Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2015-16, where our hockey department gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and 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 2015-16 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today we conclude the series with the Winnipeg Jets.
2015-16 Puck Drop Preview: Winnipeg Jets
Entering 2014-15, the Jets and their faithful were starving for playoff hockey after missing out on Lord Stanley’s dance the first three seasons in Manitoba. The journey there did not start off well, as the team got off to a 2-5 start. Paul Maurice and crew eventually stabilized the aircraft, as the team hovered around .500 entering December. This month, the goaltending tandem was in question, as Michael Hutchinson was proving his worth over a struggling Ondrej Pavelec, who at one point lost six of seven decisions in November. Hutchinson had his breakout story, posting a .943 save percentage through November and December, winning nine of 13 starts. He would win five more in January, before Pavelec retook the reigns in March and April, posting a .954 save percentage down the stretch winning nine important games to push the Jets into the playoffs.
Along the way, the team pulled off one of the biggest trades of the season to get the franchise back into the postseason for the first time since 2007. The blockbuster occurred on the morning of February 11th, 2015. Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, and Jason Kasdorf to Buffalo, Tyler Myers, Joel Armia, Drew Stafford, Brendan Lemieux, and a first round pick to Winnipeg. Kane and his tracksuit were Buffalo’s problems, now. The team also added Jiri Tlusty and Lee Stempniak to bolster their group up front, as General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff saw a chance for his team to bring back the “whiteout.”
Overall as a team, Winnipeg had their best season since moving back, posting 43 wins and 99 points, a six-win, 15-point increase from 2013-14. Captain Andrew Ladd led the way with 24 goals and 62 points, one of three 20+ goal scorers on the team(Blake Wheeler, Brian Little). Mark Scheifele finished fourth on the team in scoring with 15 goals and 49 points, remarkable for being still so young in his age-21 season. Speaking of young players, Jacob Trouba continued to grow as a top-four defenseman, chipping in with 22 points of his own and having a solid possession season. The new additions all chipped in positively, as Stafford(26 GP, 9G, 10A) and Myers(24GP, 3G, 12A) seemed to be rejuvenated coming from tanking Buffalo. Stempniak added six goals of his own.
Nabbing the second wild card, the Jets drew just about the easies—wrong column…Possibly the toughest team in the West besides Chicago in the form of the Anaheim Ducks. Bruce Boudreau‘s team had its share of falling on the wrong end of upsets through the years, but there was no messing around this time. The Ducks swept the Jets, leaving the franchise still without a playoff win (0-8).
The Jets had the 17th pick in the draft with their 99 point season, and even they may have been surprised to have the ability to select USHL blue-chip Kyle Connor from the Youngstown Phantoms. Adding to their already deep prospect pool that includes Nic Petan, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Josh Morrissey.
As free agency neared, the Jets were able to retain three of their own but would end up losing three of their own. Stafford was retained for a two-year deal, along with Adam Pardy and Matt Halischuk on one-year contracts. Role playing forwards Tlusty, Stempniak, and Michael Frolik all departed, the biggest being Frolik and his 19 goals. The team was able to sign the newly acquired prospect Lemieux to a three-year ELC as well. Matt Fraser and Andrew MacWilliam were depth signings to replenish the group up front. The interesting card that Winnipeg was able to re-acquire was Alex Burmistrov, signing him to a two-year contract worth 3.1 million. After bolting for the KHL in 2013, he’s played for the Kazan Ak Bars, posting 63 points in two seasons including 10 goals in each campaign. The still young 23-year old will return to the Jets’ lineup, the first time under Paul Maurice.
This offseason was pretty uneventful, but next summer could be the total opposite. Dustin Byfuglien and Ladd are set to become unrestricted free agents. Trouba and Scheifele will be RFAs. Makes for some interesting material come 2016.
2015-16 Opening Night Lineup
Andrew Ladd-Brian Little-Blake Wheeler
Mattheu Perreault-Mark Scheifele-Drew Stafford
Nikolaj Ehlers-Alex Burmistrov-Matt Halischuk
Mart Fraser-Adam Lowry-Chris Thorburn
Dustin Byfuglien-Jacob Trouba
Tobias Enstrom-Tyler Myers
Mark Stuart-Blake Chiarot
Players to Watch
It’s a contract year for the captain, and he’ll be looking to boost his value for his current team and possibly a new team come next summer. Ladd has been with the Jets since they were in their final season in Atlanta in 2010-11. He is also coming off of his best season points-wise in his NHL career with 62. Now 29, the best years are in the present for Ladd, and his team will be counting on him again to have a big season and help the Jets succeed in getting back to the playoffs(and maybe even winning a few games).
