Reaching the midway point of September, fans all across the globe should be very excited about the return of hockey, especially for those rooting for the Winnipeg Jets.
With training camps set to open in just over a week, the Jets’ fanbase won’t have to wait much longer for their team to hit the ice ahead of the 2021-22 season, which is expected to be extremely important for this organization.
In the spirit of predicting the upcoming campaign, our first mailbag of the month will begin with this club’s forward lines, focusing on which skaters might be positioned on the top line. So let’s dive in.
Will Nikolaj Ehlers Spend Any Time on the First Line This Season?
Briefly, yes. But unfortunately, it seems forward Nikolaj Ehlers is destined to spend the majority of his ice time on the Jets’ second line throughout this season.
With coach Paul Maurice at the helm, more than likely, this team’s top line will feature the old-reliable trio of Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler out of the gate. Even though this unit proved to be a defensive liability in 2020-21, Maurice and his staff likely won’t hesitate to roll with these same three forwards through the first chunk of the schedule.
No matter how poor their defensive metrics might be, if this trio is scoring consistently, chances are they’ll likely remain intact. Having said that, if they aren’t producing offensively on a nightly basis, then perhaps that could open the door for Ehlers to earn a promotion to the first line, especially if he builds off his remarkable performance from last season.
But at the very least, the 25-year-old superstar will receive an opportunity to build additional chemistry with teammates Pierre-Luc Dubois and Paul Stastny on the second line, and should also serve as a critical contributor on the power play during his seventh NHL season.
Which Defenseman Will Score the Most Points in 2021-22?
Most of you will probably view this as a boring selection – sorry hot take crowd – but my guess is Neal Pionk will lead all Jets defensemen in points by the end of this season.
Considering Pionk has accomplished this feat in each of the last two campaigns, it seems he’s likely the favorite to do so for a third straight year, although he won’t be the only blueliner in contention for this accolade. Along with the 26-year-old, teammates Josh Morrissey and Nate Schmidt, who are expected to be paired on the top defensive pairing, also probably figure to factor into this scoring race.
In particular with Morrissey, he’s finished second behind Pionk in scoring during back-to-back campaigns, and considering he’ll be joined by a legitimate top-four defenseman in 2021-22, his offensive production could receive a considerable boost as a direct result of his new linemate.
While Schmidt only posted five goals and 15 points through 54 games in 2020-21, the 30-year-old is certainly capable of creating significantly more production this time around, as he’s registered at least 30 points in three of his last four seasons. Thanks to this change of scenery, he could enjoy a very strong bounce-back performance.
Regardless of which defenseman takes home the scoring crown, the main aspect fans should focus on is a dramatic increase in offensive production from Winnipeg’s blueline, which was an area of concern through the 56-game season.
Is Logan Stanley Overvalued?
In terms of his contract, no. But as for his position on the Jets’ depth chart, an argument could be made, yes.
It’s no secret defenseman Logan Stanley is highly regarded by this fanbase and Winnipeg’s front office, as he should be, especially based on his encouraging rookie performance that resulted in one goal, four points, 63 shots on goal, 49 hits, 31 blocks and seven takeaways over 37 games.
Despite the hype surrounding Stanley, it’s still difficult to ignore the fact that, at this current time, he’ll likely prevent prospects Ville Heinola, Dylan Samberg and Johnathan Kovacevic from spending a considerable amount of time in the NHL this season. As a result, all three of these talented young blueliners are poised to burn another season in the AHL, something that wouldn’t be nearly as beneficial for their development.
From management’s perspective, the difficult aspect of this dilemma would be attempting to locate consistent playing time for either Heinola, Samberg or Kovacevic, as the additions of Brenden Dillon and Schmidt have successfully addressed key concerns on the backend. In turn, the only justifiable action to take would be to swap out Stanley for one of the club’s top prospects.
Unless Sami Niku, who’s eligible for waivers, is traded before the regular season opens, it’s hard to envision a scenario where the towering 6’7″ blueliner would bounce in and out of the lineup in 2021-22. That being said, injuries could potentially end up solving this problem, although that’s never an outcome anyone should be rooting for.
Who Owns the Best Chance to Skate Alongside Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp?
As of right now, it’s probably forward Riley Nash – mostly because he’s right-handed.
Heading into training camp, one of the main roster battles that’ll receive a ton of attention is the open spot on the Jets’ third line, which was previously occupied by Mason Appleton. Now that he’s gone, thanks to the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft, someone on this current roster will need to step up and prove they deserve to play alongside Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp.
Though there’s expected to be an open competition for this role, Nash’s 10 years of NHL experience along with his right-handed shot could position him as the favorite for this spot.