Welcome to another one of our Season Previews! This time around, we’ll discuss the Winnipeg Jets. Last season ended shockingly for the Jets after being swept by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the playoffs. In the first round, the Jets swept the Edmonton Oilers in an upset. The offseason would be very interesting for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. In the 2021 draft, the Jets selected Chaz Lucius with the 18th overall pick. Winnipeg had four total picks in the draft. Along with Lucius, they drafted Nikita Chibrikov, Dmitry Kuzmin, and Dmitri Rashevsky.
In free agency, Cheveldayoff stayed pretty busy as well. One of the things that the Jets were going to need to address was the fact that they had a lot of in-house players going to the open market. And, props to Cheveldayoff, he got all four of his restricted free agents back in the fold, the biggest being Neal Pionk who signed a four-year, 23.5 million extension. He also brought back Andrew Copp, Logan Stanley, and Johnathan Kovacevic.
As for unrestricted free agents, the Jets brought back three of their own, those players being Paul Stastny, Eric Comrie, and Dominic Toninato. The biggest free agent they brought in was Riley Nash with a one-year, 750 thousand dollar deal. They also acquired a couple of veteran defensemen in Brenden Dillon from the Washington Capitals and Nate Schmidt from the Vancouver Canucks. Now that we’ve looked back at the year that was, let’s take a look at this ’21-’22 Jets squad.
Make sure to check out all of our other NHL Season Previews.
Starting with the offense, the Jets were a decent offensive team with 2.5 goals per game last season, finishing eleventh in the NHL in that category. They will be without Mark Scheifele for their season opener on Wednesday in Anaheim against the Anaheim Ducks as he will be serving the final game of his four-game suspension for his hit on Canadiens forward Jake Evans in the playoffs. In order for the Jets to have success, Scheifele will need to bring the same kind of offensive firepower he had last season, scoring 63 points in 56 games.
Schiefele will more than likely continue to be the main source of offense in Winnipeg as last year there was a 13 point gap between him and Kyle Connor, who was second on the team with 50 points. This season will also be the debut of Cole Perfetti, the 10th overall pick in the 2020 draft, who will have a lot of hype surrounding him.
One of the Jets’ biggest problems last season was their defense. It was one of the things that will need to be better if they want to compete in the always tough Central Division. They were able to bring back Pionk and Stanley, which was huge, but they’ll need more than those two this season. The acquisitions of Schmidt and Dillon should help with that, and Schmidt will be looking to put last season behind him, and for good reason. Ville Heinola, the 20th overall pick in the 2019 draft, could also have his first full season in the NHL after having five games in the big leagues last season. Keep an eye on this new-look defense as the season progresses.
In The Net
With Laurent Brossoit signing with the Vegas Golden Knights, that leaves the backup job wide open for Eric Comrie this season. Of course, the majority of the time in the crease will go to Connor Hellebuyck, who will more than likely be a Vezina Trophy contender once again. He was the league leader in minutes for goalies last season, so expect him to once again have a heavy workload for Winnipeg this season. As for Comrie, he’s back on the Jets once again this time hoping to make a good impression as the backup.
As mentioned earlier, Scheifele will be the key piece to the Jets’ offensive machine. With him putting up 12 percent of the team’s total points last year, he will no doubt have a heavy task ahead of him. Once his suspension ends, he’ll fill right in along his usual linemates, captain Blake Wheeler and the aforementioned Connor. Keep an eye on Scheifele to see if he gets off to a hot start this season. If that happens, the team will start hot too.
Yes, you read that right. Acquired from Columbus in exchange for Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic, Dubois disappointed in his first season with the Jets. In 41 games, he scored 20 points and just three in seven playoff games. All of those playoff points were assists. When you are traded to replace the offensive firepower of Laine, that won’t cut it. Jets fans will certainly be hoping for the Dubois of his sophomore season when he scored 61 points in 82 games. Dubois is certainly capable of being that offensive weapon Winnipeg needs him to be. It’s just all about getting back to that level of play.
Biggest Question Facing the Jets
The biggest question facing the Jets has to be on the back end. Can they give Hellebyuck some support? Adding Dillon and Schmidt will certainly help that cause, but it will take a group effort to improve that defense. It could be the main thing that holds this team back from fulfilling its full potential. Keep an eye on Schmidt in particular as he’ll be looking to silence critics from last season.
The Central Division could be the most competitive grouping in the NHL this year, but the Jets should be able to be right in the thick of things. With some great offensive pieces and one of the best goaltenders in the league between the pipes, you can never count this team out. Even with the questions on defense, the Jets should make the playoffs coming out of the Central. We’ll see if Winnipeg can jet their way to a Stanley Cup.
Follow Carson Babbini on Twitter @cbabs1120
Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images