The Winnipeg Jets kick off training camp tomorrow – Thursday, September 18. While it will be exciting to see how the potential young stars stack up against the vets – namely, Nik Ehlers and Josh Morrissey – the battle for roster spots may be less compelling.
|JETS ORGANIZATIONAL DEPTH CHART|
*College players haven’t been signed yet, and won’t participate in training camp
The top-8 forward positions are locked up – Kane, Ladd, Scheifele, Little, Perreault, Wheeler, Byfuglien, and Frolik. Slater and Thorburn are fixtures on the fourth line, so that makes 10. And Peluso is likely to be the 13th forward, so that makes 11.
You basically have 9 players battling for 2 or 3 *spots:
- 3 with significant NHL experience – Tangradi, Galiardi, Halischuk
- 4 mostly AHL players – O’Dell, Lowry, Klingberg, Albert
- 2 recently drafted juniors – Ehlers, Petan
Given that there are three semi-veterans on the roster, there may not be much of a competition here. Nik Ehlers and Nic Petan provide tantalizing skill, but given their lack of size, I don’t see either of them cracking the roster this year. The AHL’ers provide great depth – O’Dell, Klingberg, and Albert are all solid pros – but none appeared capable enough to overtake the NHL’ers, at least based on the most recent viewings. The one guy to keep an eye on is Adam Lowry – a 21-year-old, second-year pro who is only two years removed from being named the WHL’s player of the year. At 6’5, some liken him to a poor man’s Milan Lucic because of his blend of size, skill, and meanness on the ice. Lowry probably doesn’t have quite enough skill to be a regular top-6 forward, but he looks like he could be a valuable member of the third line one day – the type who could pop in 15 goals a year.
*NHL teams can keep 22 or 23 active players on their roster – usually they keep 2G, 7D, 13F – 22 total. But they are free to keep an extra healthy forward or defenceman. If any players are placed on the Injured Reserve (IR), they wouldn’t count as part of the 22-man roster.
The top-3 D are all settled – Enstrom, Trouba and Bogosian. Mark Stuart may be a better fit on the 3rd pairing, but he’s certainly somewhere in the top-6. Grant Clitsome is coming off an injury-plagued year, but given that he makes just over $2M a year, he’ll find his way onto the roster. That leaves Ellerby, Postma, and Pardy to fill out the other two spots. Last year, the Jets faced a similar situation, and sent Pardy to the AHL to get down to 7 D. (He returned quickly when injuries hit.) But this year, there’s another wrinkle – Josh Morrissey. Morrissey is the Jets’ 1st round draft pick from 2013, and has made great strides in junior hockey. Last year, his smooth skating and offensive acumen garnered him a first-team all-star selection in the WHL’s Eastern Conference. He also had an extended cameo in the AHL playoffs this past year, where his poise and maturity made a great impression on his coaches. But at *19 years of age, he’ll play this coming season in either the NHL or the WHL. While many people are hoping he’ll make the Jets, I wrote recently about why I think it would be best for him to play one last year in junior hockey. I think it’s likely that Morrissey will start the year in Winnipeg and play a #handful of games, but I think the Jets will exercise restraint and send him back to junior.
*Because of an agreement between the CHL and the NHL, CHL players cannot play in the AHL as teenagers, unless their junior season is over.
#CHL players will often play up to 9 NHL games before being sent back to junior – once they play in a 10th game, it activates their NHL contract.
Based on the current roster, Ondrej Pavelec will start, and Michael Hutchinson will back-up. Connor Hellebuyck is the most promising goalie in the organization, but he’s just turned pro, and needs to prove himself with the AHL Ice Caps for at least a year or two.
Since the wheeling and dealing of the summer, everything has been doom and gloom when it comes to the Jets. Dallas finished ahead of us last season, and added Spezza and Hemsky. Colorado finished well ahead of us, and has a roster filled with elite young talents like Nate MacKinnon and Matt Duchene. Minnesota added gifted winger, Thomas Vanek, and Chicago and St. Louis remain powerhouses. That fills up all 4 of our division’s playoff spots, plus the cross-over spot in the other division. And that doesn’t even take into account Nashville, who finished narrowly ahead of the Jets last year, and get Pekka Rinne back – a former Vezina-nominated goalie who easily gets them an extra 5 or 6 wins this season all on his own.
Playoffs wise, are we screwed? Yes. Long-term, are we screwed? Nay. I think this season will actual help us. Scouts expect the 2015 draft to be one of the best in many years, and the McDavid-Eichel sweepstakes alone provide hope to any organization who is outside of the playoff picture.
Bottom line: the Jets have a good young squad, but if the key pieces stay together, and the current young players reach their potential, this team won’t be good enough to beat the very best teams. Maybe you go to the first round of playoffs every year – maybe you even win one round on occasion – but you probably don’t win two series’ in a row against Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, St. Louis, etc.
I think the Jets have their franchise defenceman with Jacob Trouba – he may be a Norris Trophy nominee one day. They have some other great pieces with Scheifele, Ehlers, Morrissey, and others. Goaltenders nearly grow on trees these days, so that isn’t a giant concern. But franchise centres are almost like unicorns: you only get them in the draft, and they’re typically only available in the top-3 picks. If I were the Jets, I’d be mindful of that.