It’s that time of year again. Leaves are falling, the air is cooler. Yes, hockey is just around the corner.
As players report to their respective training camps, media and fans are making predictions for the upcoming season. We at Jets Nation are also in the prediction mood, or at least I am.
Instead of guessing who will win the Stanley Cup or capture the individual awards, these predictions will centre around the players that don the Winnipeg Jets uniform as well as forecasting the team’s chances. Granted, my record isn’t 100% so this might be a piece the reader may want to bookmark and laugh at later.
Without further adieu, here are five fearless and somewhat fearful Winnipeg Jet predictions for the 2015-16 season.
Dustin Byfuglien Will Be Traded
It may not be a matter of if Big Buff will be dealt but when. We all know that the Roseau, Minnesota native is on his final year of his contract on a cap hit of $5.2 million. Byfuglien will be looking to hit the jackpot when he hits the open market on July 1 and if he has a season similar to last year, he could be cashing in like televangelists every Sunday.
As Garret Hohl wrote in his By The Numbers recaps in July, Byfuglien’s underlying numbers improved greatly when was moved from forward to defence last December. This graph illustrates this:
When Buff was on the blue line, the Jets generated more scoring opportunities and carried the play. There is no doubt Byfuglien is a valuable asset to the Jets.
Have a hunch that Byfuglien will have a strong start. Knowing he will be a d-man seems to really give him a boost.
— PATRICK WILLIAMS (@pwilliamsNHL) September 18, 2015
However, Buff’s contract demands may be too steep for Jets management. With Dougie Hamilton signing a six year, $34.5 million contract with Calgary in the offseason plus the hefty contracts Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen received from Washington last year, Byfuglien’s asking price could be in the $7-8 million range. The Jets also have Andrew Ladd as a pending UFA as well as young talents Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba and Adam Lowry as pending RFAs to deal with.
Byfuglien will command a hefty price on the trade market, especially near the deadline as teams scramble to bolster their roster for the stretch drive. The Jets can’t afford to let Byfuglien walk away and get nothing in return. Expect TSN and Sportsnet to have a Byfuglien trade watch by Christmas.
Nikolaj Ehlers Will Make The Team
There is plenty of hype surrounding the Jets 2014 first round pick. And why not. The Danish sensation lit up the QMJHL last season, tallying 101 points (37G, 64A) in only 51 games for the Halifax Mooseheads. Ehlers blend of speed and skill is sure to excite Jets fans for years to come.
While there are questions regarding his size, toughness and whether he is ready to handle the rigours of the NHL schedule, the Jets have issues with depth with their forward group.
The Jets didn’t bring veterans Jiri Tlusty, Lee Stempniak and Jim Slater back while Michael Frolik walked away to Calgary where he signed as a free agent with the Flames. While the vets especially Frolik will be missed, it gives the youngsters an opportunity to prove themselves at the NHL level.
Ehlers is too good for junior hockey but his options are limited. Thanks to a rule made by the NHL to protect the Canadian Junior leagues, no junior eligible player is allowed to play in the AHL which means Ehlers who is 19, can’t play for the Manitoba Moose this season.
Ehlers wasn’t at his best at the recent Young Stars tournament in Penticton, B.C. He was held pointless in the first two games and was a victim of a vicious hit from behind courtesy of Jordan Subban of the Vancouver Canucks. Ehlers did bounce back in the final game, tallying three assists in an overtime victory over Edmonton.
It looks like the #NHLJets will give every opportunity for:
Ladd-Lowry-Lit / Staff-Scheif-Wheel / Perre-Burmi-Ehlers
4th line open for rest.
— Garret Hohl (@GarretHohl) September 18, 2015
Head coach Paul Maurice has Ehlers penciled on a line with Mathieu Perrault and Alexander Burmistrov to open training camp but we all know things can change drastically between training camp and the season opener. In any event, expect Ehlers to suit up for the Jets in Boston on October 8.
Connor Hellebuyck Will See NHL Action
Now before I go any further, I believe the UMass Lowell alum will start the season with the Moose while Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson will be the two netminders with the big club on opening night. But goalies can be finicky and unpredictable at the best of times.
Yes, Pavelec put up career best numbers last season (2.28 GAA, .920 save percentage). But the question is can Pavelec be trusted to improve or maintain those numbers or will he regress to his previous form of inconsist and sometimes baffling form?
Hutchinson enjoyed a fine rookie campaign last season, posting a 2.39 GAA and a .914 save percentage. However, the Barrie, Ontario native is still somewhat green and inexperienced. Hutch still needs to prove himself over the next few seasons to establish himself. The NHL is filled with goalies who crash and burn after solid starts to their careers. (See Jim Carey, Blaine Lacher, Cristobal Huet, Patrick Lalime and Michael Leighton as some examples.)
Add the X-factor called injuries and there is a strong chance that Hellebuyck sees time between the pipes with the Jets this season.
Connor Hellebuyck is the goalie Winnipeg deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll play him in the A. Because he can take it.
— Philip Iver (@PhilipAIver) September 3, 2015
The key here is not to rush the All-Star rookie goalie in the AHL last season. Hellebuyck posted impressive numbers (2.58 GAA, .921 save percentage) on a mediocre St. John’s IceCaps team last season. It would be wise to have Hellebuyck play at least one more season in the AHL but use him as an emergency call up when needed. He will be needed this season.
Jacob Trouba Emerges As Top Defender
There were signs last season that the 2012 first round draft pick was becoming one of the top blue liners for the Jets. This should be the season that Jacob Trouba claims the throne as the stud defenceman that this franchise needs.
Is Trouba perfect? Of course not. He does need to work on the finer points of the pro game. But there is no doubt that Trouba is a rising star in the NHL.
With excellent possession numbers (54.69% corsi, 53.09% fenwick) to go with an all around skill set that combines offensive instincts with solid defensive work, Trouba has all the tools to be a force on defence for years to come. In an interview with Sportsnet, Trouba talked about his goals for the season.
“Numbers come when they come. In the D zone, I want to be better in my own end, just moving the puck up the ice, and maybe jump up in the play more without the puck, trying to find the gap.”
Let’s hope for more Trouba highlights like this one.
No Playoffs This Season
I hate to end on a down note, but I’m expecting the Jets to take a step back this season. The young players will need to learn fast and that might be asking too much out of teenagers.
The Central Division is arguably the toughest division in the NHL and teams such as the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche are expected to improve. The wildcard battle isn’t any easier as the Los Angeles Kings are looking to bounce back after a disappointing season.
Finally, it is a risky proposition to suggest that Pavelec can maintain last year’s level of play. Add all those up, and I’m predicting the Jets take a step back in the standings.