Saturday, 9 July 2011

Assembling Lines

While general managers around the league are doing their best to assemble their respective lineups and field the best teams possible, I thought it might be a good time to look at the Winnipeg Jets lineup in terms of who is still around from the former Atlanta Thrashers team and who has been added in recent weeks. I have held off making any sort of commentary on the team's personnel simply because GM Kevin Cheveldayoff was still moving pieces in and out through the free agency period. However, with most of the high-profile names off the market, let's take a look at how the Winnipeg Jets' lineup looks as we settle into July.

Let's start with the players who are were under contract with Atlanta, and who are scheduled to start the season in Winnipeg as it stands.

  • Nik Antropov (80) - Antropov has always been somewhat of an underachiever. The guy has good hands and great size, but he needs to be pushed to do more with both of those attributes. Personally, Antropov has a chance to really endear himself to Winnipeg fans if he plays with some blue-collar toughness and shows a willingness to go the extra mile to win, but if his past seasons are any indication, it might be another year of what-could-have-been for #80.
  • Alexander Burmistrov (8) - Burmistrov might have the largest upside on the Winnipeg roster at this point. The shifty Russian has good speed, great hands, and a nose for the net. Head coach Claude Noel may have to work with Burmistrov a little in the same way he did with former Moose forward Sergei Shirokov in order to get his defensive game a notch or two higher, but Burmistrov looks to be a key piece in building through youth on the Winnipeg roster. A second-line wing position is not out of the question, and he could push for a top-line spot if he plays harder than he did in Atlanta.
  • Patrice Cormier (45) - Cormier is probably best remembered thus far in short career for the vicious elbow he threw on Mikael Tam of the Quebec Remparts in 2010, but I see big things for Cormier. He's a leader, he captained the 2010 Canadian World Junior team, and he's won both gold and silver medals at the World Junior Championships. Cormier can score, he's physical, and he plays with reckless abandon. While the latter two need to be put to good use through an agitator's role, Cormier brings everything a coach wants to the ice and leaves it all on the ice. I like Cormier, and I think he could be a great competitor if he can control his elbows and his tenacity.
  • Evander Kane (9) - Like the previous two youngsters, Evander Kane brings speed and skill to the ice on every shift. Kane looks like he'll be a legitimate power forward in this league once he grows into his frame, and he could be every bit as dominant as Keith Tkachuk was for the previous version of the Jets. Like Burmistrov, Kane needs to work on his defensive play a little more, but he's looking like he belongs in the NHL with every shift.
  • Bryan Little (10) - Little is a fabulous playmaker, and really played well alongside Ilya Kovalchuk during their Atlanta days. Little can score, but he's a fabulous passer and resembles a young Cliff Ronning in terms of his skill. If the Jets can find Little a scorer to play with, there shouldn't be any problems with their top line as Little looks like he could be platooned as the top centerman of this team for a long time. If Little can find some magic with his wingers, Winnipeg fans may have their next favorite scoring duo in the same vein as Hawerchuk-Elynuik or Zhamnov-Selanne.
  • Tim Stapleton (14) - Stapleton should be no stranger to the fans at MTS Centre this season. Stapleton played some of his best hockey against the Moose as a member of the Toronto Marlies before getting traded to Atlanta and assigned to the Chicago Wolves. Stapleton has always been a decent scoring threat in my view. While his skating has improved for NHL standards, he is a very serviceable foot soldier who can put the puck into the net when asked. Stapleton played very well at the 2011 World Hockey Championships, and has the distinction of scoring the last goal in Thrashers history.
  • Chris Thorburn (27) - Thorburn isn't a blue-chip prospect or a flashy NHL scoring machine. With Thorburn, you get what you see. He's a hard-nosed, blue-collar player who won't shy away from a battle in the corner. Thorburn does have good hands as his nine goals while playing on the third and fourth lines would indicate, but he needs to find an extra gear to help his speed during transition to the attack.
