Monday, September 25, 2017

NHL Preview 2017-18: Winnipeg Jets

GM: Kevin Cheveldayoff (since 2011). 6.5/10
Coach: Paul Maurice (since 2014). 7.5/10

2016-17 record: 40-35-7, 87 points, 20th overall.

Departures: Paul Postma (D), Ondrej Pavelec (G), Mark Stuart (D), Brian Strait (D), Chris Thorburn (RW).

Arrivals: Steve Mason (G), Dmitry Kulikov (D), Michael Sgarbossa (C).

Top forwards: Mark Schiefele (75-85 points), Blake Wheeler (70-75 points), Patrik Laine (65-75 points), Nikolaj Ehlers (60-65 points), Bryan Little (45-60 points), Mathieu Perreault (45-50 points), Kyle Connor (35-40 points), Adam Lowry (25-35 points), Nicolas Petan (20-30 points).

Must-improve forward: Shawn Matthias used to be regarded as a potential second-liner, but now, on his fifth team, he mans the fourth and plays around 13 minutes per game.

Top defensemen: Dustin Byfluglien (50-55 points), Jacob Trouba (35-45 points), Tyler Myers (30-35 points), Kulikov (20-30 points), Tobias Enstrom (20 points), Josh Morrissey (20 points).

Goalies: Connor Hellebuyck (84/100), Mason (80/100).

Top rookies: Connor (20 years old, LW, 2015 first-round draft pick), Jack Roslovic (20, C, 2015 first-round draft pick), Tucker Poolman (24, D), Logan Stanley (19, D, 2016 first-round draft pick), Eric Comrie (22, G, former Team Canada Juniors star goalie).

Enough with building the team, now's the time to start delivering on the development.

It's not yet fair to lump the Jets with the true contenders - your Pittsburgh Penguins, your Nashville Predators, your Dallas Stars, your Edmonton Oilers - although their offense can definitely hold its own against any team. Their defense needs to find its consistency first, and a lot of that will come when Hellebuyck starts finding his; Winnipeg has everything to win in letting him develop at his own pace à la Jake Allen, because he has "Future Vezina Winner" written all over him.

There's one book that captures the essence of the 1980s Jets, who were a mighty team that had the bad luck of playing in the same division the four-time Stanley Cup champion Oilers and two-time finalists Calgary Flames, aptly titled Coming Up Short. If this generation's team is to stand a chance, its GM may have to pull off his second trade this decade (and win it) to do so.

Prediction: 5th in the Central Division, second Wild Card in the West. Playoff-bound.

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