With all their RFAs signed, free agency seemingly over, and preparations for the new season starting to get going it is time to look ahead at what we might see out of the Winnipeg Jets this season. Where do the new guys fit in? Do some past draft picks finally make the jump? What will the Jets crowded backend look like? These conversations are going on all over Winnipeg right now so let’s take a look at who I think will make this line-up headed in to the 2013/14 season.
Although the summer started slowly for Winnipeg and General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, the moves they made were some big ones, possibly the biggest was the resigning of restricted free agents Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little, both of whom got big money for big years. You can dispute the positives and negatives of these contracts, many have said locking up a core of players that haven’t made playoffs yet was a big gamble, but fact is these are the guys for a long time.
The top line seems pretty obvious for Winnipeg. Last season Winnipeg leaned on their number one unit consisting of Andrew Ladd, the previously mentioned Blake Wheeler, and their centre Bryan Little. This group was the most consistent scoring threat for a largely inconsistent team. With Ladd and Wheeler both getting invites to their respective Olympic camps, look for these two to step up and put up big numbers in the first half of the season to try to put up the best case they can to make the national clubs.
On the second line Winnipeg will be looking for a scoring kick. With the Jets offensive struggles last season they made a move, acquiring Devin Setoguchi, to try to help the on again off again play of star winger Evander Kane. The Setoguchi experiment seems like a win-win situation for Winnipeg. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season so if it does not work out you can cut ties with him and it is no big deal. On the flip side if he shows the offensive skills that he did early in his career you have a young player in his prime for a reasonable price. Centering the two scoring wingers I predict Mark Scheifele. The first ever pick of the returning Winnipeg Jets looks ready to make the jump after a dominant season with the Barrie Colts which saw him carry them to game 7 of the OHL championship series, before losing the series in the final game that he missed due to injury. Despite missing time for the World Junior tournament and some games to injury, he amassed huge points in the regular season and looked like a man amongst boys in the playoffs, including two 5 point games in the finals. It will be a make or break year for the youngster but the Jets owe it to him to give him a chance. He has played games with the big club but has often been put in with the bottom 6 forwards, a place where he has very little chance to succeed.
The bottom 6 forwards are the Jets most improved area this season. Gone are the likes of perennial under performers Kyle Wellwood and Nikolai Antropov (both still looking for new NHL jobs) and in are Michael Frolik fresh off a Stanley Cup, and Matt Halischuk. The two right wingers add some grit and skill to a pair of lines that seemed to go periods between shifts at some points last season. Frolik will be joined by big bodied Olli Jokinen, another guy looking to make an Olympic roster, and Eric Tangradi who in his limited time in Winnipeg gave a pretty good showing. The fourth line will be centered by fan favourite Jim Slater with James Wright and Matt Halischuk on his wings. Winnipeg will be looking for some offensive help out of these lines and hope that Claude Noel can count on both his third and fourth lines to eat up some meaningful minutes. Odd men out include Chris Thorburn and tough guy Anthony Peluso, both of whom will be serviceable if someone was to go out due to injury. Also look for Peluso to draw in now and again when the Jets need some extra toughness.
Check in tomorrow for my look at the Defence and Goaltenders heading into next season.