  • Blake Wheeler (26) - While it seems that Wheeler's career has needed a restart a couple of times, this could be his big break. He comes to a new city where the team needs scoring, and Wheeler knows how to do that. He has a big body and can hit, and he knows how to score. 17 points in 23 games with Atlanta last season are a good indication that Wheeler could be the first big star to emerge from the Winnipeg youth rebuild, especially if he comes to camp with a desire to prove everyone that he deserves top billing in the NHL.
  • Jim Slater (23) - Slater is a very serviceable forward. He does what is asked of him, and he plays the game hard. He hasn't scored a ton of points thus far, but his blue-collar effort is exactly what this teams needs. He brings his lunchpail to work each and every day, and Slater should be centering the third- or fourth-line when the season opens.
  • Dustin Byfuglien (33) - "Buff" is unquestionably the heart-and-soul of this team in the Winnipeg fans' eyes. His smile is infectious, he seems to love playing the game, and he really sounds excited to come to Winnipeg. There's no doubt that Byfuglien had himself a great season last year on the Atlanta blueline, and there will certainly be a lot of Byfuglien jerseys in the stands on opening night for the Jets. If Byfuglien can continue his great play for this season and going forward, his name may one day sit alongside the great names of past Jets.
  • Tobias Enstrom (39) - Perhaps one of the most underrated, overlook defencemen in the game in Enstrom. Enstrom has never finished a season with less than 32 points in his four campaigns thus far, and put up his best totals last season with 10 goals and 51 assists. Everything about this kid will remind fans of Teppo Numminen - he plays hard, he blocks shots, he makes other players look better, and he does it without asking for any fanfare. Enstrom is going to be a star in the NHL once the rest of the NHL realizes who he is and how well he plays the game.
  • Ron Hainsey (6) - What is it about Hainsey that keeps him from joining the ranks of good offensive defencemen? His 6'3" frame should make him an excellent defender, but he's not. Like Antropov, Hainsey has great size and vision, but his work ethic leaves a lot to be desired. He can play the game at the NHL level, but he never seems to play to his full potential which is especially disappointing given the amount of money he's taking home. Hainsey's lackadaisical efforts won't go unnoticed by Winnipeg fans who won't take kindly to his laisser-faire attitude.
  • Johnny Oduya (29) - Oduya plays the game with a blue-collar approach. He works hard, he tries harder, and he'll just as easily grind out a game along the boards as he will scoring goals. Oduya could be that stabilizing presence in front of the goaltenders much in the way Brooks Orpik helps out in front of Marc-Andre Fleury. Oduya's has great balance and can skate well, and should be a solid defensive defenceman in a pairing with an offensive blueliner.
  • Mark Stuart (5) - Stuart won't win any scoring titles or hardest shot competitions, but he's a bonafide leader and a solid defenceman. Stuart captained the 2004 USA World Junior team that captured gold, and recently captained the 2011 US World Hockey Championship team. He's another gritty defenceman that will sacrifice the body to stop a shot rather than trying to score a goal. Stuart might find himself in the 5-6 defenceman pairing, but he seems to be valuable part of the team when it comes to leadership.
  • Ondrej Pavelec (31) - The former Chicago Wolves netminder will be back at MTS Centre this season. Pavelec played extremely well last season for the Thrashers, and will be the top man in the nets for the Jets this season. While he was booed for his efforts as a member of the Wolves every time he was here, there is no doubt that Winnipeg fans will warm up to Pavelec as a member of the Jets thanks to his incredible ability and solid play. If he can be as good as he was last season, it will take no more than one period of hockey for fans to accept him as one of their own.
  • Chris Mason (50) - Mason is a respectable goaltender who can step in at any time. Only once has he finished with a win-loss record below .500 in his career, and he was part of the 2007 Canadian World Championship team that won a gold medal. Mason plays the game well fundamentally, and really is a 1B option rather than a back-up goaltender. If there is a position of strength for the Jets, goaltending is probably it.
From the guys who are guaranteed to play in Winnipeg, there is one player who is still working on a contract with the team.
  • Zach Bogosian (4) - Bogosian should be the cornerstone for the franchise on the blueline. He's young, he's fast, he hits, he scores, and he's a great defenceman. While his stats aren't indicative of his impact on the game, he is an excellent skater and makes other players better. He's still young, though, and the Jets are working on getting the restricted free agent's name on a contract to help bolster the blueline.
