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Byfuglien hopeful Laine can propel Jets to playoffs

Defenseman thinks Calder Trophy finalist can improve on 36-goal, 64-point performance this season

by Jessi Pierce / NHL.com Correspondent

EDINA, Minn. -- Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien's giant smile fades slightly, just for a moment, at the mention of last season.

The Jets finished 40-35-7 and failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a second straight season. Since they moved to Winnipeg from Atlanta in 2011, the Jets have reached the playoffs once, when they were swept by the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference First Round in 2015.

But ask Byfuglien about 19-year-old Jets forward Patrik Laine, and that smile comes right back. Laine, a Calder Trophy finalist, led Winnipeg with 36 goals last season. He was second among NHL rookies with 64 points in 73 games, behind Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, who had 69 points (40 goals, 29 assists) in 82 games and won the Calder.

Byfuglien has little doubt Laine can produce similar numbers this season and is optimistic he could provide the spark that propels the Jets into the playoffs.

"A young kid like that, you hope that he can come in and do what he did last year again for us," Byfuglien, 32, said Monday between games in Da Beauty League at Braemar Arena, where NHL players with ties to Minnesota are among those playing for charity twice a week through Aug. 23. "You always look forward to the next season after you've seen what they've done, and you always look forward to what they're going to do next. That's the exciting part about getting young guys in there with so much talent.

"I think he's going to have another successful year because these young kids go out and work hard to have a better season than the last. Our entire offense should [be successful] because there is so much pure talent there."

Video: Patrik Laine ranked as No. 8 on list of Top 20 Wings

Center Mark Scheifele, 24, led the Jets with 82 points (32 goals, 50 assists) in 79 games. Forward Nikolaj Ehlers, 21, had 64 points (25 goals, 39 assists) in 82 games. The Ehlers-Scheifele-Laine line led the way for the seventh-ranked offense in the NHL (3.0 goals per game). The Jets scored 246 goals, second-most in the Western Conference behind the Minnesota Wild (263).

"Every season you get to start from zero," Byfuglien said. "All you've got to do is just go out there, work hard and you build your own luck. You start from zero at the beginning of the season and just keep building to see how far you can go. We're hoping and planning that this year it's a lot further than we've gone [in recent seasons]."

Though the Jets are expected to be strong offensively, improvement is needed on defense. They allowed 255 goals last season, fourth-most in the League after the Colorado Avalanche (276), Dallas Stars (260) and Arizona Coyotes (258).

The Jets signed defenseman Dmitry Kulikov to a three-year, $12.99 million contract (average annual value $4.333 million) on July 1 with the hope he'll provide more of a veteran presence at the position along with Byfuglien, who had 52 points (13 goals, 39 assists) in 80 games, and Toby Enstrom, who had 14 points (one goal, 13 assists) in 60 games.

Winnipeg would like to see defensemen Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey each take a big step this season. Trouba, 23, had 33 points (eight goals, 25 assists) in 60 games last season, and Morrissey, 22, had 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 82 games.

The Jets also signed goaltender Steve Mason to a two-year, $8.2 million contract (average annual value $4.1 million) on July 1. Mason will ease the burden of Connor Hellebuyck, who was 26-19-4 with a 2.89 goals-against average, a .907 save percentage and four shutouts in 56 games last season.

"Every time you get a new face, you welcome them and make sure they know that you're going to work hard for them," Byfuglien said. "But I don't know though if you can point to any one thing that really went wrong last season. I think it was more [a lack of] consistency. We'd play a few good games here and there, and then we'd go on a long skid, and that's something you can't do as a team.

"It's a new season. It's tough to say what's going to happen right now. The Jets can only go forward from here on out. We obviously weren't a playoff team last year, and now we're trying to be a playoff team and that's something you start from the first day of camp and try to make the best out of it."

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