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SEASON PREVIEWS
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January 13, 2013 | 5:30pm ET
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.

Forwards

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 playoffs.

Defense

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 goaltending.

Goalies

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.

Projected Outcome

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
 
Mark Scheifele
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 the Year.
Mark Stuart
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.
Alexander Burmistrov
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.

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