The Starting Six Series comes to you to dive into the best player at each position all-time for every organization. The biggest and best at each position, with the most memorable moments in franchise history. Here is the Winnipeg Jets all-time lineup.
Starting Six: Winnipeg Jets All-Time Lineup
The current version of the Winnipeg Jets has some very solid players wearing the navy blue and white. With young pieces like Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers coming through the ranks, the Jets will be a force in the next few years. Looking back at their history, the team has had some big names come through over the years, with both the Winnipeg and Atlanta versions of the franchise. With one of the shortest histories in the NHL, the Jets Starting Six is still very strong.
Center: Mark Scheifele (2012-Present)
The shortest tenured player on the Starting Six, Scheifele has gone from a possible bust to a huge force in a matter of a few years. After splitting his first two seasons between Winnipeg and the OHL’s Barrie Colts, Scheifele has come into his own. His rookie year wasn’t until 2013-14, when he managed to put up 34 points across 63 games. Since then, he has improved his point totals every single year.
His 29 goals in 2015-16 season looked like a high for Scheifele, but it was just a start for him. Last season he managed to put up 32 goals and 82 points overall across 79 games. His totals were helped by the addition of the young Laine, but Scheifele also managed to raise his game once again.
If Scheifele is able to continue his growth he will become a superstar in the league. And at the young age of 24, he has plenty of time to reach those levels. Scheifele will be a major factor in any success that the Jets see in the near future.
Left Wing: Ilya Kovalchuk (2002-10)
The oft-embattled Kovalchuk cements his place in the starting line-up as the overall point leader in franchise history. The franchise managed to keep the Russian sniper for eight seasons, and got some of the best hockey he ever played.
Atlanta took the Russian as the first-overall pick in the 2001 entry draft. His rookie season was the first sign of the strength he would go on to show. A 29 goal, 51-point campaign saw Kovalchuk finish second in Calder voting behind teammate Dany Heatley. It would take him two more years, and a car accident, for Kovalchuk to outscore his teammate. After that, he would only be outscored once the rest of his Thrashers career.
Kovalchuk’s best season came in 2005-06. A year after winning the Richard trophy for most goals in the league with 41, Kovalchuk set a new career high in the mark with 52. He added 46 assists, also a career high at that point, for a total of 98 points. His offensive output would see him finish eighth in the scoring race that season, and tied for third in the goal category behind only Jonathan Cheechoo and Jaromir Jagr.
In total, Kovalchuk would amass 615 points over his 594 games wearing the Thrashers jersey. His Thrashers carer was unfortunately cut short by a trade in 2010 to the New Jersey Devils. The trade happened because Kovalchuk and the Thrashers could not reach a deal on a new contract. Kovalchuk was traded, along with Anssi Salmela and Atlanta’s second round draft pick (Jonathon Merrill), to the Devils for Johnny Oduya, Niclas Bergfors, Patrice Cormier and New Jersey’s first and second round picks (both later traded to Chicago). Despite the shortened time in Atlanta, Kovalchuk’s footprint on the team will never be forgotten.
Right Wing: Blake Wheeler (2011-Present)
Another current Jets player, Wheeler joined the club in the 2010-11 season while they were still in Atlanta. After being selected fifth-overall by the Arizona Coyotes in the 2004 draft, Wheeler would go on to become a free agent before ever playing for the club. He signed in Boston where he managed to put together two solid seasons. Wheeler even started 2010-11 off in good form, but would only put up 27 points in 58 games for Boston before being traded. The trade saw Wheeler and Mark Stuart head to the Thrashers for Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik.
Wheeler had more success in a Thrashers uniform that season, managing 17 points in the remaining 23 games. Wheeler never looked back and has since gone on to put up 61 points or more in every season in Winnipeg, excluding the lockout shortened year. Even in the lockout season of 2012-13, Wheeler still managed 41 points in 48 games. He has led the franchise in points in three of the six seasons they have played in Winnipeg.
Wheeler was named captain last season after the departure of Andrew Ladd. He took on the role with a young squad and some veteran defensemen behind him. He brought the Jets to within one spot of the playoffs in one of the best seasons since the move. Wheeler still has a long career in front of him and will continue to be a leader on the team with the likes of Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine.
Left Defence: Tobias Enstrom (2007-Present)
Another member of the current squad, Enstrom has been a staple of the blue-line for the franchise since 2007. An eighth-round pick in 2003, Enstrom broke into the league in 2007-08 and exceeded all expectations. He managed to average more than 24 minutes on the ice throughout the season. He also racked up five goals and 38 points across 82 games that year as a rookie.
