Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2017-18, where LastWordOnHockey.com gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers are insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around till the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2017-2018 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on the Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2017-18 Winnipeg Jets.
Puck Drop Preview: 2017-18 Winnipeg Jets
Their youngsters defined the Winnipeg Jets. Of course they still had their veterans in captain Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, and Dustin Byfuglien, but majority of the focus were on the kids especially with 2016 second overall pick Patrik Laine there.
Their season reflected the amount of youth on the roster. After capturing their first win of the season in their first game, the Jets didn’t hold a record over .500 until March 30th. That’s the same time the team went on a seven-game win streak to cap off the season. A major reason for it was on the defensive side of the rink.
Winnipeg could score with the best of them, 249 goal to be exact, which ranked sixth best. In the end though, it does not matter how many goals a team gets, if the other team scores more. In the Jets case, 257 pucks ended up in the back of their own net. Only Colorado, Dallas, and Arizona were worse.
They didn’t do themselves any favours by taking the fourth most penalties and ranking 26th on the penalty kill. Even with all these defensive holes, the Jets played 52 games that were decided by two goals or less. It also didn’t help the goaltending was a major issue. Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson had a save percentage of just over .900 combined.
That being said, the Jets did have their bright spots. Mark Scheifele improved his all around game, while potting 32 goals and 82 points in 79 contests. At some points Laine seemed unstoppable, racking up 36 goals and leading rookies in points per game. Nikolaj Ehlers and Wheeler pitched in as well.
The future is bright in Winnipeg and the one thing you can’t teach is experience. In the roller coaster year the youngsters got a ton of it. 12 players under the age of 25 dressed at least 50 games for the club. Even with that, they finished seven points back of the final playoff spot with that much youth.
Taking into consideration the pool of talent the Jets have on the roster and in their system, they did not need to do anything drastic come the off-season. All they needed to do was fill a couple holes.
Attempting to address the goalie issue, the Jets signed former Philadelphia Flyers Steve Mason to a two-year deal worth $8.2 million. The 2008-09 Calder Trophy winner has shown flashes of being a number one in the past, but not consistently. In his 10-year career he’s gone 200-177-63 with a 2.68 goals-against-average and .911 save percentage.
The Jets biggest off-season signing was defensemen Dmitry Kulikov to a three-year, $13 million contract. The former Panthers first overall pick in 2009 dressed 47 games for the Buffalo Sabres where he tallied five points. He logged the second most minutes per game on the team, with just over 22 minutes last season.
The team re-signed a couple of their young talent. Andrew Copp signed a two-year, $2 million contract, Brandon Tanev to a one-year, $700,000 thousand contract, and goaltender Hellebuyck to a one-year, $2.25 million contract.
The other move the organization made was extending general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice. Since Cheveladayoff left the Chicago Blackhawks front office to take the general manager position the team has built one of, if not the most, talented pools of talent. Meanwhile, Maurice holds a record of 136-112-33 as the Jets coach and led them to the playoffs in his first season behind the bench.
In the 2017 NHL Entry Draft Winnipeg selected centre Kristian Vesalainen with the 24th selection. After that pick they focused mostly on the blue line. Dylan Samberg (USA, 43rd overall), Jonathan Kovacevic (CAN, 74th overall), Santeri Virtanen (Fin, 105th overall), Leon Gawanke (GER, 136th overall), Arvid Holm (SWE, 167th overall), Skyler McKenzie (USA, 198th overall), and Croix Evingson (USA, 211th overall).
The line combinations for this season are most likely going to be the same compared to the previous season. This mean the Jets wouldn’t have a pure rookie dressing on opening night for the first time since the team moved back to Winnipeg.
2017-2018 line combinations
This group of dynamic and electrifying players scored at will. It’s hard to imagine the offensive group taking a step backwards instead of forwards this year with all the returners.
Seventh defenseman: Ben Chiarot
This defensive core has a good mix of youth, experience, speed, strength, and grit. If this group can stay healthy, which it was lacking with only Byfuglein and Morrissey playing more than 65 games last year, it could be a strength instead of the Achilles heel.
The Jets are really relying on Mason to carry majority of the workload this season. If the inconsistent Mason appears early on, fans in Winnipeg could experience that same thing they went through last year.
Player to Watch
The defensemen that has all the tools to be a true shutdown number one is Trouba. He has the size, speed, and physicality to do so. The former ninth overall pick has played over 22 minutes since his rookie season. Thrown in the fire from day and he’s made it to the other side. The now 23-year-old has improved every year and is now entering his fifth season also being a contract season a lot is at stake.
This is the same player that held out and asked for a trade back in 2016. The main reason for the trade request was because he wanted to be the top guy on the first pairing. This came after Winnipeg acquired Tyler Myers from the Sabres. Last season he showed his worth while Myers was injured.
Trouba isn’t afraid to express his displeasures. So watch out for him to make an impact this season in order to demand a massive contract come off-season.
Players on the Rise
The young centre is entering his fourth year and this could be the year Lowry becomes a big part of the Jets. He continues to grow his game at both ends of the ice.
The big thing for the 24-year-old is Maurice is the only coach he’s played under in the NHL. Last year the coach gave him more responsibly as the season went on and he rose to the occasion. He got more time on the powerplay, more points, and an extra minute of ice time.
One of the most important things is Lowry’s improvement in the face-off circle. He’s boasted his success rate from 46% to over 50%. That’s one of the most difficult things to get better at as a centre.
Players on the Decline
It’s nothing against his skill and what he brings to the table. Perreault is an above average forward who provides depth scoring that all coaches want. This has to do with the people behind him waiting in the wings. He has only played more than 70 games once in his eight-year career. With so many young talented players waiting for an opportunity, if the 29-year-old goes down for an extended period of time and someone younger and faster can fill his void, that makes him expendable.
2017-18 Winnipeg Jets Season Prediction
The Jets go into training camp with a very similar roster to last year’s. The key additions of goaltender Mason and defenseman Kulikov to an already big defense core, the team should be able to bring down the number of goals against.
Up front the Jets contain a ton of firepower on the roster. They were already a handful before, so think about what another year of experience for the younger players will do. The forwards have the speed to keep up with any opposing team. The only questions come down to health and goaltending, which Winnipeg has struggled with the past two seasons.
This team could very well push their way into the playoffs with experience and off-season acquisitions. Barring any dark playoff runs, that might be the best for Jets fans to hope for at this point in time.