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Where Kyle Connor Fits When He Returns for the Winnipeg Jets

The Winnipeg Jets have been rolling of late. So that begs the question, which forward line does Kyle Connor go on when he returns from injury? A shudder of nervousness occurred in Winnipeg when the ever-dynamic Connor lay on the ice injured. He was writhing in pain at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. Fortunately, the injury wasn’t season-ending. Speculation began about how the Jets would perform without the American sniper. His offensive output would be dearly missed but his deficiencies on the defensive would likely not be. At the time the Jets were sitting with a 15-8-2 record and tied 0-0 with the Anaheim Ducks.

It’s Time to Shelter Connor a Bit

Flash forward nearly four weeks and the Jets have gone 11-1-2. Their only regulation loss was to the extremely inferior San Jose Sharks. This astounding rise to the very top of the league standings has been on the back of many things. Ranging from elite team defence, spectacular goaltending and quality scoring depth at even strength. The Jets have no problem winning low-scoring one-goal games. The top line for Winnipeg including Nikolaj Ehlers is outscoring their opposition by a landslide. Due to this, when Kyle Connor returns, it shouldn’t be on the top line.

Connor is a spectacular player with special offensive talents that every single NHL team would dream of having. However, even at his highest peaks, he still is only slightly above average in terms of controlling scoring chances and goal differential according to MoneyPuck.

Basically meaning due to his defensive shortcomings he’s a very good player but not as elite as his gaudy point totals suggest. When Connor returns, he might not be the best fit for the Jets top-line. For this reason, the top line for the Jets should remain Ehlers, Mark Scheifele and Gabriel Vilardi.

Better on the Second Line

For the time being that means the second line should have Connor, Vladislav Namestnikov and Cole Perfetti. On paper, this line might seem a little underwhelming with Namestnikov centring two dynamic wingers, but it actually makes a lot of sense. Rick Bowness has now returned from his leave of absence and has the Jets playing great. Furthermore, he has coached Namestnikov multiple times in his career as an assistant and head coach. He knows exactly the kind of player he is and what role to put him in to succeed. For that reason, Namestnikov has occupied the number two centre position but has been very sheltered in doing so as he’s not played true second-line minutes this season. This sheltering has allowed Namestnikov to score at a 52-point pace this season.

This combined with Bowness refusing to play the smaller Perfetti in a larger role could blend perfectly with Connor’s defensive deficiencies. For whatever reasons they may be, the Jets second line has been overly sheltered in comparison to other teams’ second lines. This is the perfect opportunity to use this to limit Connor’s lack of a two-way game, allowing Connor to thrive offensively and not hurt the team defensively.

Less is More When Connor Returns

Connor’s setbacks to his elite offensive game is a prime example of the saying, “less is more.” Playing him slightly less will lead to an even better Jets hockey team. However, this is not the end all be all by any means. As if the Jets are chasing a game they obviously will need to rely on Connor for some offence. But with how well the team is humming along lately, I would not expect the Jets to be chasing a game for a pretty good time. Winnipeg has shown the hockey landscape that even without a difference maker for an extended period of time they are still a force to be reckoned with.

Main Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports


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