NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 30 teams throughout August. Today, the Winnipeg Jets.
The Winnipeg Jets have had a complete buy-in from their passionate fan base from the time the former Atlanta Thrashers arrived in May 2011.
More than five full years into Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff's extensive rebuilding of the organization from the bottom up, that buy-in has found a hold in the dressing room.
Center Mark Scheifele has bought in. After scoring an NHL career-best 29 goals last season, the 23-year-old center signed an eight-year, $49 million contract that cements him as a central piece of Winnipeg's future. Scheifele, the No. 7 pick in the 2011 NHL Draft and the first selection under Cheveldayoff, has grown with the Jets.
"It's an unbelievable organization," Scheifele told the Jets website. "That's first and foremost. The way they treat the players, the way I have been treated, has been nothing but a class act.
"I believe in the organization. I believe in the players that are on the team. I believe in the future prospects of the team. I think it's an honor to be a part of it, that's what makes it exciting for me, and that's what made it such an easy choice to sign eight years with Winnipeg."
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Reasons for optimism have piled up this summer, even after a last-place finish (35-39-8) in the Central Division last season.
That optimism begins with 18-year-old forward Patrik Laine, the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft.
Before he settles in with the Jets, Laine will be a member of Team Finland at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 in September.
Winnipeg also made a move in free agency to supplement Cheveldayoff's well-established draft-and-develop approach when it signed 28-year-old forward Shawn Matthias, who had 12 goals and 28 points in 71 games last season with the Colorado Avalanche and Toronto Maple Leafs. A versatile player capable of playing wing and center, Matthias is an established penalty-killer who should help after Winnipeg's penalty kill was 25th in the League (78.4 percent) last season.
"I'm excited," Matthias said. "[MTS Centre is] so loud and so crazy. I just can't wait to get started to hear how loud it is in that building and finally playing for [the Jets] instead of against them. I couldn't be happier. The biggest thing for me was to go to a team that can win in the next couple of years and be a part of that."
Said Cheveldayoff: "Shawn is someone that we had some interest in the past and at different points in time when he has come up in the free agency world. The fit was right. He'll fit in nicely where he can move around the lineup and supply different things at different points in time.
"I think we're focusing on him having the ability to play a lot of different positions."
The Jets also signed free agent forward Quinton Howden, who played last season for the Florida Panthers, and supplemented the left side of their defense with the addition of free agent defenseman Brian Strait, formerly of the New York Islanders.
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Adding Laine, Matthias, Howden and Strait continues a theme the Jets have strived toward for several seasons: building sufficient organizational depth to ensure jobs are earned rather than handed out at training camp. Cheveldayoff inherited a significant lack of organizational depth and has worked toward stocking his farm system through the draft.
The new faces will be joined by forward Kyle Connor, the No. 17 pick in the 2015 draft who had 35 goals in 38 games at the University of Michigan last season before turning pro. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck took over the No. 1 job when longtime incumbent Ondrej Pavelec was injured, and he will challenge for the starting job at training camp.
Defenseman Josh Morrissey, the No. 13 pick in the 2013 draft, is expected to make a strong push for an NHL job in training camp after a strong first pro season (3-19-22, 57 games) with Manitoba of the American Hockey League. Forwards Marko Dano, Nic Petan and Brandon Tanev offer further bottom-six competition.
"Competition in any and all positions is very healthy," Cheveldayoff said.
That competition has made Cheveldayoff's pitch to free agents easier.
"They know [forward] Nikolaj Ehlers, and they certainly know Patrik Laine," Cheveldayoff said. "They see those things, the youth, the plan that's in place. They know that there is a plan in place that we've been methodically trying to execute since the day that we got here. There is receptiveness to that."