Puck Drop Preview: 2014-15 Winnipeg Jets

Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2014-15, where our hockey department gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season andPuck Drop Preview offers our insight and analysis. Makes sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our collective LWOS 2014-15 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page.  Today is the 2014-15 Winnipeg Jets.

Last Season

Eventually, the move to the Western Conference will make the Winnipeg Jets a better hockey team. Why? Because in hockey, as well as sports in general, everything is better out West. Also, while their decreased travel schedule hasn’t shown up in the results column just yet, on a long-term basis it can do nothing but help the team that is still looking for their first playoff appearance since moving from Atlanta.

However, at this moment in time, the move out West has hardly been a tangible positive for the Jets. For one, they have dropped themselves directly into the best division in the NHL. There is almost no shame in consistently finishing behind the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild and Nashville Predators if it didn’t mean being last in the division and outside of the playoff picture.

That was what happened to the Winnipeg Jets in 2013-14. They finished only three spots and 7 points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference with a winning record on the season, but they also finished at the basement of the Central Division.

For the patient type, something tough for Winnipeg fans who have been subject to a broken team that arrived from Atlanta, 2013-14 actually had plenty of positives for a young team on the rise.

For one, despite their low place in the standings, the Jets were not necessarily an easy team to play against. At 15th in the NHL in goals for, their offense was better than Montreal, Minnesota, New York and Los Angeles. A lot of this was the by-product of having a perfectly weighted top line of Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler and Brian Little; one of the best in the entire league. Add in pieces like Evander Kane, Michael Frolik and a nice output from Olli Jokinen and they equal the aforementioned respectable offense.

The defense helped out in a big way as well. Dustin Byfuglien played part of the year up front, but was fairly solid and contributed in whatever position in which they played him. Tobias Enstrom also continues to be a contributor, with 10 goals being a fairly decent output. He wasn’t much for offense, but Mark Stuart is an excellent depth piece for the Jets, who contributed immensely on the back line.

Possibly the most promising element of the 2013-14 season for the Jets, however, was the development of their young prospects. This was especially true of Jacob Trouba, who didn’t earn a first place vote in the Calder Trophy voting for nothing. He is a player with all the talent to become an elite level defenceman, who seems committed to the organization.

While Mark Scheifele hasn’t exactly had his breakout NHL campaign yet, especially compared to the way Trouba has, he definitely improved as the season went on. He was still top 10 in rookie scoring, and set a solid foundation for what could very well be an exceptional career with the Jets. Playing beside a player like Frolik also really seemed to help Scheifele’s game.

So why? After all of these positives, was the team unable to make the playoffs? A lot of it came down to goaltending. When one out of every ten shots are going into your net, and your goaltender is getting scored on three times a game, you are not going to win a ton of hockey games. Of goalies who played 25 games or more, Ondrej Pavelec’s .901 ranked 46th in save percentage, add that to a 3.01 goals against average that was 45th in the league and his 2013-14 season was absolutely not good enough for an NHL starter.

A large portion also needs to be put on the defense, which wasn’t exactly free of blame either. Pavelec isn’t as bad as his numbers suggest, even if he wouldn’t be starting on an elite team. Zach Bogosian hardly had an inspiring season at the backend, riddled by injuries. Adam Pardy had flashes of talent near the end of the year, but overall didn’t do much to distinguish himself from the press box player he was at the start of it. Injuries also hardly helped, as Grant Clitsome was less than effective as a result.

Back to the positives, the defense looked far better after a much needed coaching change late in the season. Claude Noel was replaced by the far more experienced Paul Maurice, and it seemed to help the team almost instantly. Under Maurice the team went 18-12-5, largely why they got marginally close to a playoff appearance. This may have been due to the inevitable new coach bump, but the team also seemed to have a breath of fresh air after Maurice’s hire.

So while the 2013-14 season didn’t look good on paper for the Winnipeg Jets, it was a step in the right direction for an organization that hasn’t had all that many.

2014-15 Winnipeg Jets

Offseason Changes

The Winnipeg Jets did very little in the 2013-14 offseason, and quite frankly there is nothing wrong with that. The offseason tends to be the time when teams like the Jets try to get better quicker than is effective in a Salary Cap NHL. They do this by overspending on marginally talented players who may help them in the short run but will end up being a burden in the long run.

The best offseason addition that the team made was through the draft, as it should be. Nikolaj Ehlers has the potential to be an absolute stud at the NHL level, especially with 105 points in his rookie QMJHL season. His speed alone will make him a threat at the NHL level.

The players on their way out of town were nothing inspiring either. Jokinen was solid for the team, but moves out of the way to give Scheifele his deserved spot as second line centre. Devin Setoguchi would have been good for this team in theory, but it never really worked out on the ice.

