This week leave the West and swing into Central Canada and examine the newest-to-you franchise in the NHL, the Winnipeg Jets.
No team in the NHL will have gone through as much upheaval as the Winnipeg Jets since the end of last season. They have a new city, owner, GM, coach, fans and a number of new faces on the ice. The fans will come no matter what the product on the ice looks like, and this is a franchise that was in the thick of the playoff race for much of the season. They are a club on the rise, and they are now in a market that can appreciate what that means.
Projected 2011-12 Lineup
|A Ladd||N Antropov||B Wheeler|
|E Kane||B Little||E Fehr|
|K McArdle||A Burmistrov||J Slater|
|T Glass||P Cormier||R Rypien|
|BOLD: New to Team|
This is a gritty group of forwards that doesn’t really have a star. They are young and will develop together as a unit. They are not, however, incredibly gifted offensively. Burmistrov and Kane will be the future, along with 2011 1st rd pick Mark Scheifele, of the offensive unit. Scheifele will hope to make the team in September, but will most likely be sent back to Barrie for another year of seasoning.
|T Enstrom||D Byfuglien|
|Z Bogosian||R Jones|
|R Hainsey||J Oduya|
This group is the key to any offensive output for this team. They have an abundance of above average puck-movers in Enstrom, Byfuglien, Oduya and Bogosian. The addition of Randy Jones adds to the group of defensemen which, on average, is more talented offensively than the forwards at this point in time. Bogosian seemed to take a step back in his second full season, but is still destined to be an all-star defenseman in the NHL when he has fully developed. This will be a key year for him, once he gets his name on a contract.
Chris Mason is coming off a dreadful year that saw him relegated to backup duty as the Thrashers allowed the second most goals against in the NHL.
Rookie To Watch For
Patrice Cormier made his debut last season and played in 21 games for the Thrashers. The forward appears ready to assume a full time role and he will be counted upon to provide a physical presence while playing on the edge. The former captain of Team Canada at the World Junior Championship has developed a reputation for crossing the line, and he needs to show he can focus and play his game without being mentally hi-jacked. He will not be an explosive offensive player, but will compete hard every night.
Three Burning Questions
1. Who is going to score the goals for this team?
Andrew Ladd led the Thrashers with 29 goals and 59 points. After him, the next two points leaders were defensemen. No other forward had 20 goals. Evander Kane is poised to break out in his 3rd year and demonstrate the power forward game that he has shown in flashes over the past two seasons. They were 20th in the NHL in goals for, but surprisingly trailed perceived powerhouse Washington by 1 goal. Blake Wheeler will also help carry the load in his first full season with the club.
2. What effect will the relocation have on the on-ice product?
The Winnipeg Jets will have one of the most onerous travel schedules in the league this season. They are still playing in the Southeast division while being located in the Northwest of the continent. This will be the biggest obstacle to overcome, but that could be offset by the home crowd, which will be something unlike Atlanta was ever able to demonstrate.
3. Can Ondrej Pavelec carry the load?
Pavelec came into his own as the club’s #1 goalie last year almost by default, as Chris Mason struggled mightily. However, Pavelec gave the Thrashers scary moment early in his first game of the season when his fainting spell resulted in a concussion. He returned strong and had a decent season, but he will have to be better to get the Jets to the playoffs.