Enstrom would continue to put up similar numbers on the offensive end until 2013-14. But his real impact was his defensive game. In his ten year career with the Thrashers and Jets exclusively, he has averaged more than 20 minutes per game every season, only averaging less than 22 twice. His shot blocking is a positive, blocking 93 plus shots in all but two seasons in his career.
His leadership the last few years has been an even bigger asset than previously imagined. Enstrom has helped mentor young defensemen on the Jets roster on numerous occasions in the last few years. He was able to take a young Jacob Trouba and give him the freedom to make mistakes. He also took a prospect named Josh Morrissey and tutored him all of last season. His presence in the Jets locker room is matched by very few.
Enstrom is entering his age 33 year, and may still have plenty of hockey left in him. Looking back he will always be remembered as one of the key pieces of the franchise after the move from Atlanta.
Right Defence: Dustin Byfuglien (2011-Present)
By far the biggest player on the list, Dustin Byfuglien has become a force with the Winnipeg Jets franchise. Another eighth-round pick from the 2003 entry draft, Byfuglien played five seasons in Chicago before joining the Thrashers in the 2010 off-season. The trade saw Atlanta make out like bandits, giving up Marty Reasoner, Joey Crabb, Jeremy Morin, and two picks (both acquired in the Kovalchuk deal) which became first rounder Kevin Hayes and second rounder Justin Holl. In return, the Thrashers received Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, Ben Eager, and Akim Aliu. Despite the other three players not making an impact for the team, Byfuglien’s impact has made the trade more than worth it.
Since joining the organization, Byfuglien has the second most points among active Jets players, with an astounding 340 points in seven seasons. The only player with more is Blake Wheeler, who has managed 404 points in that same time frame. He also is the second highest scoring defenseman league wide since the trade. In regular season points, Byfuglien is only sitting behind Erik Karlsson in points by blue-liners since he joined the Thrashers.
The most impressive thing about these numbers is probably that Byfuglien has played multiple positions in his career. After entering the league as a defenseman, he eventually played right wing for a few seasons before moving to Atlanta. He would be moved back to defense with the Thrashers and has predominantly been a defenseman ever since. There was a short time on the wing in 2014 but he soon returned to the blue line and rekindled his defensive game. A remarkable player, Byfuglien will be hard to beat out in the future for this spot.
Goaltender: Ondrej Pavelec (2008-2017)
Probably the easiest decision on this team, albeit not for a good reason, Pavelec is the obvious choice for goalie for an all-time roster. The team’s all-time leader in wins, by a wide margin, Pavelec has been through the good and bad times with the Jets. The second-round pick by Atlanta in 2004, Pavelec entered the NHL in 2007-08, playing in seven games that year. His numbers were not some to marvel at, but he did manage a .905 save percentage and 3.11 goals against average that year.
His numbers, however, would actually go down over the next two seasons, leaving people questioning his ability. He would prove the doubters wrong though in 2010-11 by posting a .914 save percentage and a 2.73 goals against average. With the move to Winnipeg the next year, Pavelec became the face of the crease for the new team. He has maintained a sub 3.00 goals against average in every year except two since the move.
The most surprising turn of events in Pavelec’s Winnipeg career came in the 2014-15 season. The Jets started the season as losers of five of their first seven games. But Pavelec and backup Michael Hutchinson would right the ship in a big way. The duo managed to win 43 games that season and Pavelec lay claim to 22 of those. His other numbers were even more impressive, though. Pavelec finished the year with a .920 save percentage and 2.28 goals against average to his name.
Pavelec has not been able to match those numbers since then, but he has helped bring stability to the crease for the Jets. He will never play another game for the franchise, as Steve Mason and Connor Hellebuyck have taken over the blue paint in Winnipeg. But Pavelec signed a contract during the off-season to join the New York Rangers. His time in Atlanta and Winnipeg was never easy, but as it stands he is by far the best goalie in team history.
Vyacheslav Kozlov (2003-10) put up 416 points in 537 games for the organization; Bryan Little (2008-17) second in all-time team points with 432; Marian Hossa (2006-08) three seasons in Atlanta saw Hossa emerge as a point producer with 248 points in 222 games; Dany Heatley (2002-04) broke out with the Thrashers, but was moved too early after a car accident.