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Goaltending, discipline among questions for Jets

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets took a big step last season by reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since the franchise relocated from Atlanta for the 2011-12 season.

Though ending the franchise's playoff drought helped to validate the long-term plans of general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, the Jets have endured some challenges since. They added forward Alexander Burmistrov from the Kontinental Hockey League this summer, but capable veteran forwards Michael Frolik, Lee Stempniak and Jiri Tlusty all departed.

Here are three questions facing the Jets this season:

Will the goaltending hold up? As always, goaltending remains a big question for the Jets.

Veteran Ondrej Pavelec's .920 save percentage last season was by far the best of his NHL career. With the Jets fighting to reach the playoffs in the final four weeks, Pavelec grabbed the starting job from rookie Michael Hutchinson and carried them into the postseason. He finished with a 9-2-1 record and three shutouts in his last 12 decisions and went 3-0-1 with a .965 save percentage in the final week of the season.

However, wild fluctuations in performance have plagued Pavelec throughout his career, and his midseason struggles had allowed Hutchinson to take the No. 1 job. Coach Paul Maurice ended up reducing Pavelec's workload to 50 games; balancing his starts will be a challenge again for Maurice.

Hutchinson endured his own ups and downs. After a strong first half, he had a save percentage of .890 in his final 15 games.

When Pavelec and Hutchinson played well, the Jets were able to compete with the elite teams of the NHL.

Will they be more disciplined? A lack of discipline plagued the Jets for much of the season. They were shorthanded a League-leading 308 times and allowed five or more power plays in 24 games, in which they went 9-10-5.

A solid penalty kill helped offset some of the discipline issues. They finished 13th in the League at 81.8 percent and tied for the League lead with 10 shorthanded goals. However, the loss of Frolik, a key penalty-killer, could further aggravate the situation if Maurice is not able to rein in the penalty issues.

Are the prospects ready? Maurice was able to roll four capable lines by the end of last season. He might have trouble doing that again unless some of the prospects step up.

If Nikolaj Ehlers, who was the ninth pick at the 2014 NHL Draft, can crack the lineup and contribute, he would help ease some of the pressure created by the loss of the three veteran forwards. Ehlers dominated the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 86 goals in 114 regular-season games in the past two seasons. Although Ehlers has worked to bulk up his slight frame (6-foot, 168 pounds), he will need to learn to play without the puck in order to fit into Maurice's system.

Burmistrov struggled to fit into former coach Claude Noel's system, but Maurice worked to rebuild the Jets' relationship with Burmistrov before they brought him back to North America. Burmistrov has three seasons of NHL experience and can fit in as a center or on the wing.

"I thought that [it] was a loss for our organization when [Burmistrov] left, and he is a great player to have come back to us, and he is still young," Maurice told the Jets website July 3. "It was very important that he [come] back to our team."

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