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Jets prepared to match any offer sheets on Laine, Connor

Each forward can become restricted free agent July 1

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets expect to have plenty of roster turnover this offseason, but Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor don't appear to be among them.

Each forward could sign an offer sheet from another team should they become a restricted free agent July 1, but general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said that would not the stop the Jets from bringing them, or any of their other RFAs, back.

"I think you look at all the situations and determine it, but certainly it would be our intention to match, and you've got the summer to figure it out," Cheveldayoff said Tuesday.

Laine, who was selected by Winnipeg with the No. 2 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, had 50 points (30 goals, 20 assists) in 82 regular-season games and four points (three goals, one assist) in six Stanley Cup Playoff games this season. The 21-year-old forward has scored 110 goals in his first three NHL seasons, the sixth most in that span behind Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals (133), Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning (120), John Tavares of the Toronto Maple Leafs (112), Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers (112), and Auston Matthews of the Maple Leafs (111).

Video: WPG@STL, Gm3: Trouba, Laine connect to put Jets ahead

Connor, who was selected by Winnipeg with the No. 17 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, was second on the Jets in goals (34) and third in points (66) in 82 games this season. The 22-year-old forward had 57 points (31 goals, 26 assists) as a rookie in 2017-18. 

They aren't the only Winnipeg players who can become a free agent July 1. 

Defensemen Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot, Joe Morrow and Nathan Beaulieu, and forward Brandon Tanev can become an unrestricted free agent, and forward Andrew Copp and defenseman Neal Pionk, who was acquired with the No. 20 selection (Ville Heinola) in the 2019 NHL Draft by the Jets in a trade with the New York Rangers for defenseman Jacob Trouba on June 17, can become a restricted free agent.

Jets coach Paul Maurice, who has led Winnipeg to the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since relocating from the Atlanta Thrashers in 2011, said he isn't concerned about the roster despite so much being up in the air.

"That's standard," he said. "There's always a lot of turnover. There are bigger name pieces on that turnover now. [Trouba has] moved on, we like the defenseman an awful lot that we got back. What happens with the rest of the guys that are either UFAs or RFAs, we'll see."

Video: WPG@STL, Gm4: Connor wins it in OT for Jets

Cheveldayoff suggested that if the Jets are unable to retain Myers, Chiarot or Tanev, they'll be prepared to fill their roster from within (Morrow and Beaulieu were not tendered a qualifying offer).

Among those possibilities is defenseman Sami Niku, who had four points (one goal, three assists) in 30 NHL games this season after he was voted the American Hockey League defenseman of the year in 2017-18. 

Other options include defenseman Tucker Poolman, who played 24 games with the Jets in 2017-18; and forwards Mason Appleton, who played 36 games for the Jets this season, and Kristian Vesalainen, who was selected by Winnipeg in the first round (No. 24) in the 2017 NHL Draft.

"A lot of it will be if there's a right fit," Cheveldayoff said. "We do feel there are some internal players that could challenge for jobs and again, you want to be mindful of what you're putting in front of [free agents]. Does it help your team? Does it really not help your team? Would it be better to have some internal candidates there? So those are the things we're talking through right now."

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