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Team Reset

Jets counting on Mason, Kulikov to improve defense

Scoring remains strength for Winnipeg, which allowed fourth-most goals in NHL last season

by Tim Campbell @NHLTim / NHL.com Staff Writer

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

Having patiently compiled NHL Draft picks and prospects since the franchise's relocation from Atlanta for the 2011-12 season, the Winnipeg Jets turned proactive this offseason, shifting some of their focus to the present. 

They hope their moves bring much-needed improvement defensively. The Jets allowed 255 goals last season, fourth-most in the League after the Colorado Avalanche (276), Dallas Stars (260) and Arizona Coyotes (258).  

As part of the focus on the present, the Jets traded picks with the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 NHL Draft, moving down in the first round and sending the Golden Knights a third-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft to keep them from selecting veteran defenseman Toby Enstrom in the NHL Expansion Draft. 

The young Jets can score -- they had 246 goals last season, second-most in the Western Conference behind the Minnesota Wild (263) -- but must be better defensively if they hope to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which they have missed the past two seasons.  

Here is what the Jets look like today:  

 

Key arrivals  

Steve Mason, G: The 29-year-old signed a two-year, $8.2 million contract as an unrestricted free agent July 1. He is coming off the the worst season of his five with the Philadelphia Flyers (26-21-8, 2.66 goals-against average, .908 save percentage). His experience is being counted on to take the load and pressure off Connor Hellebuyck, 24, who signed a one-year, $2.25 million contract July 24 as a restricted free agent after going 26-19-4 with a 2.89 GAA and .907 save percentage for Winnipeg last season. The two-year term of Mason's contract is seemingly perfect to allow the Jets to determine what they have in Hellebuyck and 22-year-old goalie prospect Eric Comrie. … Dmitry Kulikov, D: The No. 14 pick in the 2009 NHL Draft signed a three-year, $12.99 million contract as an unrestricted free agent July 1. A back injury limited the veteran of eight NHL seasons to 47 games for the Buffalo Sabres last season, when he had five points (two goals, three assists). Kulikov, 26, should allow the Jets to have three strong, versatile defense pairs.  

Video: PHI@NJD: Mason snares Bennett's quick wrister

 

Key departures  

Chris Thorburn, RW: As a pending unrestricted free agent, he was selected by the Golden Knights in the expansion draft. He didn't sign with Vegas, instead signing a two-year contract with the St. Louis Blues on July 1. The Jets will miss the 34-year-old's toughness and dressing-room presence. He had four points (three goals, one assist) in 64 games last season. … Ondrej Pavelec, G: He spent most of last season with Manitoba in the American Hockey League. He played eight NHL games after getting recalled Jan. 17, going 4-4-0 before sustaining a lower-body injury. An unrestricted free agent, he signed a contract with the New York Rangers, reportedly for one year. Pavelec, who turns 30 on Aug. 31, has played 379 NHL games, all for the Jets/Atlanta Thrashers franchise. … Mark Stuart, D: The Jets bought out the final season of the 33-year-old's four-year contract after he had two goals, two assists and a plus-4 rating in 42 games last season.

 

On the cusp  

Kyle Connor, F: The No. 17 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, Connor cracked the Jets lineup to start last season but was sent to Manitoba on Dec. 9 after he had four points (one goal, three assists) in 19 games. He responded with 44 points (25 goals, 19 assists) in 52 AHL games, third among league rookies. The 20-year-old returned to the Jets for their season finale April 8 and scored a goal. … Jack Roslovic, F: The No. 25 pick in the 2015 draft turned pro last season, led Manitoba with 48 points (13 goals, 35 assists) in 68 games and earned a one-game NHL call-up. Roslovic, 20, could be in line for more NHL time this season.

Video: DAL@WPG: Connor finishes the rush for first NHL goal

 

What they still need  

Better defense and an experienced forward. Even with defense being a weakness, the Jets went 40-35-7, finishing fifth in the Central Division. Of course, stable goaltending is a must, and until that is established in Winnipeg, questions will remain. The Jets will have ample competition among young forwards for third- and fourth-line spots -- Adam Lowry, 24, Joel Armia, 24, Andrew Copp, 23, and Marko Dano, 22, are in that group -- but could benefit from a veteran bottom-six forward with experience and leadership who has won. In particular, they could use one to help their penalty kill, which was 26th in the NHL last season (77.5 percent).

Video: Kevin Cheveldayoff discusses the Jets' outlook

 

Pete Jensen's fantasy focus

The Jets missed the playoffs last season because of their weak defense and goaltending. They added Mason and Kulikov, so the question is whether Hellebuyck will continue to get the bulk of the playing time. Mason is No. 192 in NHL.com's top 250 fantasy rankings, not far from Hellebuyck at No. 166. Winnipeg has one of the most potent offenses in the League, so one of these goalies could emerge as a fantasy sleeper, or they can emerge as an effective time-share tandem.

Video: TOR@BUF: Kulikov scores PPG in 500th NHL game

 

Projected lineup  

Nikolaj Ehlers -- Mark Scheifele -- Blake Wheeler  

Mathieu Perreault -- Bryan Little -- Patrik Laine  

Kyle Connor -- Adam Lowry -- Joel Armia  

Shawn Matthias -- Andrew Copp -- Marko Dano  

Josh Morrissey -- Jacob Trouba  

Toby Enstrom -- Dustin Byfuglien  

Dmitry Kulikov -- Tyler Myers  

Steve Mason  

Connor Hellebuyck  

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