NHL.com is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2021-22 regular season, which starts Oct. 12. Today, five questions facing the Winnipeg Jets:
1. Will Pierre-Luc Dubois bounce back from a down season?
The 23-year-old scored 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists) in 46 games for the Columbus Blue Jackets and Jets last season, not what Winnipeg expected when it acquired the forward and a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft in a trade with Columbus for forwards Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic on Jan. 23.
After sitting out a mandatory 14-day quarantine in Winnipeg and then missing four games (Feb. 13-19) with a lower-body injury, Dubois struggled to regain the effectiveness he had shown in his first three NHL seasons with the Blue Jackets, when he averaged .68 points per game. His .46 points per game last season marked his NHL career low.
“You only have yourself to blame,” Dubois said. “I know I can be a lot better. One year doesn’t [change] my confidence of who I am and what I can do. You don’t change just because of one disappointing season.”
2. How good a fit are defensemen Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt?
Dillon was acquired in a trade with the Washington Capitals for a second-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft and a second-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft on July 26. He scored 19 points (two goals, 17 assists) in 56 games last season.
Schmidt was acquired in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks for a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft on July 27, after scoring 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in 54 games last season.
Each 30-year-old brings experience to the defensemen group; the Jets hope to benefit from Dillon’s size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and Schmidt’s mobility.
“The elements, how they fit, how the two of them fit is just so, so perfect for our group,” general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said.
3. Will they experiment with the top six forwards?
Winnipeg’s top six forwards are clearly identifiable in Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor, Paul Stastny, Nikolaj Ehlers and Dubois.
Scheifele, Wheeler and Connor have been a go-to No. 1 combination for the Jets. But does Ehlers, who shoots left but prefers right wing, deserve more opportunity after scoring 21 goals last season, his fifth straight season with at least that many?
Scheifele is the top center; Stastny, Dubois and Wheeler each has experience at center and wing creating opportunities for coach Paul Maurice to try different combinations on their top two lines.
4. How will Eric Comrie perform as the backup goalie?
Comrie is expected to be Connor Hellebuyck‘s backup this season after he was claimed off waivers from the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 18. The 26-year-old has played nine NHL games in the past five seasons and is largely untested at this level, where he is 3-5-0 with a 4.08 goals-against average and .873 save percentage for the Jets, Detroit Red Wings and Devils. He was originally selected by Winnipeg in the second round (No. 59) of the 2013 NHL Draft.
In the American Hockey League, Comrie was 90-92-34 with a 2.82 GAA, .911 save percentage and 10 shutouts in 207 games from 2013-21.
Laurent Brossoit was Hellebuyck’s backup for the past three seasons and was 25-19-3 in 54 games (45 starts) with a 2.75 GAA, .913 save percentage and two shutouts. He signed a two-year contract with the Vegas Golden Knights on July 28.
5. What adjustments will be made moving back to the Central Division?
After finishing third in the Scotia North Division (30-23-3), sweeping the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup First Round then being swept by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round, Winnipeg will move back to the Central Division this season.
The Jets were the only NHL team to have no division rivals in its own time zone (Central) last season but this season will have five such rivals (the Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars). The Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes are in the Mountain Time zone.
The change in Winnipeg’s playing style was notable last season, and the expectation is for a return to a more physical, grinding type of regular-season game within the division.
“The Central Division has its own unique style and we don’t play any of those teams,” Maurice said last season. “This is a completely different style of game that we’re seeing; not completely, but very different styles of game. All that we would expect to see in the Central is that … the Central would be a beast again next year.”