Jets bank on improvement from young talent in lineup
In three seasons since moving from Atlanta, the Winnipeg Jets have finished with 84, 51 (about 87 over a full season) and 84 points.
It is fair to say the time for tangible progress has come. The question for the Jets is whether a step forward can happen in what looks like the toughest division in the NHL?
There were not a lot of changes made. Adding Mathieu Perreault to replace Olli Jokinen might not have garnered a lot of attention in early July, but it can be a slight upgrade. There are some intriguing young talents with the ability to improve, and that appears to be the most likely path to an improved point total and maybe postseason contention.
The biggest problem is the other six teams in the Central Division. Five participated in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the sixth, the Nashville Predators, welcome back one of the best goalies in the world from injury and made other improvements during the offseason.
Here is the projected lineup in 2014-15 for the Jets:
Michael Frolik and Blake Wheeler split time on Winnipeg's top line last season. Add in Dustin Byfuglien's move to forward and the Jets have three options on the right side that could be part of a fluid situation.
Mark Scheifele could be one of the League's breakout stars in 2014-15, and that would be a major boost for the Jets. It could also help Evander Kane, as could an uptick from his 7.6 percent shooting percentage last season.
There is a spot in the top nine that appears up for grabs as training camp beckons. Carl Klingberg provides an interesting option. Another option is 2014 first-round pick Nikolaj Ehlers, who had 60 goals and 132 points in 79 combined regular-season and playoff games last season for Halifax in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
None of the other options available for the final spot on the third line or any of the fourth-line roles provided much offense in 2013-14. That could lead to an extended look for Ehlers or Patrice Cormier, who hasn't done much in limited NHL opportunities.
Moving Byfuglien to forward did not help the Jets in the puck-possession department, and he's been a favorite of the analytics community for a while now. What could help is improvement from Jacob Trouba, who had a nice rookie season and could be a No. 1 guy in the future.
Grant Clitsome and Paul Postma both missed large chunks of last season with injuries, but this group could be deeper with both of them at full strength. Adam Pardy saw very sheltered minutes but played well in his most NHL action since his first two seasons with the Calgary Flames in 2008-09 and 2009-10.
If Ehlers is the prospect to watch during camp up front, then Joshua Morrissey is that guy on the blue line. Trouba played as a 19-year-old for the Jets, and Morrissey went four spots later in the draft a year later.
In the past three seasons, 29 goaltenders have played at least 100 games. None had a worse save percentage than Ondrej Pavelec's .904 in that span. His team's ability (or inability) to play defense in front of him is not enough of the reason for this -- Pavelec just hasn't been good enough.
For the Jets to have a chance at making the playoffs, they need better goaltending. Pavelec has three seasons remaining on his contract, but there are several intriguing prospects queuing up behind him. Michael Hutchinson had a strong run in the Calder Cup Playoffs and is likely to get the backup nod to start the season. Eric Comrie and Connor Hellebuyck are young but talented.
This feels like the last chance for Pavelec to prove he can be at least an average starting goaltender for the Jets. To this point, he has one season (2010-11) in five where that was the case.
Follow Corey Masisak on Twitter: @cmasisak22
2014-15 FANTASY PREVIEW: JETS
Undervalued: Blake Wheeler -- The Jets' top line of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Wheeler has been one of the most underrated League-wide, and Wheeler has proven to be its most consistent point producer. The right wing has 174 points over the past three seasons, which ranks 22nd in the NHL. His career-high 19 power-play points in 2013-14 indicates growth on that front, and he produces shots on goal and hits in bunches. Winnipeg will have difficulty making the Stanley Cup Playoffs out of the Western Conference, but fantasy owners should select Wheeler in the sixth or seventh round with confidence.
Overvalued: Evander Kane -- Kane is a quality multicategory asset in fantasy leagues that factor in PIMs, hits and shots on goal, but owners who plan on investing an early-round pick on the left wing should proceed with caution. He's 23 and carries a ton of potential, but he dealt with injury last season and faces uncertainty with trade rumors swirling. He had chemistry last season with Mark Scheifele but has never fared well in power-play situations (26 PPP in 324 games). It's risky to reach for Kane any earlier than the sixth round.
Sleeper: Jacob Trouba -- If Tobias Enstrom continues to slump, and Jets coach Paul Maurice plays Dustin Byfuglien at forward, the stage will be set for Trouba, 20, to see an elevated role in his second NHL season. He came back strong after an early-season neck injury to lead rookies with 22:26 of ice time per game in 2013-14 and was one of two rookie defensemen to hit double digits in goals, playing 65 of 82 games. Fantasy owners would be wise to invest a late-round pick on Trouba as their third or fourth defenseman.
Follow Pete Jensen on Twitter: @NHLJensen
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Author: Corey Masisak | NHL.com Staff Writer