Jets season preview: Dubois needs to bounce back

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The 2021-22 NHL season starts Oct. 12. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lineup for each of the 32 teams. Today, the Winnipeg Jets.

Coach: Paul Maurice (ninth season)

Last season: 30-23-3; third in Scotia North Division, lost to Montreal Canadiens in Stanley Cup Second Round

3 KEYS

1. Improved defense

The acquisitions of Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt through offseason trades gives Winnipeg a deeper group of experienced defensemen. Having finished 10th in the NHL in goals against per game in each of the past two seasons (2.71 last season, 2.83 in 2019-20), the Jets’ aim was not for a return to competence but a desire for more impact. With a physical, tough-to-play against Dillon and a quick, mobile Schmidt, the Jets believe the upgrades will bear fruit. Each is projected to play a top-four role, with Schmidt paired with Josh Morrissey and Dillon with Neal Pionk.

2. Dubois rebound

Pierre-Luc Dubois scored 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 41 games with the Jets last season after being acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 23. The 23-year-old, who had no goals and three assists in seven Stanley Cup Playoff games, finished the season with an average of .46 points per game, the lowest of his four NHL seasons. He will need a better pace if he’s to be effective in Winnipeg’s top six forwards.

3. Is Comrie the right backup?

Eric Comrie, who is 3-5-0 with a 4.08 goals-against average and .873 save percentage in eight NHL starts for the Jets, New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings, will be Winnipeg’s backup behind Connor Hellebuyck to start the season. The 26-year-old has been a strong performer in Winnipeg’s system, with a record of 53-38-8, a 2.57 GAA, .910 save percentage and six shutouts with Manitoba of the American Hockey League over the past four seasons.

Video: Winnipeg Jets 2021-22 Season Preview

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Position battles

Kristian Vesalainen, the No. 24 pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, is getting an audition on his off side as the third-line right wing, playing with center Adam Lowry. Vesalainen has two assists in 17 NHL games. Twelve of those games came last season, when the 22-year-old also played in four of Winnipeg’s eight Stanley Cup Playoff games. Winnipeg is also looking at Evgeny Svechnikov at right wing. The 24-year-old signed an American Hockey League contract Aug. 20. The Jets are also looking for the best fit for their fourth line among forwards David Gustafsson, Dominic Toninato, Riley Nash and Jansen Harkins.

Most intriguing addition

Schmidt was acquired from 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. His abilities come with a welcome, energetic dressing-room presence, something Winnipeg has missed since Dustin Byfuglien stopped playing after the 2018-19 season. “You can’t have enough guys like that on your team and ‘Buff’ was kind of our guy like that before, where he was kind of like never in a bad mood except for walking into this (interview) room,” captain Blake Wheeler said.

Biggest potential surprise

Logan Stanley‘s development surged last season, his third as a pro since being the No. 18 pick of the 2016 NHL Draft. The 23-year-old defenseman saw his first NHL action and is only beginning to assert his size (6-foot-7, 228 pounds). He figures to make even more of an impact after scoring four points (one goal, three assists) in 37 games and three points (two goals, one assist) in eight Stanley Cup Playoff games for the Jets last season.

Ready to break through

Gustafsson’s NHL exposure has been limited since he was selected in the second round (No. 60) of the 2018 NHL Draft and turned pro in 2019. The 21-year-old has one goal in 26 NHL games over the past two seasons and Maurice has voiced trust in his defensive game. That presents an opportunity to take the center’s role on the fourth line this season. Gustafsson had no points in four games with the Jets and scored 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) in 22 games for Manitoba last season.

Fantasy sleeper

Schmidt (undrafted on average in fantasy) brings some renewed upside after being acquired by the Jets. He scored at least 30 points in three consecutive seasons for the Vegas Golden Knights from 2017-20 and could benefit from even-strength exposure to elite forwards Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor and Wheeler. The Jets are one of the safer offensive teams in fantasy, making Schmidt an intriguing deep sleeper. — Rob Reese

Projected lineup

Kyle Connor — Mark Scheifele — Blake Wheeler

Paul Stastny — Pierre-Luc Dubois — Nikolaj Ehlers

Andrew Copp — Adam Lowry — Kristian Vesalainen

Jansen Harkins — David Gustafsson — Riley Nash

Josh Morrissey — Nate Schmidt

Brenden Dillon — Neal Pionk

Logan Stanley — Dylan DeMelo

Connor Hellebuyck

Eric Comrie

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