WINNIPEG, MB -- Over the last few games the Winnipeg jets have taken advantage of their non-playoff position to test the waters on their young prospects with the Manitoba Moose. Virtually anyone within sniffing distance of the NHL has been given the opportunity to play for the big club, and for the most part the future looks pretty bright.
From Josh Morrissey to Scott Kosmachuk, there have been some strong performances put in by the audition team, including Chase De Leo who counted an assist in his first game in the NHL Sunday.
The hunger that the players have showed is a good indication of what the Jets and their faithful have to look forward to come 2016-17.
But the desire and strength shown by these players can mean a heck of a headache for the Jets brass in the offseason. Yes, it would be a stretch to say that all players on the ice now will be back and ready for the first game of the NHL season next year, but giving Kevin Cheveldayoff and co. some different possibilities means that moves could be made at the NHL Entry Draft as well as in the free agent season.
To start is the risky ground that Matt Halischuk finds himself standing on. As of Sunday's game, the former World Junior standout had zero points in 22 games with the big club while spending most of the season with the Manitoba Moose. As the now only UFA forward, it's virtually a lock that he will be gone.
On defence, the unfortunately injured Grant Clitsome sees himself in much the same position, and likely will not be renewed (though perhaps retirement could see him land a job with the coaching or scouting ranks).
That leaves the next-in-line players with possible question marks. At next season's end, Drew Stafford, Mathieu Perreault and Chris Thorburn will all be UFAs (along with Ondrej Pavelec, but goaltending is an entirely other story). One has to expect that if the players want to return to Winnipeg, the pressure will be on them to perform to a high enough level where those young bucks nipping at their heels will push them to perform above their levels in 2016.
Which brings us to the most at-risk player among the Jets skaters: Alexander Burmistrov.
A number of fans and pundits were skeptical when the one-time prospect returned to Winnipeg following a couple years in the KHL and his play has undoubtedly been a disappointment. Through 70 games, Burmistrov had a mere 18 points including seven goals, and even more telling a -7 rating. Burmistrov is an RFA at the end of 2016-17 and he could easily be trade bait either at next year's swapping deadline or perhaps before then.
After Burmistrov, there are two other players in the 2016-17 RFA boat - Anthony Peluso and Paul Postma. Peluso's status may be more secure as a grinder on the team who will be needed as a bodyguard with some of the up-and-comers like Nic Petan being smaller in size, but he would need to still step up his game if he were to, say, try to fit into Thorburn's spot should the Jets choose not to sign the longtime forward. Postma, meanwhile, has been enigmatic this season and with the likes of Morrissey showing they are NHL ready, his position isn't exactly secure, and he'll need to step up big time next year. A goal Sunday showed just how serious he is, but there's still a ways to go.
The fun though is that the Jets faithful are getting ample opportunity to see the action unfold before them, and if nothing else, the 2016 off-season should be chock full of headlines and speculation for Winnipeg hockey lovers.
Jon Waldman is the Winnipeg Correspondent for The Fourth Period. Follow him on Twitter.