The Winnipeg Jets have been rumored to be moving in some young pieces to take roles lost with the departure of Michael Frolik, Jiri Tlusty, Lee Stempniak, and Jim Slater for quite some while.
Some were skeptical though that the Jets would indeed move in skilled young skaters in the lineup over limited veterans like Anthony Peluso, Matt Halischuk, Patrice Cormier, or Matt Fraser.
However, it appears though that the Jets may have up to four players on their roster that did not play in the NHL last year.
In a post game presser, Paul Maurice gave some interesting insight to the Jets training camp situation:
We have to develop the pieces into the players that fit what we need. And we’ve got good young players. Whether they’re ready or not, we’ll find out, because the fact of the matter is, we’re probably going to have, maybe not on the opening roster, but there might be 4 guys on our lineup that didn’t play in the National Hockey League last year, up front. That’s a third of your forwards. So, we’re going to figure out how to do it, and we’re going to play our style of hockey.
Which four players could Maurice be alluding to?
Michael Frolik’s spot
The young Alexander Burmistrov is an automatic.
Maurice has already stated Burmistrov will be playing in the Jets top nine, the only question is where. Burmistrov has spent most of the preseason as a centre to Nik Ehlers and Mathieu Perreault, although it appears he will be trailed in the Michael Frolik spot beside Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little.
While Burmistrov has not been historically as strong of scorer as Frolik, Burmistrov has been a better penalty drawer, and is equally adept in killing penalties and driving shot differentials.
Jim Slater’s spot
The Jets fourth line centre role vacated by Jim Slater seems wide open. While long time depth forward Patrice Cormier may earn the role, both Nic Petan and Andrew Copp could earn the spot.
Copp did play one game in the NHL at the end of last season, although he spent last year in the NCAA. Copp is a strong defensive systems player and has some offensive upside. Thus far Copp has spent the first three preseason games dressed in the bottom-six. His wingers have been Brendan Lemieux and Joel Armia, Matt Fraser and JC Lipon, and Nic Petan and Chris Thorburn.
While Nic Petan may not seem like your prototypical fourth line centre, Petan is a legitimate option as well. The young centre has a tonne of offensive upside and is highly underrated defensively. One comparable centre in terms of potential deployment can be seen with the two-time Stanley Cup champion Marcus Kruger. Petan spent time in the first preseason game between Chris Thorburn and Thomas Raffl.
Both have been deployed as bottom-six centres in the preseason with front runners for the Jets’ fourth line wings. Maurice previously stated that the Jets were using players with linemates and in the roles they are trying out for.
Lee Stempniak’s and Jiri Tlusty’s spot
Then there are the two bottom-six wing spots vacated by Lee Stempniak and Jiri Tlusty. The front runners here is a bit more crowded with Nik Ehlers, Nic Petan, Joel Armia, Thomas Raffl and potential long-shot Brendan Lemieux.
Nik Ehlers is a favourite for the Jets remaining top-nine position. The forward has been consistently playing with Mathieu Perreault with either one of Burmistrov or Adam Lowry at centre. While having another year of junior eligibility, Ehlers dominated the QMJHL without much else to learn against the weaker competition. While imperfect and inexperienced in NHL defensive structure, Ehlers has enough speed to help mitigate some of his errors.
Petan is not limited to centre alone. The incredibly smart playmaker showed in the World Juniors last year that he has the ability to play wing as well, and Jets’ own Kevin Cheveldayoff admitted to this as a possibility as well. Petan also played a game on the wing of Copp with Thorburn, which very well could be the Jets fourth line next year.
Joel Armia enters his sixth season of pro-level hockey, and his third in North America. Despite being the same age as Mark Scheifele and Adam Lowry, Armia has a tonne of experience which gives him a good chance for either winger spot. Armia dressed for two games with the Jets so far in the preseason, one with Copp and Lemieux, while another with Halischuk and Cormier.
Thomas Raffl has been a fan favourite for the underdog for the Jets fourth line. The 29-year-old winger has been playing pro-hockey for years (2003). Raffl provides a big-body presence and has shown some strong puck protection and decent speed.
Another distant possibility is Brendan Lemieux. While Lemieux’s development may be best served with another season in the OHL where he will be looked at as one of the major point scorers, Lemieux knows the game he needs to play for Maurice to keep him, and he does it well. The young scrappy forward has speed for the forecheck and a penchant to angering the opposition.
It looks more and more likely that the Jets will dress four new(ish) NHL players to fill out there roster vacancies: Burmistrov, one of Copp or Petan, and two of Ehlers, Petan, Armia, Raffl, and Lemieux.
While some were nervous about the loss of Tlusty and Stempniak equating to more Halischuk and Peluso time, it does appear that the Jets are replacing skill with skill. Even though a bit less experienced.
MORE AROUND JETS NATION FROM GARRET HOHL
- Does Corsi fail for Alexander Burmistrov
- Five story lines to watch at camp
- Paul Maurice open to moving Little to the wing
- Five interesting thoughts from Bob McKenzie’s interview with Kevin Cheveldayoff
- How much value are the Jets getting from their contracts
- Why have the Jets dressed terrible fourth lines