NHL 2016-17 Central Division preview: Young Jets on the rise

NHL 2016-17 Central Division preview: Young Jets on the rise

CSN Chicago will unveil a preview each day for every Central Division team leading up to the NHL's season-opener. Next up: Winnipeg Jets.

There is a lot to be excited about in Winnipeg.

After tasting the playoffs two years ago, the Jets fell to the basement of the Central Division in 2015-16, but they are built to be on the other side of that for a while.

The Jets locked up 23-year-old forward Mark Scheifele, an offensively gifted and reliable two-way center, and playmaking winger Mathieu Perreault to long-term contracts over the offseason, solidifying the core group up front along with speedy winger Blake Wheeler, who led the team with 78 points last season, and versatile center Bryan Little, who finished third among forwards on the club with 42 points.

And we haven't even mentioned the rising young prospects set to join the roster this year.

NCAA standout Kyle Connor, the Jets' first-round pick in 2015, led the country with 35 goals and 71 points during his freshman season at Michigan and was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, awarded annually to the league's top college player. 

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016-17 season, Blackhawks fans!]

Nikolaj Ehlers, their No. 9 overall pick in the 2014 draft, scored 15 goals and added 23 assists during his rookie campaign and is slotted in to begin the season on the top line.

Patrik Laine, the No. 2 overall selection in 2016, has the potential to immediately score 25-30 goals. His heavy shot and quick release has already drawn comparisons to Alex Ovechkin, who Laine models his game after.

The questions on this team aren't up front, though, it's on the blue line and in the crease.

Dustin Byfuglien, Toby Enstrom, Tyler Myers and Mark Stuart are all under contract over the next two seasons at least, but the biggest storyline is the uncertainty regarding restricted free agent Jacob Trouba, who requested a trade in September. That's a significant loss, and the Jets have made it clear they won't move him unless they're getting equal value back at the same position, so it may take time.

In goal, Ondrej Pavelec was placed on waivers Monday which paves the way for 23-year-old netminder Connor Hellebuyck to become the full-time starter and Michael Hutchinson to serve as the backup.

Hellebuyck shined during his rookie campaign, finishing with a 13-11-1 record with a 2.34 goals against average in 26 games, all starts. He also owned a stellar .940 save percentage during 5-on-5 play, which ranked second in the league.

The Jets are coming, and while they may not compete for the division crown this year, expect them to be in the hunt for a wild-card spot until the very end.

Other previews: Colorado Avalanche | Dallas Stars | Minnesota Wild | Nashville Predators | St. Louis Blues

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Anton Forsberg cleared waivers on Tuesday morning and was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League.

That's good news for the Blackhawks organizational depth chart, with Forsberg as the No. 3 in goal. But it also complicates things in Rockford, where Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen have been sharing the duties.

Delia is 3-1-0 with a 3.26 goals against average and .910 save percentage while Lankinen is 0-1-1 with a 3.39 GAA and .825 save percentage. Perhaps the most likely scenario is Lankinen gets sent to the ECHL with the Indy Fuel while Delia and Forsberg split the load in Rockford.

It's certainly a good problem to have, but it's still unclear how that dynamic will play out.

"We haven’t talked about that," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But we expect [Forsberg] to play."

Luke Johnson recalled

With a spot opening up on the 23-man roster, Johnson is being brought back up after he was squeezed out by Corey Crawford's return. He had a goal and an assist in two games with Rockford.

Brandon Saad returns to top-six role

After turning in arguably his best performance of the season on Sunday, Saad is back playing on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. He had seven shot attempts (three on goal) against Tampa Bay and led the team in 5-on-5 possession numbers.

"[Saad] is coming off a game where we liked what we saw," Quenneville said. "Playing with Kaner can help him get going."

Nick Schmaltz to play right side for first time in NHL career

Eight games into the season and Schmaltz has spent time at both center and left wing. Now he'll get a look on the right side with Alexandre Fortin on the left and David Kampf centering the third line.

Part of the reason for Schmaltz’s move to the right side was because Quenneville said they like Fortin on the left. It's not unfamiliar territory for Schmaltz, but could take some time getting used to.

"I played a little while back, not sure when," Schmaltz said "Just a little bit different. Catching pucks on your forehand now instead of your backhand. It's not a huge adjustment, just play with speed and compete hard and hopefully the skill on our line will take over."

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers


Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the ECHL to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.