Winnipeg finished just outside the playoffs last year, missing it by seven points. They still finished the season with 40 wins, which is respectable for most teams. The best they’ve done except for 2014-2015 was when they finished in the second wild card position right behind Minnesota.
For every team a new season always means new changes, nothing ever stays exactly the same. Winnipeg hasn’t made any drastic changes but they’ve made some nonetheless.
Matt Hendricks (F)
A burly veteran, he’s spent time with a few different teams throughout his career with Winnipeg being his fifth stop. Not a big goal scorer, Hendricks is more of a tough guy who can get the puck to open players or create pathways for them to get to the net.
He’s a go to guy in tight situations and is a great shot blocker, with 39 last season and 68 the year prior, which is something any team can utilize.
Dmitry Kulikov (D)
A stable defenseman on the blue line is something every team looks for and wants to be able to rely on. That was Winnipeg’s goal when they signed Kulikov. He has typical numbers for a defenseman who focuses on defense first.
The atypical defensive defenseman won’t have high scoring numbers because he’s more centered on keeping the puck out of his own net rather than putting it in the opponents. The fact that he has blocked anywhere from 70 to over 100 shots in the past few years shows that he will put his body first to stop a goal.
Sacrificing your body is just part of the game for a defenseman but with numbers as high as Kulikov’s, he clearly has what it takes to help his goalie out when needed.
Steve Mason (G)
Speaking of goalies, Winnipeg picked up one of those too in Steve Mason. The Jets haven’t exactly had a legitimate number one goalie over the last few years. That’s not saying Mason will be, but he’s been in the league for quite some time, and he will be a reliable starter or backup depending on the situation.
Goaltending is the hardest position to fill for most teams and finding that pristine player who can play every night sometimes takes years. With Winnipeg being a fairly new team still, it could take a while to find that player.
Mason hasn’t had super stellar numbers but he has proved to be steady when his team demanded it. The Jets will be no different and neither will he. He’ll step up when it’s needed otherwise he’ll be a committed backup.
Brian Strait (D)
It hurts whenever you lose a decent player on defense but it’s hard to tell where his team will be feeling it the most. Will it be his playing ability or his experience and leadership?
His loss may not be felt immediately as the team will be excited to get underway but there will be a gap because of every player no matter how many games they play leaves behind some sort of presence.
Paul Postma (D)
Not a big name player but still made an impact regardless. Being a defenseman doesn’t get a lot of limelight unless you score goals and even then most of the time you’re overlooked. Despite Postma’s low profile, he’ll be missed on the point.
He made an impact the fans didn’t necessarily notice. Stopping goals and helping out on the blue line isn’t an easy task. Postma may not have played a lot of games but his teammates will notice his absence.
Moving on up
Josh Morrissey (D)
At just 22-years-old Morrissey has one full NHL season already under his belt and can only go up from there. With several players leaving he’ll have the opportunity to play another full year and prove that he can continue to be a constant in the lineup.
He had 20 points last season as a rookie and that’s more than some veterans even get in a full season. If he can continue that, he could move up to eventually be a 25-30 point producer every year for Winnipeg.
Patrik Laine (F)
This is a player that will be making waves in the next few years if he hasn’t already. The 19-year-old played 73 games as a rookie and managed 64 points, almost a point per game. He also scored over 30 goals, which is rare for a rookie.
The Finn is already a key player for Winnipeg. The Jets are in need of scoring power and they may have found it in Laine.
What can the Jets achieve this season?
The Jets have the chance to build from what they started last year. Finishing just outside the playoffs is frustrating and could be the motivation they need to push themselves harder to not repeat it. Their captain, Blake Wheeler echoed these feelings.
“It’s gotta be this year, it just has to be,” Wheeler told Winnipegfreepress.com,”We have enough talent. There’s no reason why we can’t push this to the next level this year. It’s going to be about getting this group together and figuring out how we have to play to win hockey games.”
As Wheeler said, they have it in them to be a better hockey team they just have to figure out how, and I believe that is what they will achieve this season. They’ll figure out what it takes to win hockey games and they will.
When they figure out how to win games is when it’ll show where they’ll finish. If they figure it out early they could finish high, but if it’s too late they may have to wait until next year to dominate. I predict they’ll figure it out early enough to make it into the playoffs.
Especially with Laine playing the way he has, he can score goals to help give them the edge to win games even close ones. Time will tell with this team but I believe they’ll do well.
I think they’ll finish third in the division behind Minnesota and Nashville and end up facing Calgary in the first round of the playoffs. The way they play the regular season will be the determining factor if they make it past the first round or not.
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