At the beginning of the first round against the Minnesota Wild, there were three players labelled as X-Factors. These X-Factors were players who could play big roles in winning the first playoff series in franchise history. The three players seen as X-Factors were Kyle Connor, Josh Morrissey, and Bryan Little. Did these players live up to expectations and make a difference in the first round for the Winnipeg Jets?
Kyle Connor was on a great scoring run at the end of the regular season. He had a point in 10 of his last 13 regular season games, tallying 9 goals and 7 assists in that span. This scoring run was one of the reasons Connor was chosen as an X-Factor. He is a great goal scorer and his line with Scheifele and Wheeler has been dominant all year.
Unfortunately, Connor’s numbers dropped off in the playoffs. He was shut out for the first three games but managed to pick up an assist in game four and five. This is not to say that Connor didn’t play well during the first round. The top line of Connor, Scheifele, and Wheeler looked strong against the Wild with great speed through the neutral zone and a strong cycle game. Even though the line had many scoring chances, it was difficult to find the back of the net. Connor was great against the Wild in the regular season, scoring 2 goals and 3 assists but found it tough to gain much traction during his first foray into playoff hockey.
Josh Morrissey had an interesting start to his playoff career. After playing well in the first four games, he got suspended by the league for a cross-check to the head of Eric Staal. Until that point, Morrissey had played excellent hockey. He only had one assist in the first four games but he was really strong defensively.
While most of the Jets defenders had trouble getting clean zone exits for much of the series, Morrissey made it look easy. He rarely turned the puck over and was extremely dependable in his own end. With his smooth skating and quick passing, Morrissey got the puck up the ice in a hurry. Morrissey definitely lived up to his X-Factor status in the four games that he did play, but the one downside was the suspension for game five due to the careless play with his stick. With Enstrom and Kulikov still sidelined with injuries, Morrissey is certainly going to play a pivotal role in the next round as well.
Bryan Little has had a bumpy ride throughout the last few seasons. When the Jets returned to Winnipeg, Little was the best center on the team, getting top minutes with Ladd and Wheeler. A few years later, Little got bumped down to the second line with the duties of Mark Scheifele increasing. Then, at the 2018 trade deadline, the Jets brought in a veteran center which moved Little down the depth chart once again. The past few seasons have not have been easy for Little, as his responsibilities have been steadily decreasing on the ice.
Little is still a very important part of this Jets lineup. With almost half of the team playing in their first NHL playoffs this season, Little’s previous four games of experience seems huge. His calm demeanour and dependable play made him an X-Factor during the first round. Looking at the numbers against the Wild, Little picked up a goal and an assist in five games. While these numbers might be slightly underwhelming, Little did a lot of things well in the games. He was using his speed quite often, as he led the rush and created good zone entries with his linemates. Little is also the type of player that can move around the lineup should the need arise.
After Ehlers went down for game five, Little moved up to the 2nd line and scored his only goal of the series. With fewer expectations on his shoulders than previous years, Little is playing excellent hockey on the ice, while still providing a great influence off the ice. Because of these different contributions, Little definitely made a difference in the first round for the Winnipeg Jets.