If I were a betting man, I would be putting down some money on the Jets making the playoffs this season.
The Jets aren’t just good enough to get in and then be swept like what occurred in 2014-2015. This team is much better equipped than they were two years ago and could maybe even win a series or two and make a playoff run. Quite the vibe surrounded Winnipeg over the Jets playoff run back in 2014-2015. The exciting season featured an impressive string of wins in the later parts of the season that got the hype train rolling in Winnipeg and skyrocketed expectations. The team was carried by the team’s longtime first line which was comprised of Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little along with some late season heroics from goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.
It was a pivotal moment for the franchise on and off the ice.
Kevin Cheveldayoff turned the passive switch off and made trade deadline deals that landed the Jets Jiri Tlusty, Drew Stafford, Tyler Myers and Lee Stempniak to help the team get to the playoffs and overall provide solid depth up front and a reliable top 4 defender.
The calibre of the 2014-2015 Jets team was far from spectacular, but they got the job done and found a way to squeak in to the playoffs. The Ladd-Little-Wheeler line was a huge factor in the team making the playoffs, which is surprising if you think of it. Everyone knew that Wheeler, Little and Ladd at the time were merely first line NHL calibre players, but the trio put up decent 50-60 point seasons and got the job done somehow. To think players of the three’s calibre at the time could pull this relatively mediocre team to the playoffs is pretty remarkable. The three were never good enough to lead the Jets to the playoffs for the next five years, but they helped the Jets win games and did their job well over the last few seasons.
The Jets nucleus is turning the page and now comprised of the youth they have developed and Little and Wheeler are far from the team’s sole contributors.
Mark Scheifele who finished one goal shy of 30 goals last season has emerged in to a number one centre, Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine are surely going to make their mark next season and for years to come, not to mention the possibility of having speedy winger Kyle Connor in the top 9 next season.
Those four players have the potential to be game changers.
Little and Wheeler remain and are a big part of the team but what’s different from years past is the speed and skill that surrounds them and takes the load off them being the main source of offense. The Jets 4 forward lines will be the best the team’s seen so far and the organizational depth as a whole is really exciting.
Now on the back end, while John Tortarella may disagree, but Dustin Byfuglien is an elite defenseman. Tyler Myers has exceeded expectations since being acquired, Jacob Trouba is older and more mature and 2013 first round pick Josh Morrissey may even be entering the fold in this upcoming season.
In the crease it looks like the Jets have finally found their long term solution. Connor Hellebucyk is the man now and the Jets playoff chances will increase if Hellebuyck can live up to reasonable expectations. The Jets are all around much more improved than when they snuck in to the playoffs as an 8th seed. But while they may have improved there is no way of beating around the bush here;
The central division is one of if not the toughest divisions in the NHL and the Jets will have no easy task of clinching a divisional spot.
While Dallas may have some serious issues between the pipes and lots of uncertainty surrounds the Colorado Avalanche, each team’s skill and star power could elevate them to the playoffs as it has before. The Minnesota Wild are a playoff calibre team, but will they be able to win enough in the tough central and secure a spot?
The St Louis Blues and Nashville Predators are almost locks to make it and Chicago is pretty close to a lock as well.
Where do the Jets stack up against these teams?
Quite well actually.
The Jets blend of skill, youth, speed and size is a very tough matchup for almost any team. Many projected the Jets (who had lots of speed in their lineup but not as much as they do now) in 2015 to upset the Anaheim Ducks due to them being so hard to match up against in a 7 game series.
Winnipeg’s roster is full of potential. There are more than a handful of players that could notch 30 goals and many that will eclipse that and come quite close to it. If the Jets find themselves battling for a wild card spot, one would think they could certainly edge out Arizona or Calgary for a playoff bid.
If there’s a time to jump on the Winnipeg Jets bandwagon, it’s right now.
The Jets have one of the best young nucleuses in the league that has a smart and patient GM, all blended together nicely with a well coached team courtesy of Paul Maurice.
If you are a betting man, put a couple down on there being another whiteout in Winnipeg this upcoming spring.