Season Preview: Winnipeg
By David Pagnotta, TheFourthPeriod.com
The Winnipeg community is still buzzing over the Jets being back in Manitoba,
and after being NHL-less throughout the four-month lockout, the local fan base
can't wait to see them hit the ice on Jan. 19. The team is slowly getting
better, and welcoming Mark Scheifele to the lineup will certainly turn heads
right across the country. He's a big part of this team's future, along with the
likes of Evander Kane and possibly Zach Bogosian, if they don't trade him,
giving the Jets a pretty dynamic offensive game.
If Scheifele can contribute, and Kane continues to score goals, the Jets should
be able to compete in the Southeast Division. Captain Andrew Ladd will hold the
fort, while underrated winger Blake Wheeler should have a big season after
spending the lockout playing overseas. With a solid stock of fire-power up
front, and a solid defensive corps, the Jets will only go as far as Ondrej
Pavelec will take them. Winnipeg needs him to be on top of his game between the
pipes this season, or they'll end the season out of the playoffs.
Providing Kane and Scheifele do what's expected of them, the team looks pretty
good up front. With Ladd, Wheeler, Nik Antropov, Kyle Wellwood, Olli Jokinen and
Alexander Burmistrov able to contribute signifantly to the offense, Winnipeg
isn't a team to be taken lightly. The strong two-way and gritty play of such
players as Antti Miettinen, Chris Thorburn and Bryan Little will also factor
into the team's success this season. Ultimately, though, it'll come down to how
potent the offense gets this year, and in a shortened season, if they get off to
a hot start, it could mean the difference between making or falling short of the
The Jets were the fifth-worst team in the NHL last season when it came to
goals-against per game, and considering how Pavelec's numbers were pretty
respectable, this team has to improve on its defensive game or they'll be in big
trouble, no matter how many goals they score.
With Dustin Byfuglien, Zach Bogosian, Ron Hainsey and Tobias Enstrom leading the
charge, this team seriously lacks in defensive-minded awareness. It could come
down to GM Kevin Cheveldayoff pulling the trigger on a deal for a big, physical
stay-at-home body to help build a solid foundation in front of the club's
It's Pavelec's time to shine. Armed with a fresh five-year contract, he has the
full support of the organization to be their man in goal. He'll get the bulk of
the ice time this season, with Al Montoya likely suiting up for eight-to-ten
games this season.
They've got solid goaltending, they've got an explosive offensive game, but
their defense will be in question all season. Unless management can bring in
some help on the backend, it could be a roller coaster season for the Jets.
They'll fight for a playoff spot, but will need to get hot at the right times in
order to get into post-season action. It could go either way for Winnipeg this
year, but the future looks very promising.
3 Players to Watch
The Jets' top rookie this season is the future of the franchise. Scheifele,
as previously stated, should be a big story in Winnipeg all season. He's
eager and ready to hit the ice, and after another strong performance for
Team Canada at the World Junior's, he is an early candidate for Rookie of
Stuart's the only true stay-at-home defenseman on this roster, and until
Jacob Trouba is ready to make the jump to the NHL, he's all they've got.
He's a solid leader and is an asset on this club, but the Jets need his
defensive mind to rub off on some of his teammates.
This 21-year-old is very solid playmaking skills and that could push the
Jets' offense to the next level. He's had two seasons to get adjusted to the
NHL, and the Jets want to see him break out of his shell this year. With
only 48 games on the schedule, he should be able to build a buzz.