There are 11 forwards who had NHL jobs locked up from the beginning: Ladd, Little, Wheeler, Kane, Burmistrov, Antropov, Slater, Thorburn, Glass, Wellwood, and Fehr. With Fehr on IR, the Jets were looking for 3 players to fill out their forward group.
The only other forwards who remain in camp are Cormier, Bodie, Maxwell, Pesonen, Gregoire, McArdle and Gagnon (both hurt), and of course, Mark Scheifele. Tim Stapleton played last night, but was placed on waivers today, meaning he’ll be playing with the Ice Caps in St. John’s. That tells me one thing: Mark Scheifele just made the team. That doesn’t mean he’ll necessarily be sticking around for the entire season, but he is definitely on the team come October 9th. My guess is that Cormier and Bodie will win the other two jobs. They both have the size and grit to fill out the bottom-6 much better than Maxwell, Pesonen, Gregoire, etc. Carrying on with this speculation, here’s my guess at the lines for opening night:
The only line that’s carved in stone right now is the 1st line of Ladd-Little-Wheeler. They’ve looked great in each of the last two pre-season games, particularly Little and Wheeler. Burmistrov and Antropov were often paired together in pre-season, and I imagine that they’ll play together a fair amount this year. Kane is the most explosive player on the roster, so placing him on the second line helps balance out the scoring. (Skipping to the 4th line…) Slater and Thorburn are the team’s best penalty killers up front, making them a natural fit on a potential checking line. Glass is a big, hard working guy who forechecks well, so he would fit there as well. Cormier, Wellwood, and Scheifele are basically what’s left. Scheifele played centre ice a lot in pre-season, but I think he’ll end up playing wing since Wellwood is far better on face-offs. Cormier is the forechecker on that line, who will help retrieve and cycle pucks in the offensive end. Bodie will be the 13th forward who may draw in for Glass on occasion, or in case of injury.
All that being said, only the 1st line is assured, and even that could change at some point. I think Burmistrov and Antropov will play together a lot, as well as Slater and Thorburn, but basically everything else could change, apart from Glass staying on the 4th line , and Kane staying on the 2nd line (both LW). Scheifele could play any forward position on either the second or the third line, and the same goes for Antropov, who has played 40% centre and 60% wing since he got to Atlanta in 2009.
Unless injury strikes, the top-6 D are and have been set for quite a while. But with so many defencemen rotating in and out through the pre-season, it’s difficult to say what the pairings will be. Enstrom is without question the team’s best defenceman – smart, skilled, and a great skater. He’d be best off with a big, physical partner to help him handle bigger forwards, since he’s 5’10 and slight of build. Byfuglien is more rover than defenceman, so he’ll need to play with a smart, steady defenceman who will compensate for his recklessness. Bogosian is a fantastic skater with great size and strength, but at 21, he’s still prone to mistakes. He’d be best off with a dependable veteran partner who won’t compound his mistakes. Based on this, I’m guessing the even-strength pairings go like so:
There isn’t any particular order or priority to these combinations, just three well-balanced pairings. Enstrom and Byfuglien will get the lion’s share of the powerplay time; Stuart and Hainsey will play a lot while short-handed; Bogosian and Oduya will play a bit in every situation. In other words, the pairings are fluid, and will depend entirely on situation.
As for goaltending, that ones easy. Expect to see a lot of Pavelec and a bit of Mason. End of story.