Late-season changes keyed the Jets to a playoff spot, and Winnipeg's defense will lead the way in 2015-16.
COACH: Paul Maurice
2014-15 RECORD: 43-26-13, 99 points (fifth in Central, lost to Ducks, 4-0, in first round)
VITAL SIGNS: 2.72 goals-for per game (16th); 2.49 goals-against per game (10th); 17.8 power play pct. (17th); 81.8 penalty kill pct. (13th); PDO: 100.5 (12th); Corsi For pct.: 51.8 (12th); Fenwick For pct.: 51.2 (15th); face-off pct.: 48.9 (22nd)
NOTABLE ARRIVALS: F Alex Burmistrov
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Andrew Ladd – Bryan Little – Blake Wheeler
Nikolaj Ehlers – Mark Schiefele – Drew Stafford
Mathieu Perreault – Alex Burmistrov – Nic Petan
Andrew Copp – Adam Lowry – J.C. Lipon
Dustin Byfuglien – Jacob Trouba
Tyler Myers – Toby Enstrom
Mark Stuart – Ben Chiarot
OUTLOOK: GM Kevin Cheveldayoff finally proved to the hockey world that he had a beating heart with his midseason swap that sent Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian to Buffalo in exchange for Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford and prospects. It was a bold and visionary move that served the Jets well on multiple fronts and powered a successful drive to the playoffs. But as their four-and-out performance against the Ducks proved, they are still closer to the lottery than real contention. And with two serious contract situations hanging over them (Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien), a slip is just as likely as a step forward.
Winnipeg’s forward corps plays with a relentless physicality that has a way of draining the resistance out of an opponent, but it is decidedly middle of the road in terms of production. Lacking a true game-breaker, the Jets rely on scoring by committee. The top line of Bryan Little, Ladd and Blake Wheeler can be counted on for an honest effort, but they were the only three players on the team to top 20 goals. Mark Schiefele, entering his third full season, is poised for a breakout campaign. He’s their best bet to hit 30 this year. Prodigal son Alex Burmistrov returns from the KHL to center a potentially dangerous third line. He drew comparisons to Pavel Datsyuk for his puck skills before bolting, and could give the Jets some scoring depth, especially if given the chance to skate alongside rookie Nik Ehlers. Adam Lowry scored 11 goals and 23 points in a depth role as a rookie last season. Anything he contributes above and beyond that would be a welcome bonus.
Coming off a season in which it held the opposition to a franchise-record 210 goals, Winnipeg’s defense corps firmly ranks among the league’s most fearsome. Led by Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba and Myers, it is big, strong, mobile and deep. If the group can remain healthy (a problem last season when all three missed 10-plus games), the D could carry this team reasonably far. Keep an eye on Josh Morrissey. The 2013 first rounder is a rocket-powered playmaker who has a legitimate shot to steal a job in camp. Even if the club plays it safe to start, he’ll see time in Winnipeg at some point this season.
The future’s bright between the pipes as well, with Connor Hellebuyck and Eric Comrie in the system, but if all goes well both will be watching from afar as Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson take care of business in Winnipeg. Pavelec was inconsistent last season and there were times when his play led to long stretches on the bench. But he came through in a big way down the home stretch, going 9-2-1 to power the Jets into the playoffs. It’s too much to expect him to maintain that level this season, but a more even effort, backed by the surprising Hutchinson, will be key to Winnipeg’s chances.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Nikolaj Ehlers
Ehlers almost made the Jets out of camp last fall, just months after he was taken with the ninth pick in the 2014 draft, but the team decided the speedy winger needed to add strength to a very lean frame. He accepted the challenge, packing on at least 10 pounds of muscle while dominating the QMJHL (37 goals and 101 points in just 51 games). He still needs to prove that he can handle the physical play at this level, but there’s no denying he has the tools to be the game-breaking offensive weapon the Jets crave. If he sticks, he’s a dark horse candidate for the Calder Trophy.
PREDICTION: 99 points, fifth in Central