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2016-17 NHL season preview: Winnipeg Jets

2016-17 NHL season preview: Winnipeg Jets

It still feels like the season just ended, but with the draft and free agency already behind us, it's time to look forward to the 2016-17 season. We will preview every team in the NHL throughout August and take a look at what the new season may hold.

Team: Winnipeg Jets

How they did last season:  35-39-8 (78 points); Last in the Central Division; 11th in the Western Conference. Missed playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.

Notable acquisitions: LW/RW Patrik Laine; C Quinton Howden, C Shawn Matthias and D Brian Strait.

Notable departures: LW Andrew Ladd (traded Feb. 25).

When they will play the Caps: Nov. 1 in Winnipeg; Nov. 3 in Washington.

Analysis: There’s not much to recap from the Jets’ disappointing, injury-plagued, goaltending-challenged 2015-16 campaign. So let’s turn the page and look to the future, shall we?

If the Jets are to take a step forward this winter, the team’s young players will be the primary reason for such a step. And there are three in particular to keep an eye on:

  • The first is Laine, the second overall pick in this year’s draft. The confident, 6 foot 5, 206-pounder possesses a lethal right-handed shot and is expected to come in and contribute in a big way as a rookie. It’s even possible the huge Finn, who has drawn comparisons to his idol, Alex Ovechkin, will debut on the Jets’ top line. Although the regular season is still two months away, Jets fans will get a sneak peak at Laine when he suits up for Finland at the World Cup of Hockey.  
  • The second is Mark Scheifele, an emerging top line centerman who enjoyed a breakout season a year ago, racking up 29 goals and 32 assists in 71 games. Many believe the 23-year-old, who signed an eight-year $49 million extension last month, could blossom into consistent 30-goal, 80-point player as soon as this winter. To become an elite playmaker, though, he'll need to have a bigger impact on the power play. Last season, he produced just 11 points on the man advantage. A hard working, high character type, Scheifele has also been mentioned along with Blake Wheeler as a candidate to fill the Jets’ vacant captain role.   
  • The third is Connor Hellebuyuk, a 6 foot 4, 23-year-old netminder who posted solid numbers in limited playing time last season (13-11-0 with a .918 save percentage and 2.34 goals against). Consistent goaltending has long eluded the Jets, who have continued to stand by Ondrej Pavelec despite his up-and-down play in recent years. Pavelec, who is entering the final year of his contract, and 26-year-old Michael Hutchinson, however, are not going to concede the crease to Hellebuyuk; he’ll need to seize it.     

As you can see, the youth movement is in full swing in Winnipeg. And based on a relatively quiet past few months, it appears as though GM Kevin Cheveldayoff remains committed to that patient draft-and-develop philosophy.

Season prediction: With the exception of the 2014-15 season, when Winnipeg made the playoffs only to be swept out by the Ducks in the first round, the Jets 2.0 haven’t posed much of a threat.

They’ve got some intriguing pieces—Laine, Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers and Jacob Trouba (assuming he’s re-signed)—as well as some steady vets—Wheeler, Bryan Little, Dustin Byfuglien and former Capitals center Mathieu Perreault. And, as I’ve mentioned, it appears that Cheveldayoff has the prospect-rich organization inching in the right direction after take a step backward last year.

But I’m not sure they’re good enough offensively or in goal right now (minus-24 goal differential last season) to make it out of the tough Central Division, much less embark on a meaningful postseason run. Indeed, I suspect another year (or two) of growing pains will come before any payoff.

2016-2017 NHL TEAM PREVIEWS

Pacific Division
— Anaheim Ducks
— Arizona Coyotes
— Calgary Flames
— Edmonton Oilers
— Los Angeles Kings
— San Jose Sharks
— Vancouver Canucks

Central Division
— Chicago Blackhawks
— Colorado Avalanche
— Dallas Stars
— Minnesota Wild
— Nashville Predators
— St. Louis Blues
— Winnipeg Jets

Atlantic Division
— Boston Bruins
— Buffalo Sabres
— Detroit Red Wings
Florida Panthers 
Montreal Canadiens (coming Aug. 19)
Ottawa Senators (coming Aug. 20)
Tampa Bay Lightning (coming Aug. 21)
Toronto Maple Leafs (coming Aug. 22)

Metropolitan Division
Carolina Hurricanes (coming Aug. 23)
Columbus Blue Jackets (coming Aug. 24)
New Jersey Devils (coming Aug. 25)
New York Islanders (coming Aug. 26)
New York Rangers (coming Aug. 27)
Philadelphia Flyers (coming Aug. 28)
Pittsburgh Penguins (coming Aug. 29)
Washington Capitals (coming Aug. 30)

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With Burakovsky out, is Chandler Stephenson the next man up?

