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Season Preview: Winnipeg Jets

Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele among youthful forwards who could help playoff push

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer
At a glance

2015-16 record: 35-39-8, 78 points, 7th in Central Division, 11th in Western Conference

2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Did not qualify

Additions: F: Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine, Shawn Matthias, Brandon Tanev; D: Josh Morrissey

Subtractions: F: Matt Halischuk

 

Projected opening night lineup

Forwards

Nikolaj Ehlers -- Mark Scheifele -- Blake Wheeler

Patrik Laine -- Bryan Little -- Drew Stafford

Kyle Connor -- Mathieu Perreault -- Joel Armia

Brandon Tanev -- Adam Lowry -- Chris Thorburn

Alexander Burmistrov

Defensemen

Toby Enstrom -- Dustin Byfuglien

Ben Chiarot -- Tyler Myers

Mark Stuart -- Josh Morrissey

Paul Postma

Goalies

Connor Hellebuyck

Michael Hutchinson

Ondrej Pavelec

 

Video: WPG@LAK: Jets win finale on Scheifele's SO winner

After qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2015, the Winnipeg Jets missed out last season, choosing to develop their young talent.

Rookie forwards Nikolaj Ehlers, Andrew Copp and Joel Armia, and goalie Connor Hellebuyck were added to the lineup. In all, eight players made their NHL debut.

Winnipeg also preserved NHL salary-cap space but finished at the bottom of the tough Central Division with a 21-point decline from 2014-15 (99 points to 78).

Much of that salary-cap space has been used. Since February the Jets have agreed to a contract extension with defenseman Dustin Byfuglien (five years, $38 million), center Mark Scheifele (eight years, $49 million) and center Mathieu Perreault (four years, $16.5 million).

A bit of cap space was opened when goaltender Ondrej Pavelec was assigned to Manitoba of the American Hockey League on Oct. 10, pending him clearing waivers. Pavelec, 29, had a salary-cap charge of $3.9 million this season, according to General Fanager.

The Jets also scored big in the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery, moving from the No. 6 pick to No. 2, where they selected forward Patrik Laine.

Winnipeg moved on from captain and unrestricted free agent Andrew Ladd, who had been traded to the Chicago Blackhawks prior to the NHL Trade Deadline. Ladd signed with the New York Islanders. Blake Wheeler, who led the Jets in scoring and finished tied for sixth in the NHL with 78 points, was named captain Aug. 31. Scheifele and Byfuglien were chosen as alternates.

With Scheifele and underrated Bryan Little as their top two centers, and Mathieu Perreault centering the third line, the top seven forwards appear set. Winnipeg will need more production from the bottom two lines. Rookies Kyle Connor, 19, and Brandon Tanev, 24, will start the season in the NHL, along with Armia, Adam Lowry and Alexander Burmistrov, and veterans Chris Thorburn and Shawn Matthias.

Incumbents Copp and Marko Dano were assigned to the AHL.

The Jets also kept 21-year-old defenseman Josh Morrissey, the No. 13 pick of the 2013 NHL Draft. 

With the roster set, the Jets now need to focus on improving defensively. One season after finishing 10th in goals-against (204), the Jets were 22nd (236).
 
 

Why they should make the Stanley Cup Playoffs

The new leadership and the young core of Scheifele, Ehlers, Laine and Lowry combine with veterans Wheeler and Byfuglien to trigger a rebound after last season's disappointment.

Video: OTT@WPG: Wheeler launches slap shot, ties game in 2nd

 
Why they could miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Goaltending continues to be a problem, restricted free agent defenseman Jacob Trouba's situation proves to be a distraction, or their relative inexperience impedes growth.

 
Breakout candidate

Ehlers. The speedy forward from Denmark, taken with the No. 9 pick of the 2014 draft, struggled at times as a rookie last season but clicked on a line with Scheifele and Wheeler. Ehlers had 15 goals and 38 points in 72 games; with his speed and top-line minutes, he's capable of more.

 

On the hot seat

Byfuglien. There is much weight on his shoulders this season as the Jets look to bounce back in the Central Division. His leadership role is clear, especially given his contract extension. Byfuglien's continued production, after his 53 points last season, will be essential, as well as a mindfulness that the Jets have to be better defensively.

 

Trophy candidates

Laine (Calder); Connor (Calder)

 

Quotable

"We had some young guys last year who got their feet wet a little bit. The expectation is to see some progression with some guys who got some experience last year. We're going to have some more youth on our team this year and there are going to be growing pains with that but our overall skill level is probably going to be trending up starting this year and over the next couple of years, so that's exciting. I think the adversity we went through last year as a group, it can only be viewed as a positive now. We dealt with it, from the injuries to the losing and everything that transpired and we still played hard through it. No matter what, you can't say we ever gave up or quit on the season. That's a great sign for me." -- captain Blake Wheeler

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