Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2018-19, where Last Word On Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2018-19 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2018-19 Winnipeg Jets.
2018-19 Winnipeg Jets
The Winnipeg Jets finally put it all together and made the postseason for the first time since 2014-15 season. Winnipeg finished second in a very tough Central Division with a 52-20-10 mark for 114 points. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff stuck with his plan of building through the draft and it led to a playoff spot and 100-point season. Winnipeg missed out on the divisional crown by three points as the Nashville Predators had 117 points.
However, the Jets saved their best work for the playoffs as they eliminated the Minnesota Wild in round one. Winnipeg then proved to be road warriors with by taking three games from Nashville at Bridgestone Arena to advance to the conference final.
The Jets quest for the Stanley Cup ended when the Vegas Golden Knights took the Western final in five games. However, last season saw all the young talent finally start to realize its potential.
Blake Wheeler was the team’s leading point-getter with 21 points, but Mark Scheifele scored 14 goals to lead the way. Defenceman Dustin Byfuglien was top point-scorer from the blue line with 16 points.
Connor Hellebuyck took the next step in his development by winning nine games in the playoffs and stealing a couple of victories against Nashville. The UMass-Lowell product also registered a pair of shutouts in the playoffs.
Winnipeg got a rental out of Paul Stastny at the deadline, but Vegas was able to lure him away from the Jets. There were other moves like Matt Hendricks going to going to Minnesota and backup goalie Michael Hutchinson heading to the Florida Panthers. The Jets also dealt Joel Armia to the Montreal Canadiens and Chase DeLeo was sent to the Anaheim Ducks. Tobias Enstrom ended up going to Modo of the Swedish League.
The Jets did a lot of locking up their lineup by signing Wheeler to an extension and Hellebuyck to a long-term deal. Players like Nic Petan, Jacob Trouba, Brandon Tanev and Marko Dano were given one-year deals as the Jets try to brace for the Patrik Laine contract coming up.
Kyle Connor– Mark Scheifele-Blake Wheeler
Kristian Vesalainen- Jack Roslovic – Matheiu Perreault
Extras: Marko Dano, Nic Petan
Winnipeg’s top-six forwards are arguably among the best in the league. Connor and Ehlers are solid wings that provide goals and forechecking. Little and Scheifele are solid down the middle for the Jets. Laine already has 80 regular season goals at the ripe age of 20.
Vesalainen could also be a sneaky pickup from the Finnish league and Perreault has been solid at forward. Lowry and Tanev also solidify the bottom-six for head coach Paul Maurice.
Watch out for Mason Appleton, who could be in the mix if there are injuries. The injury bug was something that bit the Jets hard last season and tested their organizational depth.
Josh Morrissey-Jacob Trouba
Logan Stanley-Dustin Byfuglien
The Jets blueline really took a step last season with Trouba becoming a more-complete player. Morrissey overcame a poor start and gained confidence along the way.
Byfuglien and Stanley could a physical combination as the latter is 6-feet-7-inches and can deliver bone-crunching hits. Many already know the well-rounded game that Byfuglien brings to Winnipeg.
Kulikov and Myers are a good third pair and can give the top-two groups a break without much of a drop-off in talent.
The young American got paid like an elite goalie and now Jets fans will see if he can play like one. Hellebuyck outdueled Pekka Rinne in the second round and solidified his place in goal. He finally wrested the job from Steve Mason and Hutchinson.
Brossoit would see much action but will have to be sharp in the game he does get. Mason, Hutchinson and Eric Comrie all filled in for Hellebuyck, but only Hutchinson had a winning record. Brossoit can make himself useful if he can steal wins for the Jets.
Players to Watch
It’s a contract-year for the American defender and he’ll want to earn more than the $5.5 million contract he got in the off-season. Trouba has missed chunks of the last two seasons thanks to injuries. Winnipeg management will want the former University of Michigan standout to prove himself before it commits long-term.
Another Michigan standout broke out last season with 31 goals for the Jets. Connor started the season with the AHL Manitoba Moose, but quickly made an impression with the big club. There’s always a worry about a sophomore slump, but Connor has the tools to get past it.
It’s scary to think that the young Finn will be entering his third season in the league with 80 goals scored. The big talk will be the impending contract negotiations, but Laine said he’s not worried about it. He’s the face of the franchise and they Jets have over $10 million in cap space available. A good portion of that is likely going to Laine soon enough.
Many are predicted the Jets will be in the mix in the Western Conference. The Central is a minefield with defending division champion Nashville and fellow playoff teams like the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota. Teams like the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars made some key upgrades and will be improved.
Winnipeg will also have to deal with Pacific Division clubs like Vegas and the much-improved San Jose Sharks. Any series the Jets get through will take a toll. However, the Jets have all the tools to make their way to the Cup Final and possibly win it all. Expect the Jets to be playing into May this season.
NASHVILLE, TN – MAY 10: Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators congratulates Patrik Laine #29 of the Winnipeg Jets after a 5-1 Jets Victory in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena on May 10, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)