Our Winnipeg Jets 2021-22 Preview is a part of our 2021-22 NHL Team Preview Series. Starting September 9th, we have covered one team per day in the leadup to the 2021-22 season. After a crazy busy offseason with a ton of player movement we need something to help summarize what happened and give an outlook of the impact on each team. Make sure to check back each day for the next team in the list!
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The Winnipeg Jets have been one of the league’s more over performing teams over the past 2 seasons. Placed firmly on the back of elite goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, the Jets have taken two teams with next-to-no defense into playoff positions, losing the Qualifying Round in 2019-20’s bubble playoffs and in the second round last season.
That narrative (that we here at Clappercast have spent a lot of time harping on) seems to be on its way out heading into the 2021-22 season. Winnipeg’s main focus of the offseason was on improving the defense. Combining the offseason acquisitions like Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt with the prospects working their way up like Logan Stanley and suddenly the Jets have a solid defensive group.
Despite the (on paper) weakness at defense, the Jets have been able to maintain a positive goal differential, which is one of the easiest general indicators of team performance. Last season they finished 12th in the league with 170 goals for and 10th in goals against giving up 152.
This success stems from the team’s excellent offensive depth that is able to provide two or three highly productive lines. Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler as a duo on the top line usually hit a point per game pace. Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor are getting better every year and are now hitting a point where the team can have a point per game player on the second line. And having others like Pierre-Luc Dubois hoping to bounce back after a difficult season pre and post trade from Columbus to help push Paul Stastny and Adam Lowry onto the third line. Both Stastny and Lowry produced offense at a second-line pace last season.
I mentioned him before but he deserves his own paragraph too, but none of this team’s success over the years would have been there if not for Connor Hellebuyck. Especially the past 2 seasons. 2019-20 saw Hellebucyk winning the Vezina Trophy and finishing 6th in Hart Trophy voting (with 3 first place votes). He has carried this team and hopefully with the lineup improvements made, some of the load will be taken off of Hellebuyck to make his job easier.
Winnipeg will have to be at their best next season as they move back into the Central Division. Competition will be tough against Colorado, while St. Louis, Dallas, and Minnesota will all prove challenging for the Jets.
Although Winnipeg should finish in a playoff position in this division, they are going to need to make a deep playoff run soon for a couple reasons. First, the Jets’ competitive window is only going to be open for so long. Most of their core is still under 30 years of age so they do have some time yet. But, as Paul Maurice enters his 9th season (8 full seasons, one partial) coaching the team with only 3 playoff series wins (over 2 playoff runs), we have to start wondering if the team needs to make a change to the coaching staff to break them through and become a legit Cup contender.
Winnipeg Jets Roster Additions
Winnipeg Jets Roster Subtractions
Winnipeg Jets Roster Overview
The duo of Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler is the most common combination for Winnipeg’s top line. Last season, Kyle Connor worked his way in and spent the most time with those two. Connor-Scheifele-Wheeler is one of the most dangerous offensive lines in the league. Kyle Connor has emerged as a top scorer with (what would be in a full 82 game season) 4 consecutive 30-goal seasons. 2020-21 he scored 26 goals in 56 games, a pace that puts him around 40 on a full season. Blake Wheeler is one of the most consistent point producers and playmakers in the league, playing at a 20-goal and hovering around a point per game pace over the last 6 seasons with Winnipeg. And Mark Scheifele is an all-around amazing forward who is able to score nearly 40 goals in a season if he needs to but is also a great playmaker with 40-50 assists being a regular total for him.
Pierre-Luc Dubois is next in the centre depth chart. He struggled mightily last season in his 41 games with the Jets. He got 20 points, a career low for him. But more than just the point total, he never really fit in anywhere with the team. He would be out of position with his linemates, largely invisible on the ice for periods of time and just did not look comfortable. Dubois spent a lot of time with Nikolaj Ehlers last season, and those two look to be the second line locks.