Perhaps the biggest offseason loss was Al Montoya, who provided very solid backup play to Pavalec’s falters. This will mean Michael Hutchinson will be promoted to the backup position, one that might just see him get a fair amount of time between the pipes.

The fact that the Jets didn’t address their goaltending needs is slightly concerning, as there were options via trade or free agency that really would have helped this team. But it is also something that didn’t necessarily need to be addressed right away at this stage in the team’s development. Perhaps there will be a better fit, through draft or otherwise, who will truly be adequate for this team.

In terms of additions, Mathieu Perreault will step in as the third line centre. After a career year with the Ducks last year, he is a very nice depth addition who can play his role effectively for the foreseeable future. He also has very good possession numbers, and should form an excellent partnership with Frolik.

TJ Galiardi isn’t anything particularly special, but again is another young piece who will improve the Jets bottom six. While his statistics are nothing inspiring, he has good possession numbers, like Perreault, and if put with the right players could get close to his career highs back when he was with the Avalanche.

 2014-15 Lineup Projections:

Andrew Ladd- Bryan Little – Blake Wheeler

Evander Kane- Mark Scheifele- Dustin Byfuglien

Carl Klingberg -Mathieu Perreault- Michael Frolik

TJ Galiardi- Jim Slater- Chris Thorburn

Extra forward: Matt Halischuk

There is zero reason for the Winnipeg Jets to abandon one of the best forward lines in the NHL, and it doesn’t seem like they will. The second line will be a mix of skill and power that will far better compliment the top one than it did last season. There is also plenty of talent on the third as well, AHL star Carl Klingberg will be a player to watch this season as he will likely get a chance with the big club. He could fit in quite nicely alongside an already incredibly talented pairing of Perreault and Frolik.

Tobias Enstrom- Zach Bogosian

Mark Stuart- Jacob Trouba

Adam Pardy- Paul Postma  

Having Byfuglien move up to the forward group takes away an element of depth for this Jets lineup. But there is still talent within. With the first two pairings, the Jets have decent balance. In theory, Bogosian should develop well next to a talented Enstrom. But it could also end up in complete disaster if the two repeat some of their previous form. In Stuart, Trouba will have an anchor as he tries to avoid a sophomore slump, and if the elder is just as good as last year it will work out perfectly. The third pairing could go either way, both have talent but haven’t had much statistical success.

Ondrej Pavelec

Michael Hutchinson

As aforementioned, the goaltending is easily the weakest part of the Winnipeg Jets lineup. It will likely continue to be their sinker once again this season, unless Pavelec can greatly improve his game. Even having top 20 numbers would instantly give this team an outside shot at the playoffs.

On the Rise:

  • Mark Scheifele
  • Jacob Trouba
  • Evander Kane

Sometimes a breakout season has everything to do with opportunity and the pieces around a player. Scheifele will have both of those things in spades as he enters the 2014-15 NHL season. As the second line centre on this team he will play with talent throughout the year, and considering he already has plenty himself it should turn out very well.

The best part of Trouba’s rookie campaign may not have been the way that he played, it was how convincing it was that this wasn’t a one-off. At his young age he is not only showing talent but also a degree of leadership and maturity that seems to be more and more common place among top calibre young players coming up nowadays. If there is any step back in 2014-15 it will only be to plant his foot for a bigger step forward.

It is about time that Kane takes his talents and does something with them. A lot of talk over the summer has been about his attitude and that he will not be a Winnipeg Jet for long. Whether or not he is, he stands to have a big 2014-15. The talent eventually has to start showing up on paper, and alongside Scheifele and one of Byfuglien and Frolik it absolutely will.

On the Decline: 

  • Jim Slater
  • Adam Pardy

An excellent faceoff guy, injuries are starting to limit Jim Slater to not much else. The past two seasons he has only been able to muster up only two points, hardly the output one is looking for from any starting forward on the roster. He will be given a chance to play fourth line minutes to start the season, but could well be replaced.

Pardy has the wealth of having more declining players in his rear-view mirror, but he won’t last with this team long. Josh Morrissey likely won’t make the team this season, but he should the year after. Pardy is in a prime position to be the odd man out if that indeed takes place.

2014-15 Season Expectations:

The team is once again going to technically take a step forward, and once again it will hardly show up in the history books. If everything clicks on this team they could well be in the hunt for a playoff position. But more than likely, considering their division, they will be at the bottom of it once again. That is the reality of playing in the West.

A lot of how successful this season is depends on the development of Kane. This not only factors in performance, but also his relationship with the media and the organization. This is the year where he find out whether or not Kane is the long term face of the Winnipeg Jets, or whether he plays the same role for another organization.

 

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