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Jets training camp preview

Ability of Hellebuyck to regain top form, DeMelo impact among keys to watch

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

With training camps set to begin on July 13 as part of Phase 3 of the NHL Return to Play Plan, is taking a closer look at each of the 24 teams in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

Today, the Winnipeg Jets.

The Winnipeg Jets were 37-28-6 (.563 points percentage) in the regular season and will enter the Stanley Cup Qualifiers as the No. 9 seed in the Western Conference. They will play the No. 8 seed, the Calgary Flames (36-27-7, .564), in one of eight best-of-5 series.

The Jets will be trying to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a third straight season. They acquired defenseman Dylan DeMelo in a trade with the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 18 and center Cody Eakin in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights on Feb. 21 and were trending in a good direction when the NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. Winnipeg was 12-5-2 since Feb. 1 and won its last four games before the pause.

"Some of the most enjoyable moments of my career, I think, have been here, knowing the hardship that this team faced and got itself to a point that it was feeling good," coach Paul Maurice said about the trajectory of this season. "I want this group back together, and I want to see what they can do."

The Jets lost 325 man-games to injury; and before the pause were closer to a healthy lineup than they had been since the early weeks of the season. Winnipeg was starting to find cohesion with its reshaped defense, anchored by Josh Morrissey and Neal Pionk, and was getting a terrific season from goalie Connor Hellebuyck.


Player to watch

Hellebuyck was 31-21-5, with a 2.57 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in 58 games (56 starts), likely earning consideration for the Vezina Trophy, voted as the top goalie in the NHL. He led the League in shutouts (6), saves (1,656) and shots against (1,796) and played the second-most minutes (3,268:33), behind the 3,439:49 by Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens. He tied Price for most games played and was fifth in the League in save percentage among goalies who played at least 30 games. Getting Hellebuyck back at the top of his game will be one of Winnipeg's priorities during this training camp.

Video: VGK@WPG: Hellebuyck stymies Vegas to earn the shutout


Biggest question

Will Winnipeg's defense continue its progress from a patchwork group at the start of the season to a more cohesive unit in the second half? The numbers indicate it was happening. The Jets' goals-against per game was 2.98 from Oct. 3-Dec. 31, 14th in the NHL. From Jan. 1-March 12, it was sixth at 2.65.


Injury updates

Anthony Bitetto, D -- Healthy for camp after missing four games before the pause with an upper-body injury. 

Mark Letestu, F -- Healthy for camp. Was cleared to play and assigned to Manitoba of the American Hockey League for conditioning one day before the pause. Was shut down Oct. 15 with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, and missed 64 games.

Bryan Little, F -- Status unknown. On injured reserve at the pause after having surgery to repair a perforated ear drum in February. Missed the first nine games of the season with a concussion, and the final 55 games after being hit in the side of the head by a shot Nov. 5 against the New Jersey Devils.

Sami Niku, D -- Healthy for camp after missing 10 games before the pause with a lower-body injury.

Luca Sbisa, D -- Healthy for training camp after missing 11 games with an upper-body injury and being on injured reserve at the pause.


Fresh face

DeMelo, acquired from the Senators for a third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, played 10 games for Winnipeg and found a quick fit with Morrissey as the shutdown pair. DeMelo is in his fifth NHL season, and after he joined the Jets his ice time rose to 21:14 per game (from 19:55 with the Senators this season), which was the highest average of his NHL career. The stability he added to the defense group has been significant.


Telling stat

Center Mark Scheifele has the most Stanley Cup Playoff goals in Winnipeg/Atlanta Thrashers history (16) and has scored 12 of those on the road, all since 2018. His 12 goals in 11 road games ties him with Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals (16 games) for the NHL lead in road playoff goals the past two postseasons. Scheifele's seven goals at the Nashville Predators in the 2018 Western Conference Second Round set a playoff record for most road goals in a series.

Video: WPG@WSH: Scheifele nets tying goal while falling down


They said it

"We were excited about how we were playing going into the pause. We liked our group, we like the additions that we made at that point, and the chemistry that was being developed. This game, all you ask for is a chance." -- general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff


Projected lineup

Kyle Connor -- Mark Scheifele -- Blake Wheeler

Nikolaj Ehlers -- Cody Eakin -- Patrik Laine

Andrew Copp -- Adam Lowry -- Jack Roslovic

Mathieu Perreault -- Nicholas Shore -- Mason Appleton

Josh Morrissey -- Dylan DeMelo

Dmitry Kulikov -- Neal Pionk

Nathan Beaulieu -- Tucker Poolman

Connor Hellebuyck

Laurent Brossoit

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