Andrew Copp should join Dubois and Ehlers. Copp broke out in a big way last season with 39 points in 55 games, far surpassing his previous high of 28 in 82 games.
Kristian Vesalainen is a name to watch in Winnipeg’s middle 6. Currently projected to be on the third line, Vesalainen has been a prospect working his way up for a few seasons now and finally looks to have a spot on lock. He should be starting on the third line with Adam Lowry and Paul Stastny, which is a good spot for Kristian. Stastny is a highly experienced and skilled two-way forward while Lowry is a physical force with a bit of a scoring touch. Vesalainen is still looking for his first NHL goal, but that should come very quickly with a regular spot in this Jets lineup.
Riley Nash made a move to Winnipeg over the offseason and this could low-key be one of the better signings around the league. Nash is one of the best shut-down depth centres in the entire league, and gets very little recognition for it. Winnipeg didn’t really have this skillset in their forward group before this signing, so bringing a player like Nash in really helps to fill that hole. Nash will get tough defensive matchups. He isn’t typically a primary penalty killer but with the Jets losing Trevor Lewis and Nate Thompson in the offseason, Nash will absolutely get some time on the PK. Jansen Harkins and Dominic Toninato are the projected other fourth line forwards.
Cole Perfetti is also on pace to get some looks this season and he would be yet another injection of offense to an already potent group. He had 26 points in 32 AHL games last season, impressive for a rookie in that league.
Evgeny Svechnikov signed a deal with the Jets’ AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose, but has been very impressive in training camp and preseason action, even going so far as possibly earning an NHL contract and a spot in the opening day lineup. He will be another solid option if Svechnikov has finally figured out how to make it work at the NHL level.
Winnipeg’s defense should be just fine this season. They’ve added two NHL-calibre defenders in Nate Schmidt and Brenden Dillon who can actually play top-4 roles for the team.
So far, we predict Josh Morrissey and Nate Schmidt to make up the first pairing. Schmidt may not be the best defensively but he is quick and is able to be a 30 point player. If Morrissey is stable enough defensively, these two could be a good complimentary duo.
Neal Pionk will get bumped down to the second pairing with new d-partner Brenden Dillon. This is going to be a wrecking ball of a defensive pairing. Dillon was 17th in the league with 143 hits last season, Pionk was 24th with 147. Opponents are going to hate playing against these two as they will be getting physically overpowered every time they step onto the ice. Pionk has a surprising offensive touch to his game as well, with 32 points in 54 games last season.
Logan Stanley and Dylan Demelo will make up a great third pairing. Stanley finally broke into the NHL on a regular basis last season, playing 37 games. Demelo was great in his time playing up the lineup, but the increased defensive depth will be great to help take the burden off of him.
Ville Heinola might finally be able to get some regular playing time this season as well. Heinola is an offensive defender who would really benefit from having a more stable defensive presence alongside him, like a Brenden Dillon type maybe. The defensive additions give the Jets more freedom to fiddle around with the lineup and try out new things and give prospects more chances.
Connor Hellebuyck remains the starter here without a doubt. He will be a workhorse for the Jets as well, likely starting ~60 games. Hopefully the stronger defensive lineup in front of him makes his life easier in net.
Eric Comrie is back and finally projects to be on the NHL team full-time as Hellebuyck’s backup. This is a risky spot to put him in as Comrie is very unproven at the NHL level (9 games over 5 different seasons) with a very poor statline. Maybe the Jets think he is finally ready? But as of now heading into the season, Connor Hellebucyk will be the go-to nearly every night.
Winnipeg Jets 2021-22 Prediction
2nd-3rd Central Division
Winnipeg might have a chance of beating Colorado and taking the division but that is a longshot and it is far more likely they finish in 2nd or 3rd, comfortably in a playoff spot. With Dallas and Minnesota being major question marks and St. Louis possibly regressing, Winnipeg stands out as the next best team in the Central after the Avalanche.
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