish anything," center Mark Scheifele said. "Everyone has that hunger in their belly to want more than that."

Winnipeg will be counting on largely the same young group that improved by 27 points from 2016-17 and finished with a franchise-record 114 points (52-20-10), second in the NHL behind the Nashville Predators (117). The Jets were the only team in the NHL to have each of its first-round draft picks from 2011-16 in the lineup (Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey, Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine). They hope such stability will foster more growth.

"They're young, they're hungry," general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said. "There's a good core of veterans that want to lead. There's a good core of middle players that are drivers, and there's some really, really good young players that gained some valuable experience.

"We've even got a real good young group of players that are pushing ... the group above them. [But] I don't think to a man there's anyone that says, 'We've arrived.' There's a lot of work that's left to be done."

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Before last season, Winnipeg had made the playoffs once, in 2014-15, since the franchise relocated from Atlanta in 2011-12. The Jets had never won a playoff game or series until defeating the Minnesota Wild in five games in the Western Conference First Round in April.

"As hard as maybe it is to admit, maybe trial by fire is how this works," said captain Blake Wheeler, a center who had an NHL career-high 91 points (23 goals, 68 assists) and was named a Second Team NHL All-Star last season. "So we had a lot of guys, have a lot of guys who don't have a ton of playoff experience or experience in this league in general. So I think that our team learned how this works.

"Before [the] playoffs, what you think it takes to win and to what we know now, it changed a little bit. Those are just learning experiences that we're all going to hopefully take with us and make us better."

Wheeler signed a five-year, $41.25 million contract extension (an average annual value of $8.25 million). Goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who finished second in Vezina Trophy voting behind Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators and tied Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the most wins in the NHL with 44, re-signed as a free agent (six years, $37 million; $6.16 million average annual value).

So did defensemen Trouba (one year, $5.5 million), Joe Morrow (one year, $1 million) and Tucker Poolman (three years, $2.25 million), and forwards Adam Lowry (three years, $8.75 million), Marko Dano (one year, $800,000) and Brandon Tanev (one year, $1.15 million).

Video: Patrik Laine is named No. 6 on the list

Two significant veterans departed. Center Paul Stastny, 32, was an unrestricted free agent and signed a three-year contract with Vegas on July 1, and defenseman Toby Enstrom, 33, also a UFA, was not re-signed.

That opens opportunities for younger players.

Skilled center Jack Roslovic, 21, selected in the first round (No. 25) of the 2015 NHL Draft, may get a shot at Stastny's spot. Poolman, 25, could crack the top six defensemen.

The Jets are hoping they can be consistent like last season, when they had more stable goaltending and a stronger commitment to defense; Winnipeg was 27th in goals-against per game (2.63) after ranking fourth in 2016-17 (3.11).

The Jets never lost more than three games in a row (0-2-1 Dec. 5-9 and again March 10-13). They scored 273 goals, second most in the NHL behind Tampa Bay's 290, and allowed 216 goals, fifth fewest behind the Los Angeles Kings (202), Predators (204), Anaheim Ducks (209) and Boston Bruins (211).

"There's still some work to do and we weren't able to take the last step," Laine said, "but hopefully we'll be ready to do that this year."

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