The 2015-16 NHL season is finally upon us and with it comes many questions surrounding the Winnipeg Jets.
Are the Jets still a playoff team? Will they trade away all-star defenceman and pending UFA Dustin Byfuglien?
Here are five things to watch as the Jets prepare to kick off the season Thursday night against the Boston Bruins.
1. Dustin Byfuglien
All eyes will be on Big Buff — a pending unrestricted free agent at season’s end. Byfuglien is due for a huge pay raise after putting up 50 or more points in three of the last five seasons. If the Jets are out of the playoff picture by the all-star break, expect GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to start shopping the six-foot-five, 265-pound defenceman.
2. Evander Kane trade
There’s no argument the Jets received a boatload of talent in the blockbuster deal that saw troubled forward Evander Kane traded to the Buffalo Sabres in February. But it will be a while before we can actually say who won the deal. However, we should get an idea this season as both Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford will play full seasons with the Jets while the team will also get to keep a close watch on highly touted prospect Brendan Lemieux with the OHL’s Barrie Colts.
3. Nic and Nik
The Jets are turning to a pair of prospects to help them get back to the playoffs for a second straight season. First-round picks Nic Petan and Nikolaj Ehlers made the cut and will be on the ice when the Jets open the season Thursday night in Boston. Both are extraordinary talents with tons of upside. Expect Petan, a strong-skating forward, to continue what he’s done throughout most of the pre-season — be aggressive and create scoring opportunities. Ehlers, meanwhile, should be a offensive threat and has the potential to score 15-20 goals in his rookie campaign.
4. Ondrej Pavelec
Ondrej the Giant was a huge reason why the team rallied late in the season to make the playoffs for the first time as the 2.0 Jets. But his inconsistency last season allowed backup goalie Michael Hutchinson to contend for the starting role. Pavelec (50 GP, 22-16-8) enters the 2015-16 campaign as the No. 1 goalie, but it will be interesting to see if he can hold that position throughout the year or if Hutchinson (38 GP, 21-10-5) will once again steal the spotlight.
5. Scoring leader
TSN recently released its top 50 NHL players with no Jets player anywhere on the list. Blake Wheeler will change that this season as the 29-year-old is in the prime of his career and ready for a breakout year. Wheeler has posted 60-plus point seasons the past two years. He should be able to up those numbers and is in line to notch his first 30-goal season if he can stay healthy.