It’s the last full week of September, and you know what that means, we’re less than seven days away from the start of the preseason, which will see the Winnipeg Jets take on the Ottawa Senators on Sep. 26.
But in the meantime, pro mini camp – or rookie camp – is already nearing completion and will officially conclude on Sep. 20, clearing the way for training camp to open just a few days later on Sep. 23. Though there won’t be much time between the start of camp and the Jets’ first exhibition game, there’ll still likely be plenty of interesting storylines that’ll hover around this team before they hit the ice.
Exploring some of those early season plot threads, let’s begin our final mailbag ahead of the 2021-22 campaign.
Which Skater will Center Winnipeg’s Fourth Line?
With veteran Nate Thompson, who signed a one-year deal with the Philadelphia Flyers, departing in the off-season, the Jets have been tasked with locating a new fourth-line center this fall. But due to salary cap limitations, they weren’t exactly able to address this need over the summer, meaning they’re relying on one of their young forwards to emerge into this role.
Granted, the Jets acquired Riley Nash in free agency, but since he’s likely the favorite to win the vacancy on the third line, the competition for this center position is probably between Jansen Harkins and David Gustafsson.
On paper, Harkins has compiled more NHL games, 55 to be exact, and also spent time centering the club’s fourth line last season. Despite only totaling 18 faceoff attempts, the 24-year-old won 11 of them, while also scoring one goal and two points through 26 games, likely earning him the edge in this battle ahead of training camp.
As for Gustafsson, the 21-year-old has only participated in 26 career NHL games, recording just one goal and a 53.6% faceoff percentage over 84 opportunities. Given his experience in the faceoff dot, he might not be trailing far behind as much as some fans expect him to be.
While these next few weeks will undoubtedly determine the winner of this competition, even if Harkins comes away victorious, don’t be surprised if multiple skaters rotate in and out of the fourth-line center position this season.
How Will the Jets Perform in Exhibition Games?
Truthfully, it doesn’t really matter because, well… they’re meaningless games.
To put it bluntly, the Jets could lose all six of their preseason games, and while fans might begin losing their minds, it won’t actually make much of a difference in this team’s playoff odds. Ideally, it’d be great if this club doesn’t endure a six-game losing streak prior to opening night, but if for some reason they do, things will still be ok.
One crucial aspect to remember about the preseason, most of the time, if not in every game, Winnipeg probably won’t be fielding its regular roster. Since management and the coaching staff will be aiming to evaluate the organization’s top young skaters, chances are the lineup will consist of borderline NHLers throughout all six contests.
Could Philippe Desrosiers Factor into the Backup Goalie Competition?
Perhaps, but it’d require a stellar performance in training camp. Joining the Jets on a professional tryout contract, goaltender Philippe Desrosiers has split his entire career between the American Hockey League and the East Coast Hockey League, compiling 178 games across those two levels since 2015-16.
Considering he’s yet to make his NHL debut, it’s difficult to envision a scenario where the 26-year-old blows away the competition, which includes Eric Comrie, Mikhail Berdin and Arvid Holm, and wins the backup job behind starter Connor Hellebuyck.
Most likely, Desrosiers will be competing against Holm for the backup gig with the Manitoba Moose, meaning whoever loses this battle will be expected to serve as the team’s third-string netminder.
Can Fans Expect Johnathan Kovacevic to Take Another Step Forward This Season?
That’s probably a fair estimate to make, yes. Following an outstanding performance in 2020-21, where Johnathan Kovacevic posted two goals, 14 points and was named the Moose’s Best Defenseman of the Year, the 24-year-old will be looking to build off that success this season during his third AHL season.
After signing a one-year, $750,000 contract extension over the off-season, according to PuckPedia.com, Kovacevic is slated to become a restricted free agent for a second straight summer in 2022. So there’s no question he’ll be motivated to prove he can develop into a future piece for the Jets down the road, hopefully within the next few seasons.