Our Winnipeg Jets 2020-21 Preview is part of a one-a-day series covering the entire NHL. Click here for the rest of the teams in the leadup to another action-packed NHL season!
And here we have it, the last of our Team Previews and what an excellent way to end off the year on New Year’s Eve. The World Juniors are captivating us as the only games on, training camps are getting underway, and the season starts in two weeks. Without further ado, the Winnipeg Jets!
Despite losing a major chunk of their defense and a bunch of their depth forwards, the Jets banded together so that they would fit on Connor Hellebuyck’s back and he could carry them through the season. They didn’t last long though, getting ousted in 4 games in the play-in round to the Flames.
It was a good story, though the level of play was unsustainable and they will be in tough to try and replicate this. The Jets gave up the fifth most shots on goal and the second most high danger chances. The biggest reason Winnipeg had any success was the play of Connor Hellebuyck. He eventually (deservedly) won the Vezina for his efforts. Despite the amount of shots and high danger changes given up, Winnipeg had the seventh highest team save percentage and Hellebuyck himself led the league in shots faced, saves, shutouts, and was a very close second to Tuukka Rask in goals saved above average.
We can’t completely overlook the impact of Winnipeg’s offense, after all, a certain level of offense is needed to find any success with this playstyle. Kyle Connor and Mark Scheifele both hit 70 points, Blake Wheeler and Patrick Laine in the 60’s with Nikolaj Ehlers at a close 58. The scoring depth wasn’t great, as outside of the top two lines, the scoring was fairly weak with players in the sub-20 or even sub-10 point range filling the third and fourth lines.
The Jets had a few major roster holes they needed to address over the offseason, and unfortunately they did not get to fixing many of them. At forward, they brought back Paul Stastny to help cover the loss of Bryan Little. But, they did not bring in anyone to help their defense. Dylan Demelo was acquired at the trade deadline and retained for four more years, at least. And, the backup goalie situation. Laurent Brossoit had a great first season in Winnipeg. In part due to the poor team defense, Brossoit’s second season was not good. And in a season where the backup goalies could be crucial to team success, and an offseason with so much goalie movement, I see this as a missed opportunity to try and improve the overall roster depth.
Winnipeg Jets Roster Overview
The Winnipeg Jets have one of the best top end forward groups in the NHL. Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Patrik Laine, are a potent offensive threat that are exceptional at controlling the pace of play. The reacquired Paul Stastny appears to slot in as the second line centre with Laine and Ehlers, though in 2019-20 Patrik Laine was most commonly with Connor and Scheifele at even strength.
Patrik Laine is in an interesting situation, again. Last season it was him holding out signing a contract until very close to the start of the action. This season, it is whether or not he will be traded. It’s been reported that while there has been no formal trade request, both Laine’s camp and the Jets would mutually benefit from a trade. For now, Laine remains in Winnipeg. And it may be a different Laine than we are used to. In 2019-20, for the first time in the NHL, Patrik recorded more assists than goals and appeared to take on a more multi-dimensional playstyle as opposed to his previous identity as solely a scorer.
Jack Roslovic remains unsigned at the end of December and is an important part of Winnipeg’s forward depth. However, he has asked for a trade as of the end of December and will not be joining the team at training camp. The loss of Roslovic leaves yet another hole for the Jets to fill in their roster.
Andrew Copp and Adam Lowry are the higher end of this team’s forward depth and expected to slot in with Mathieu Perrault. Nate Thompson, Mason Appleton, and Jansen Harkins round out this group. There will also be room for a couple of prospects, notably Cole Perfetti, who will join the team after he is done at the World Juniors, and Kristian Vesalainen to work their way into the lineup.
Did you know the Winnipeg Jets don’t have a very good defensive lineup? Just in case I hadn’t mentioned it yet here or in any of our past podcast episodes like every single week or time we mention this team.
It is still true though. Josh Morrissey, Dylan DeMelo, and Neal Pionk are the top few of Winnipeg’s defense. Morrissey spent the most time 5 on 5 with Tucker Poolman last season but typically performed better with Neal Pionk when together so Morrissey will pair up with one of those two again. Dylan DeMelo joined the team at the trade deadline so we will get to see where he fits in long term, but he could be a solid anchor for the second pairing while picking up a bunch of penalty killing time with Anthony Bitetto leaving.
Nathan Beaulieu, Derek Forbort, Sami Niku, and Luca Sbisa will fill the remaining spots, and likely will end up playing tons of minutes with the lack of depth. Beaulieu is the team’s leading penalty killer by TOI/GP. Last season, Dmitry Kulikov spent a lot of even strength time with Neal Pionk, so Derek Forbort may replace that ice time or Luca Sbisa will spend more time there.
There is a ton of room in this group for a prospect to break into the roster. Ville Heinola got a taste of the NHL with an 8-game tryout last season. Heinola is getting some early action at the World Junior Classic so with him being in game shape heading into training camp and the season, he could easily snag a roster spot. Dylan Samberg may find himself in this lineup as well, him being a LHD competing with Beaulieu, Forbort, and Sbisa above him in the depth chart.
Connor Hellebuyck will need to replicate his 2019-20 season for the Jets to compete this year. He is without a doubt the team’s starter and probably best player right now. However, Hellebuyck’s career trajectory so far has flipped between good year/bad year his entire time in the NHL. 2019-20 was his good year, so if this trend is continuing, 2020-21 will not be as good for Connor.
This is where the Jets’ goaltending depth comes into question. Laurent Broissoit is the presumed backup, but he was not good in 2019-20. Eric Comrie is supposed to be the next in line, but he has never really impressed enough to make a stay in the NHL. He’s played 8 games in the big leagues over the last 4 seasons. He will probably be on the NHL roster this season because of the third roster goalie.
This team will live or die by Connor Hellebuyck’s performance. An off year in a competitive division will be disastrous to Winnipeg’s playoff chances.
Winnipeg Jets 2020-21 Prediction
4th – 6th North Division
With the right hot streak and another strong year from Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg could find themselves easily sitting in the top half of this division but even any regression from Hellebuyck could spell disaster with the state of this team’s defensive play. A condensed schedule and more reliance on backups to avoid fatigue for Connor Hellebuyck make it even more difficult to predict a strong season in a division containing many of the league’s best forwards.
That concludes our Winnipeg Jets 2020-21 Preview. Check to see if your team has been covered yet in our 2020-21 Season Preview Series.
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