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With Burakovsky out, is Chandler Stephenson the next man up?

With Andre Burakovsky out for the remainder of the first round at least, someone will have to replace him in the top six. Originally, it looked like Jakub Vrana was the man for the job. Based on Game 4, however, it now looks like Chandler Stephenson is the "next man up" for the Caps.

While Vrana may have top-six skill and a high ceiling, it was Stephenson who stepped into the second-line role on Thursday playing alongside Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. Stephenson finished with two shots on goal in 17:28 of ice time. Vrana, meanwhile, played for only 6:40.

On Friday, Barry Trotz praised Stephenson's hockey IQ for allowing him to adjust to the top-six in a complementary role.

"[Stephenson's] an intelligent player," Trotz said. "He played with [Backstrom] a lot [Thursday]. If you talk with the real top-end guys, he has the ability to think like a top-end guy in terms of play with them. He’s a very intelligent player. He skates extremely well. He’s got some strength to his game. He can complement people. I think his ability to play those different roles and his hockey IQ when you play with those skill guys, he plays more of a give-and-go game than an individual game. When you play with those high skill guys, you’re able to compliment them very well."

Stephenson has spent the majority of the season on the fourth line. He was drafted as a natural center, but has played primarily wing since coming to the NHL. The ability to play both positions gives Stephenson more versatility than most forwards which Trotz credits for helping him see the game so well.

"The great thing about Chandler is he’s played multiple positions over the years. I think it’s allowed him to play a fourth-line role and with high-skill guys. At center-ice, you distribute the puck a little more.  He’s turning into a well-rounded player for us."

On the surface, having Stephenson on the fourth line over Vrana makes little sense. Vrana is highly skilled and has great speed, but he is also prone to giving up turnovers and his production can be inconsistent. Trotz has clearly put a premium on responsible play this postseason which gives Stephenson the edge.

But Game 4 was only one game. If you are going to get top-six minutes, Stephenson will be expected to produce offensively as well. Despite the limited ice time he has gotten, Vrana has shown he can have a major impact on games. In Game 1, he set up the team's only 5-on-5 goal and drew a penalty. In Game 3, he drew two penalties in less than two minutes, giving Washington a two-man advantage.

Stephenson had a fantastic game in Game 4 when he was given the chance to play in the top-six. The next step will be finding a way to have a bigger impact on the game.

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Game 5 Capitals vs. Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

Game 5 Capitals vs. Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

Alex Ovechkin said the Caps would return to Washington with a tied series. The Caps captain is a man of his word as the Caps won both Game 3 and Game 4 to even up the series at two games apiece.

John Tortorella had no answers after seeing his Columbus Blue Jackets fall in Game 4, but he will have to figure things out quickly as the series shifts back to Washington for a pivotal Game 5.

The Caps return home with two straight wins and all the momentum. There's just one problem: No one seemingly can win at home.

What: Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Round 1, Game 5

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 3:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 5 will be broadcast on NBC.

Live Stream: You can watch Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 5 on NBC Sports' live stream page.

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

The Capitals take on the Blue Jackets in Game 5 on Saturday, April 21 at 3:00 p.m. ET in Washington. The series is tied 2-2.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME ON?

Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 5 will be broadcast on NBC. Coverage kicks off on NBC Sports Washington with Capitals FaceOff at 2:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 2:30 p.m. Tune back to NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Extra and Caps Overtime at 6:00 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

2:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
2:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
3:00 p.m. — Capitals vs. Blue Jackets on NBC
5:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
6:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

Capitals-Blue Jackets Game 5 is available to stream live here through the NBC Sports live stream page.

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

Here are the Caps' projected lines:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Chandler Stephenson - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly- Lars Eller - Devante Smith-Pelly
Jakub Vrana -  Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby with Philipp Grubauer as backup.

Scratches: Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky (upper-body), Shane Gerisch, Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek

CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

SEE THE CAPITALS VS. BLUE JACKETS FULL SERIES SCHEDULE HERE

CAPITALS SCHEDULE