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Photo Credit: © James Carey Lauder | 2017 Apr 8

3 Reasons to be Optimistic About the 2017-18 Winnipeg Jets

It’s the second weekend of September and you know what this means? Hockey fans have made it through the doldrums of summer and to the long anticipated 2017-18 NHL Season.

For Jets fans, this may bring some angst and frustrations. Management hasn’t exactly made moves that would inspire confidence about the direction the Jets are headed this season.

The most recent decision was the re-signing of Paul Maurice and Kevin Cheveldayoff to multi-year contract extensions. The team has only made the playoffs once since the Jets were reincarnated from the Atlanta Thrashers. Yes, the Jets have produced a winning record in 4 out of the 5 past seasons, but striving for a winning record is not good enough if it does not get the team to the playoffs.

The other questionable move the Jets made this summer is the signing of Matt Hendricks. The 36 is looking to prove he can still play in the NHL by making the Jets out of training camp and not relegated to the Moose. Competition for spots in the line up is good for any team and Hendricks should provide competition for the fourth line during training camp. The worry, then, is if he will be gifted a line up spot in favour because of his ability to win faceoffs and supposed defensive prowess.

If this is the case, warning bells should start going off because this likely means there won’t be room for a player like Nic Petan.

All this negativity aside, there are reasons to be hopeful that the Jets can land themselves in a playoff spot by the end of the 2017-18 season.

Youth

You can’t talk about the Jets and immediately think about Patrik Laine. In his rookie season, Laine scored 36 goals and 28 assists over 73 games. The dynamic winger will look to at least match those totals during his upcoming sophomore season.

Nikolaj Ehlers quietly had a stunning season. The shifty winger from Denmark matched Laine’s point totals with 26 goals and 39 assists. While those point totals are impressive, what is equally impressive is watching Ehlers skate with the puck on his stick. Every time he is on the ice, it seems like he is able to help produce a dangerous scoring chance for the Jets.

Likely lining up in the middle of Ehlers and Laine will be Mark Scheifele. The young centre is entering his fifth full season of NHL action at the ripe age of 24. Scheifele has quickly become one of the driving forces behind the Jets as he is able to produce offensively and provide defensive help in his own end. His 82 points last season was good for seventh in all of the NHL.

With contract issues in the past, Jacob Trouba will be able to prove that he is a stud number one defenseman in the NHL has he looks to take the reins from Dustin Byfuglien. In 60 games, Trouba was able to prove to the NHL that he belongs in the category of elite defender. Trouba provide 8 goals and 25 assists from the Jets’ back end over those 60 games and should be good for at least that in the 2017-18 season.

Last, but definitely not least, Josh Morrissey will be entering his sophomore season of NHL action and will be looking to further cement himself as fixture on the Jets’ blue line. The 22-year-old played in all 82 games of the 2016-17 season and posted 20 points as a rookie. Morrissey provided unexpected stability to the Jets defence amidst an injury riddled season for the Jets’ defence.

Goaltending

The goaltending situation has not been ideal for the development of Connor Hellebuyck over the past two seasons. However, the Jets were able to provide veteran help to the young goalie with the signing of Steve Mason.

Mason will provide the Jets the ability to push Hellebuyck to be his best, while threatening to steal the net from him. With this, players should be willing to play with more confidence, knowing that they have quality goaltending every game.

The Jets now have the luxury of NHL ready goaltending depth with Hellebuyck, Hutchinson and Mason. Hutchinson will likely be sent to the AHL to join the Manitoba Moose.

Depth and Health

Going into training camp, the Jets will have a healthy Toby Enstrom, Bryan Little, Shawn Matthias and Tyler Myers. These four players missed significant time over the 2016-17 season, which forced the coaching staff to deploy players in ways inappropriate to their skillset and players who were not ready for regular NHL action.

With health of these players, the Jets finally have quality depth again in the forwards and the defence.

Instead of playing Ben Chiarot in the top-four, a healthy Enstrom and Myers, plus the signing of Kulikov, allows Paul Maurice to sit Chiarot in the press box as a seventh defenseman. As unfortunate as this is for the player, a seventh defence man is likely Chiarot’s ceiling.

A blue line consisting of Trouba, Byfuglien, Enstrom, Morrissey, Myers and Kulikov looks pretty good and should provide hope for better defence going into this season.

As well, Tucker Poolman and Luke Green will be itching to prove themselves in the AHL this season as they hope their play entices the team to call them up to the NHL. These three defensemen were not on the Moose last season and will give the organization options that they have not had in the past few season.

A healthy Matthias in the bottom six will allow for a player like Brandon Tanev to be forced to the AHL, which is a very good thing. As well, Kyle Connor will be looking to prove that he belongs in the NHL this training camp. The 20-year-old will hopefully be able to slot in on Bryan Little’s wing on the second line.

A forward group of Scheifele, Laine, Ehlers, Wheeler, Little, Perreault, Connor, Armia, Lowry, Dano, Matthias, Petan and Copp looks promising heading into the season. This list doesn’t even count players like Roslovic, Harkins, Spacek and Lemieux as potential call ups to the NHL.

The Jets have depth where it counts and that should provide hope going into the season.

Conclusion

Despite some questionable moves in the offseason, overall the Jets look to push for more than a wildcard spot in the Western Conference.

The past two seasons of hoping for playoffs seem to have culminated with the Jets’ management playing the right cards at the right time as the team enters 2017 training camp. For the first time in a while, the Jets have a good mix of youth, veteran presence, skill and health as a team.

This should give Jets fans hope because the right moves seem to have been made to make the playoffs.

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