The 2020-21 season is scheduled to begin Jan. 13. With training camps opening this week, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Winnipeg Jets, who will play in the North Division.
Coach: Paul Maurice (eighth season)
Last season: 37-28-6 (.563 points percentage); ninth in Western Conference, lost to Calgary Flames in Stanley Cup Qualifiers
1. Stastny bolsters top-six forward group
The Jets got impressive production from their top forwards last season, and things could be even better this season. They were the only team in the NHL with five forwards who each scored more than 50 points (Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor each scored 73 points, Blake Wheeler 65, Patrik Laine 63 and Nikolaj Ehlers 58). To replace forward Bryan Little, who missed all but seven games last season with a head injury and who has been advised not to play this season, the Jets acquired Paul Stastny in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 9. Stastny played 19 games for the Jets in 2017-18, primarily between Ehlers and Laine, after being acquired in a trade and scored 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 17 Stanley Cup Playoff games to help them reach the Western Conference Final. Maurice said other combinations could be used, so finding the most effective deployment of their assets, and quickly, will be a key this season.
2. Rebuilding the defense
The Jets are continuing the process of establishing a new identity with their defensemen following the departures of Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot after the 2018-19 season, and Dustin Byfuglien, who became an unrestricted free agent April 17, 2020 when he and the Jets mutually agreed to terminate his contract. The restructured group includes Dylan DeMelo, acquired in a trade Feb. 18, 2020 and signed to a four-year contract Oct. 7, and Derek Forbort, signed to a one-year contract Oct. 11. DeMelo is the likely partner for No. 1 defenseman Josh Morrissey and Forbort could play with Neal Pionk, who led the Jets in average ice time last season (23:23 per game) to make up Winnipeg’s top four. Nathan Beaulieu, Tucker Poolman, Luca Sbisa and Sami Niku account for the third pairing and depth.
3. Hellebuyck’s impact
More of the same will be required from Connor Hellebuyck, who won the Vezina Trophy voted as the top goalie in the NHL last season. Hellebuyck (31-21-5, 2.57 goals-against average, .922 save percentage) led the NHL in shutouts (six), shots faced (1,796) and saves (1,656); the Jets allowed the seventh-most shots per game (32.6). Hellebuyck’s ability to make up for the shortcomings of the defense is likely to be a big factor in Winnipeg’s story this season.
Making the cut
Decisions need to be made during training camp on the bottom six forwards. Jack Roslovic remains a restricted free agent but is a likely candidate for the third line with Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp. Veteran center Nate Thompson was signed to a one-year contract Oct. 10 and could be on the fourth line with Mathieu Perreault and Mason Appleton. Forwards Jansen Harkins, David Gustafsson and Kristian Vesalainen will be trying to earn roster spots as well.
If there are no preseason games, it would likely make it difficult for defensemen prospects Ville Heinola, Dylan Samberg or Logan Stanley to crack the roster. Each is close to being NHL ready and will be watched closely in training camp.
Most intriguing addition
Stastny brings a known quantity to the Jets, who scrambled to replace Little last season by moving Wheeler to center and later trading for Cody Eakin prior to the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline. Stastny scored 38 points (17 goals, 21 assists) in 71 games for Vegas last season and still possesses good hands, high hockey IQ and a reliability factor that will be key. In addition, Stastny was previously a strong fit for the locker room and is seen as a potentially important influence on Laine, who looks to improve his responsibility and consistency.
Biggest potential surprise
Forbort wasn’t a high-profile signing but the Jets have a need for what he can do as a strong penalty killer and as a regular partner for Pionk in the top four. This will not be new territory for Forbort. From 2016-19 with the Los Angeles Kings he averaged 20:33 of ice time per game, much of that as a defense partner with Drew Doughty, and was second on the Kings in shorthanded ice time per game (2:23) behind Doughty (2:36).
Ready to break through
Appleton begins his third NHL season after scoring eight points (five goals, three assists) and averaging 11:10 in ice time per game in 46 games last season. He’s a dogged grinder and penalty killer and may have reached an NHL comfort level where a bigger opportunity with more responsibility could be in front of him. The 24-year-old would seem to have the tools to fill the tenacious role that forward Brandon Tanev played for Winnipeg from 2015-19.
Heinola (undrafted on average in fantasy) was fantasy-relevant during his NHL trial (five points in eight games) last season and has a ceiling of emerging as the Jets’ power-play quarterback and best fantasy option at the position over Pionk and Morrissey as early as this season. Heinola also had five assists in seven games for Finland at the 2020 World Junior Championship. — Pete Jensen
Kyle Connor — Mark Scheifele — Blake Wheeler
Nikolaj Ehlers — Paul Stastny — Patrik Laine
Andrew Copp — Adam Lowry — Jack Roslovic
Mathieu Perreault — Nate Thompson — Mason Appleton
Dylan DeMelo — Josh Morrissey
Derek Forbort — Neal Pionk
Nathan Beaulieu — Tucker Poolman