In the Camp Clashes Intro we examined a few of the battles that are going on during the Winnipeg Jets preseason.
When projecting the opening day roster for the Jets, there seems to be only one forward spot up for grabs. With Armia getting shipped out of town in the Mason deal, it created an opening in the bottom six.
The quick projection has the lines shaping up as:
Connor – Scheifele – Wheeler
Ehlers – Little – Laine
Perreault – Roslovic – _________
Tanev – Lowry – Copp
As you can see, the third line is in need of another winger alongside Perreault and Roslovic. It seems that the other eleven spots are secured and everybody else is competing for the lone spot left.
Who is all competing for this spot, and who has the edge? We will give a quick rundown of the players as well as a reason why each player should occupy the role. Things will wrap things up with who we think has the best shot at making it at this point in time.
Without further ado, let’s meet our candidates!
Nic Petan – The Skill Player
Nic Petan’s time with the Jets has been well documented. He’s a fan favorite (at least on Twitter) who never got a fair opportunity to play with strong linemates. The poor usage led to Petan only scoring one goal in 2016-17 despite taking 57 shots. This resulted in an extremely low shooting percentage that almost certainly would have rebounded in the long run. Unfortunately he never got the chance to correct it as he only managed to play 15 games last season, which was his lowest total since turning pro.
After three seasons of professional hockey, Petan’s career is now at a crossroad. If he doesn’t make the team this year, one has to wonder if he will ever become a daily NHL player. With his career on the line, will Petan be the one to make the team?
The reason why Petan should occupy this roster spot is because of his natural talent. Petan had mind-boggling numbers throughout his junior career where he scored a whopping 328 points in only 252 games.
(Courtesy of HockeyDB)
This success didn’t translate to the NHL, but it did help in the AHL. Petan had 32 points in 47 games as a rookie for the Moose and kept improving until he scored 52 points in 52 games last season.
Petan is exceptionally skilled and can pass the puck with ease. During his time with the Jets he had games where he played on the fourth line at even strength before moving to one of the power play units because of his skill. As the player with potentially the highest ceiling, Petan is an intriguing option to play with Roslovic and Perreault to start the year.
Marko Dano – The Perennial Pressbox Player
Marko Dano’s career is at a similar stage to Nic Petan’s. If Dano can’t crack the roster this year, he’s not likely to get another chance. This desperation needs to find it’s way into Dano’s game as he has been merely mediocre at the NHL level.
The thing that Dano has going for him is the experience. Dano has made an appearance in the NHL for four straight seasons among three separate teams. Dano’s career arc makes him seem like a veteran despite being only 23 years old. This experience is extremely valuable especially with so many other young players on the Jets.
One of the other important things about Dano is how little he has played in the AHL. Since coming to Winnipeg in 2015-16, Dano has only played six games with the Moose. This means he has spent plenty of time in the pressbox. This pressbox time might not be fun but it allowed him to glean wisdom from the current stars on a daily basis.
A look at the lone goal from the first period!
— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) September 18, 2018
This NHL experience gives Dano a leg up on the competition and it’s the reason why he should finally be a consistent player on the third line.
Kristian Vesalainen – The Highly Touted Player
Perhaps the highest profile player of the bunch, Vesalainen is looking to turn some heads in the preseason. He’s a player that a lot of people haven’t seen play due to his career in Europe but he is ready to come across the pond, straight to the Jets opening lineup.
The biggest thing Vesalainen has going for him is his European experience. Vesalainen has been playing against full grown men for the past three seasons in both the SHL and the Liiga. This means Vesalainen already has the experience of professional hockey and understands the way of life.
He’s different than most other prospects, specifically North American prospects who work their way through junior or college before going to the AHL en route to the NHL. Vesalainen has essentially fast-tracked his career by playing in a professional league for so long.
It’s impressive enough that a young player can play in the top leagues in Finland and Sweden, but Vesalainen has done more than just play, he’s scored at impressive levels as well. Last season, as an 18 year old, he had 22 goals and 21 assists in 49 games. These 43 points were good for 18th in the league, but his 22 goals put him 6th among all players in the Liiga.
This impressive track record is the reason why Vesalainen should make the Jets this season. If he was nearly a point per game player in Europe last year, imagine what he could be as a rookie with the Jets this year.
Brendan Lemieux – The Physical Player
There’s something to be said for a physical player who hits hard and doesn’t shy away from contact. While the NHL is trending towards a faster and more skilled style of game, there is still room for strong players that can get under the opponents skin. The role has changed from years past, as the current agitators have to be able to score compared to the old days when they could make the team purely on their physicality.
Enter Brendan Lemieux. He has everything a team wants in a gritty player. He’s big, fast, and is able to put the puck in the net.
While his PIM totals are quite something, his goal totals are surprisingly strong for a prototypical power forward. His junior totals were solid as he scored 41 goals in 57 games in 2014-15 before seeing his totals drop slightly the next season. Lemieux has now been with the Moose for two seasons and his point total doubled from year one to year two.
Brendan Lemieux did score at most of a point per game for the Moose last season. He skates, he hits, he's killed penalties tonight… If Winnipeg wants a grit player / Hendricks replacement, he'd certainly be tempting one.
— Murat Ates (@WPGMurat) September 18, 2018
It’s time for Lemieux to make the big club as he has steadily progressed for a number of seasons.
Lemieux should be on the opening roster because of his ability to play as a gritty enforcer. The important part about Lemieux is while he racks up the penalty minutes, he can also rack up the goals.
Mason Appleton – The Meteoric Rise Player
Mason Appleton has come out of nowhere and pushed himself into the debate of making the Jets roster, albeit as a longshot. After being a 6th round pick in 2015, Mason was essentially an afterthought until his fantastic rookie season for the Moose last season. This great play in the AHL was quite surprising given Appleton’s career up until that point.
Appleton went to Michigan State University for two seasons in 2015-16 and 2016-17. His point totals were decent where he scored 53 points in 72 games across those two years. These totals are merely average, especially considering Kyle Connor was smashing records in 2015-16 at Appleton’s rival school. Connor went to the University of Michigan where he scored 35 goals and 36 assists in only 38 games.
This great play from Connor caused most Jets fans to forget about Appleton. Regardless, Appleton kept working hard and made a big splash in the AHL last season. Appleton finished the year with 66 points in 76 games and was awarded the Rookie of the Year for the entire AHL. This is a fantastic personal accomplishment and there have been some other notable names who have won the award in years past like Mikko Rantanen, Matt Murray, Tyler Toffoli, and Tyler Ennis.
This strong upwards trend is the reason that Appleton should make the Jets lineup this season.
Who will win the spot?
— Mike McIntyre (@mikemcintyrewpg) September 19, 2018
While there are five candidates for this position, I believe it will come down to three of them. Petan, Dano, and Vesalainen have the best shot at winning this spot. Out of all the players, Lemieux and Appleton will likely benefit the most from playing with the Moose for another season.
As far as who I think should get the job, that is Nic Petan. His blend of skill and play-making would fit in nicely with the rest of the lineup. However, the track record of Petan’s usage is not good, and I don’t think Paul Maurice has changed his mind on the young forward. For that reason the spot seems to be between Vesalainen and Dano.
Out of these two players, I think it’s Vesalainen who will win the spot. He might not stay there for the whole season, but the Jets will want to see how he performs as he is their most prized prospect and highest profile draft pick not yet playing for the team.
In the biggest battle of training camp it will be Vesalainen who claims a spot in the opening day lineup.