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Team Reset

Jets count on Pionk amid departures of defensemen

Acquired 23-year-old from Rangers in trade for Trouba, could turn to young forwards

by Scott Billeck / Correspondent

After the NHL Draft, free agency and other offseason moves, is taking a look at where each team stands. Today, the Winnipeg Jets:

The Winnipeg Jets will look markedly different this season, but not because of players they have acquired.

Neal Pionk has been the only noteworthy addition during an offseason of significant subtractions. The Jets acquired the defenseman and a first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft in a trade with the New York Rangers for defenseman Jacob Trouba on June 17.


[RELATED: Complete Team Reset coverage]


"He's a player that when you do the research on him and you talk to different people about him, he's a competitor," Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said.

Pionk also will help a defenseman group that lost Trouba, Tyler Myers, who signed a five-year contract with the Vancouver Canucks on July 1, and Ben Chiarot, who signed a three-year contract with the Montreal Canadiens on July 4.

Pionk, who agreed to a two-year contract with Jets on July 21 and avoided an arbitration hearing, is expected to play top-four minutes at 5-on-5 but also should be an option on the power play and in shorthanded situations.

"Where his total usage will be, that will shake out even more so as we get closer to training camp," Cheveldayoff said. "It gives (Jets coach) Paul [Maurice] some options. (He's) obviously a young player that we see still has upside and room to grow given the experience in the League and given the surroundings of our group."

Here is what the Jets look like today:


Key arrivals

Neal Pionk, D: The 23-year-old, who has two seasons of NHL experience, had 26 points (six goals, 20 assists) in 73 games for the Rangers last season but was minus-16.

Video: MTL@NYR: Pionk goes coast to coast for beautiful goal


Key departures

Jacob Trouba, D: The 25-year-old, who had an NHL career-high 50 points (eight goals, 42 assists) in 82 games last season, leaves a void on the right side of Winnipeg's top defense pair. Trouba was second on the Jets in average time on ice per game (22:53), trailing defenseman Dustin Byfuglien (24:22). … Tyler Myers, D: The 29-year-old, who was relied upon heavily when Josh Morrissey was injured late last season, finished with 31 points (nine goals, 22 assists) in 80 games. … Ben Chiarot, D: The 28-year-old had 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 78 games last season. … Brandon Tanev, F: The 27-year-old agreed to a six-year contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins on July 1. He was prominent on the penalty kill last season, finishing fifth on the Jets in shorthanded time on ice per game (2:08) and tying forward Blake Wheeler for the Winnipeg lead with two shorthanded goals. He had NHL career highs in goals (14), assists (15) and points (29) in 80 games. … Kevin Hayes, F: The 27-year-old was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers on June 3. The Jets acquired him in a trade with the Rangers on Feb. 25, but he never really hit his stride with Winnipeg, scoring 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 20 games. He had 42 points (14 goals, 28 assists) in 51 games with New York last season.


On the cusp

Kristian Vesalainen, F: The 20-year-old is expected to make the team out of training camp, likely competing for a fourth-line role to start. He scored 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in 31 games last season for Jokerit (Kontinental Hockey League); had 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 22 games with Manitoba (American Hockey League); and had one assist in five games with the Jets. … Mason Appleton, F: The 23-year-old had 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 36 games with the Jets last season and 32 points (15 goals, 17 assists) in 40 games with Manitoba. … Sami Niku, D: Voted the AHL's best defenseman in 2017-18, Niku had four points (one goal, three assists) in 30 games with the Jets last season. The 22-year-old had 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in 20 games with Manitoba. Given the losses on the blue line, Niku could inherit a significant role quickly.

Video: WPG@CBJ: Niku gives Jets early lead


What they still need

To sign restricted free agent forwards Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor; the Jets are facing NHL salary cap issues in trying to do so. Laine had 50 points (30 goals, 20 assists) in 82 games last season, and the 21-year-old has 184 points (110 goals, 74 assists) in 237 NHL games. Connor had 66 points (34 goals, 32 assists) in 82 games last season, and the 22-year-old has 128 points (67 goals, 61 assists) in 178 NHL games.

Video: WPG@STL: Laine's five-goal game makes Jets history


Fantasy focus

Byfuglien is a bounce-back candidate after missing 40 games last season with injuries. He had eight points (two goals, six assists) in the six-game Western Conference First Round loss to the St. Louis Blues and could be relied upon more heavily than he was last season now that Trouba and Myers are gone. Byfuglien brings elite coverage of hits (2.3 per game since 2007-08) and should be targeted among the top 60 overall fantasy players despite injury concerns. -- Rob Reese

Video: WPG@STL, Gm6: Byfuglien slams rebound by Binnington


Projected lineup

Nikolaj Ehlers -- Mark Scheifele -- Blake Wheeler

Kyle Connor -- Andrew Copp -- Patrik Laine

Jack Roslovic -- Adam Lowry -- Mason Appleton

Mathieu Perreault -- Bryan Little -- Kristian Vesalainen

Josh Morrissey -- Nathan Beaulieu

Sami Niku -- Dustin Byfuglien

Dmitry Kulikov -- Neal Pionk

Connor Hellebuyck

Laurent Brossoit


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