Yesterday we looked at my projected forward lines for the Winnipeg Jets heading into the 2013/14 season. Today we look at the defensive side of the puck. For the second straight year Winnipeg took a defenseman in the first round of the draft, once again strengthening their depth at that position. Although it doesn’t look like Josh Morrissey will compete for a job this season, there is still quite a crowd trying to get in on just a couple spots. Jacob Trouba will look to make the jump to thebig leagues this season, but he’ll be in tough with the likes of newly signed Adam Pardy, Paul Postma, Cody Sol, and the returning Zach Redmond.
Although being near the bottom in defensive categories last season the back end of the Jets is regarded in town as the strong point of this team. They have a lot of work to do before the league will regard them as that but this is a crew that appears capable. With much of the core returning most of the spots in the top 6 seem obvious, but with the amount of young talent the Jets have anything is possible. No NHL teams will complain of depth, and the Jets are prosperous with defenseman. So when somebody goes down with an injury the Jets won’t be in too much trouble.
The top 4 of this crew is pretty easy. Byfuglien and Enstrom will be leaned on to play big minutes. Al though both have showed a lot of talent offensively, there are still questions about their defensive capabilities. Plus, Buff’s physical condition will be a question as it seems to be every year, however this season the rumours and pictures that have been circulating have been positive which is a welcome change for Jets fans. If Buff comes in and is in great shape there is no limit to how good he can be. The second line, most likely Bogosian and either Stuart or Clitsome, will be the shut down pair. Tasked with shutting down the likes of Jonathan Toews and other top players in their new division, these guys will probably log the most minutes.
The last pair is where things start to get complicated. Grant Clitsome who just recently signed a new contract and saw his play and his minutes rise last season should have one of the spots on lock. The other is still up for grabs but I think the leading candidate has to be Zach Redmond. Redmond was a pleasant surprise for Jets fans last season before having his inaugural campaign cut short by a gruesome injury suffered in practice. Should anyone faulter the Jets will probably keep Adam Pardy close by, as well as Paul Postma who played with the big club much of last season. The biggest story on defence however may be the lack of the Jets first round pick last season Jacob Trouba. Although earning an invitation to the American Olympic camp I do not think Trouba makes this club. Trouba has shown himself to be more than capable, strong showing in the World Juniors and more importantly the World Championships have shown he can play against the best in the world at any level. However, the best spot for him this year may be in St. Johns, another year to develop can only help the youngster.
Status quo is the word in the cage for Winnipeg. Ondrej Pavelec remains locked up for years to come as this teams number one and you can bet they will rely on him to carry a big load. Although at times consistency has been his biggest weakness, Pavelec has shown himself capable of stealing games in the NHL and remains this teams most important player. Behind him returns Al Montoya. Montoya proved himself to be a solid back up last season and earned himself a brand new contract. Look for Montoya to get more starts this year to try and keep Pavelec fresh. Should either of these two not perform or get hurt the Jets will most likely look to Eddie Pasquale. Last season Pasquale took a step backwards, not putting up the numbers he had previously. Look for him to bounce back and return to form as a guy who looks like he could eventually make the jump into the big leagues.
This season the Jets are out of excuses. No moving to a new city, no lack of training camp, and no travel excuses. Winnipeg has committed a lot of money to a core of players that have not had any real success with this franchise. Players and management are on the line this season and must have success. They moved from the worst division in the NHL, to a division with the defending Stanley Cup Champions plus a young upstart team in St. Louis. After that though it is still not the strongest division and if Winnipeg can separate themselves from the rest of the pack a third place finish would almost certainly mean a playoff spot. Jets fans have enjoyed themselves since their return to the NHL, but nothing can compare to playoff hockey, and this fan base wants it bad.