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
— 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)
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)