The #9 overall pick in the 2014 draft, Ehlers is vying to make an NHL roster that has lost some depth at the forward position in the form of Michael Frolik. The opportunity is there for the raw, 19-year old scorer who lit up the QMJHL in two seasons played, potting 86 goals and 205 points in 114 games. The jump is tremendous, especially with a wild card in Burmistrov centering your line(assuming Paul Maurice puts those two together). It could be a solid, young combo with Halischuk playing the grinder’s role. If Ehlers wants it enough, it looks like he could make the opening night roster for a team that will be looking for help on the wing.
Two years in the KHL saw a rise in production in the first year then dip this past season. However, he’s still 23 and could have a raw talent in Ehlers on his wing to jumpstart his game. The Jets will be counting on him to be a key cog in the top nine to replace some of the production lost to free agency and regain the respect of the franchise after the 2013 split. Burmistrov himself said that he has “changed” as a person the past two years, and that has to be a good start with everyone welcoming him back as the center mentioned. Right now those are just words. If it translates to production, the Winnipeg faithful’s reception will progressively get warmer.
On The Rise:
The patience with the former 7th overall pick from the 2011 draft may just be starting to pay off. Breaking into 2013-14 with 13 goals and 34 points in 63 games played, the 22-year old (notice all the 20-somethings…) picked up right where he left off in 2014-15. Increasing his totals, Scheifele potted 15 goals and 49 points in his first full 82-game season. Projected to get top six minutes this season, one could expect that total to rise as he gets more and more seasoned as an NHL regular. His possession numbers were absolutely off the charts last season, posting a 56.4 CF% and 55.9 FF%. He CF% relative also jumped from 2.1 to 6.8. The sky seems to be the limit, but time will tell.
Having the privilege to play for Red Berenson at the University of Michigan, Trouba does not look out of place at all at the NHL level. Posting a 53.9 CF% and 52.5 FF%, he saw increases from his rookie season in possession, giving up some offense from his 29-point 2013-14 season, scoring seven goals and 22 points as previously mentioned. The speed and transitional game is key in today’s NHL, and with Trouba projected to be on the top pair, it goes to show how much head coach Paul Maurice sees in the now 21-year old. Paired with offensive dynamo Dustin Byfuglien in a contract year for both, the pair should have every incentive to produce and in Trouba’s case, to grow even more.
On the Decline
Thorburn is one of the oldest players on a relatively young team at 32 years old, which is saying something. His time will be coming soon as the team continues to transition to the new wave. Thorburn plays his role and actually added a little bit of offense last year, potting seven goals and 14 points. But, the way of the enforcer is on its way out, and with the season projected fourth line center Adam Lowry had last season netting 22 points as a 21-year old, the team will be looking to complement him with a younger player relatively soon. At least for now, Thorburn will continue to pot the PIMs.
2015-16 Season Outlook:
It will be even harder for the Winnipeg Jets to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs this time around. Division rival Dallas got better adding Johnny Oduya, Patrick Sharp, and others. The Kings and Sharks will be hungry after missing the postseason. Nashville, St. Louis, and Chicago are still in the division. Colorado will be hungrier this year as well.
Losing Frolik is big not just on the production side, but moreso on the experience end. It’s a younger team, and with the addition of Burmistrov and possible call-up of Ehlers, there will be a lot to make up for. As previously mentioned, with Trouba, Scheifele, Ladd, and Byfuglien in contract years, the Jets have players with incentive. If they perform and complement the younger additions, the team could sneak in just as they did last year. As for goaltending, can Ondrej Pavelec continue his hot end to the season? What about Michael Hutchinson?
The Central Division is tough, and it will be just a bit too much for the Jets as they will fall just a a bit on the outside.
Stats courtesy of hockey db, hockey reference, ESPN
Salaries courtesy of CapFriendly
Line combinations courtesy of Daily2Faceoff
Prospect information courtesy of Hockey’s Future