The Winnipeg Jets have quietly put together a strong start to their season. In a division with a couple longstanding rivalries, it feels like the Jets slip through the cracks and go a little unnoticed relative to their competition. Despite the lack of media coverage, the team continues to play solid, consistent hockey.
Before getting started, don’t forget to check out the previous segments as we take a look at the entire Canadian division.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Jets have arguable the best top 6 in Canada. A few fan bases are sure to make their case for their own team, but in terms of overall skill across all 6 forwards, the Jets are second to none. Mark Scheifele continues to be a force in this league as the Center of one of the top lines in the NHL. He leads the team’s forwards in ice time, goals, assists and obviously points.
Team Captain and long time line mate Blake Wheeler took a couple games to get going. Wheeler’s offensive numbers have been impressive, but he does have some defensive flaws in his game. It seemed like frustration was setting in early with a number of uncharacteristic penalties, however the recent addition of Pierre-Luc Dubois could do him some good.
Dubois is another elite level forward for a roster than does not lack firepower. His combination of skill and size should perfectly compliment this line as I fully expect them to be one of the more dominant lines in the league.
Dubois’ arrival pushed last season’s leading scorer Kyle Connor to the second line. The demotion (for lack of a better term) gives this team a much more balanced scoring attack. His follow winger, Nikolaj Ehlers has been the team’s best player relative to expectations. He is second on the team in points, and when adjusted for Points per 60, he is producing at a rate just below Scheifele.
The line of Andrew Copp, Adam Lowry and Mason Appleton continue the trend of strong third line play in Canada. Copp went on a bit of a heater when he was asked to step up in the absence of Dubois. This should not undermine when his line mates have accomplished this season. The trio has played excellent hockey in all situations (5v5 and Penalty Kill). Special mention to Mason Appleton who has already tied his career high for points in a season.
Despite the grievances with his contract, Mathieu Perreault has played better hockey this season. He has been the best player on the team’s fourth line providing some impressive secondary scoring in his limited ice time.
The team’s top pairing has been great this season, which has buoyed an overall mediocre defense group for the Jets. Neal Pionk has greatly eased the loss of Trouba, and has been playing fantastic hockey since joining the club. Derek Forbort has turned out to be a great partner for Pionk so far this season. His defense first approach has meshed well with Pionk and is even resulting in some points in the box score.
Josh Morrissey is still a great defenseman but has not entirely played up to the level he is capable of. He has the most average ice time which involves a lot of minutes against the opposing team’s top lines. A bigger problem is the lack of a consistent partner, which sometimes comes with the territory as the team’s feature defenseman.
Dylan DeMelo and Nathan Beaulieu are both struggling on the season. Both seem to be playing outside of their skill and abilities, forcing them into situations they are not properly equipped for.
The bottom pairing has been playing relatively well but aren’t really doing anything special while on the ice. Tucker Poolman, Logan Stanley and Sami Niku have provided solid role minutes, but they collectively have yet to contribute on the scoresheet. The latter two seem to insulated in terms of their minutes and competition as the Jets and Paul Maurice continue to let them develop into their role.
The reigning Vezina trophy winner may not be perfectly replicating his performance from last season, but he continues to be one of the team’s best players. Full disclosure, Hellebuyck‘s grade is comparing him to himself. The bar was set incredibly high, and while he has not lived up to his own standard, he has still been one of the better goalies in the league this season.
Laurent Brossoit has been nearly perfect up to this point in the season. He’s won 75% (3/4) of the games he has started, and his Goals Against Average is tied for third in the NHL among goalies who have played at least 2 games. All three of his wins may be against teams below the Jets in the standings, but getting wins from a backup goalie goes a long way to making the playoffs.
OVERALL GRADE: B
The Jets were considered to be the second best team in Canada to start the season. The team has lived up to the billing so far as they hold the second best win percentage in the Canadian division. With newly acquired Pierre-Luc Dubois finally getting into the line up, it will be interesting to see what sort of offense he brings to this team.
If the team’s defense core as a unit can elevate their play this team’s ceiling has no limit. The team is still mildly feeling the affects of losing the majority of their core two years ago. However, Neal Pionk has been a revelation since joining the team, and if the group around can follow his lead this team has a very good outlook for the latter half of the season.
If you are looking for more hockey talk, check out the latest episode of Weekly Sauce! Terry and Alex the Intern welcome Josh and Lambros from the Drive for 25 Podcast. The boys talk all things Habs this week, diving deep into the team and the all-Canadian division!