And then there are the re-signings and the new guys. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has made some shrewd moves thus far, and is certainly taking the youth movement to heart as he builds the new Jets from the ground up. The "NN" indicates no number selected by the player at this time.
  • Andrew Ladd (16) - The captain is back after signing a five-year deal. While the money seemed a little high, there's no replacing a guy like Ladd on the roster. He does everything for the team - scoring, hitting, grinding - and leads the team in the locker room. Ladd has won a pair of Stanley Cups already, and it appears he'll be around when some of the younger players hit their stride with the Jets. Hopefully a third Stanley Cup will also follow.
  • Eric Fehr (NN) - The Winkler, Manitoba native will come home after spending the few seasons with Washington. Shoulder problems aside, Fehr provides some additional scoring punch to a lineup that desperately needed a scoring threat. Acquired in a trade, Fehr could be the first-line winger that the Jets need as long as he stays healthy. Here's hoping the Manitoba boy can become a legitimate star with the Jets.
  • Rick Rypien (NN) - Rypien has been a crowd favorite in Manitoba since his first days with the Manitoba Moose, and his free agent signing brings back a player that Jets fans know very well. Rypien should provide some excellent third- or fourth-line grittiness that this team can use. Rypien isn't afraid to mix it up, but he's a much better agitator and energy guy than he is a fighter, and he should get every opportunity to get under opposing players' skins next season.
  • Tanner Glass (NN) - Glass was brought in for the same reason as Rypien, and it will be expected of him to play physically and responsibly on the defensive side of the puck. Glass is also a leader in the locker room as he captained his NCAA Dartmouth team as well as the Rochester Americans in the AHL. Glass is a gritty player who isn't afraid to drop the gloves, but should provide much more than just the occasional fight.
  • Jason Gregoire (NN) - The former member of the NCAA's North Dakota Sioux is an excellent two-way forward. Gregoire can score, but plays the game very responsibly in his own end. In short, he'll be a welcomed addition if he cracks the lineup. The Winnipeg native was drafted by the New York Islanders, but he never played for the team. He'll be given a shot to suit up with the Jets at home.
  • Kenndal McArdle (NN) - McArdle is a good pick-up by Cheveldayoff as he shed the team of the aloof Angelo Esposito. While McArdle can certainly use the change in scenery as it seems he was wasting away in Florida, he'll need to come to camp with a renewed sense of commitment as McArdle could push for a roster spot if he can rediscover his 2007 form when he won a gold medal with the Canadian World Junior squad and the 2007 Memorial Cup with the Vancouver Giants.
  • Aaron Gagnon (NN) - Gagnon played very well with the AHL's Texas Stars last season. While he has appeared in a handful of NHL games, Gagnon could use a little more seasoning in the AHL ranks in my view. Gagnon does have talent, though, and he could crack the Jets lineup in a couple of years if he continues to make waves in the AHL.
  • Randy Jones (NN) - Jones is a solid, physical defenceman who should compliment the offensive blueliners the Jets have on their roster. Jones played very well with the Tampa Bay Lightning last season, and does the intangible stuff that coaches love in terms of hitting, blocking shots, and eating up minutes on the penalty kill. Jones doesn't score often, but he will be noticed by Jets fans for sacrificing his body.
  • Derek Meech (NN) - Meech has been steadily improving since his debut in the NHL 2006-07. Meech plays very responsibly in his own zone thanks to his work with the Detroit Red Wings, and he has even logged some time as a winger. Meech could pair with either Bogosian or Jones in the new Winnipeg lineup, and his speed could be a very valuable asset as Meech looks to secure a roster spot.
  • Mark Flood (NN) - Flood was an interesting acquisition, and one that HBIC really liked. Flood became one of the top players with the Moose as he settled into his role, and showed a great shot and solid defensive play throughout the course of the AHL season last year. Flood might be a longshot to make the roster out of camp, but he does have excellent vision offensively and plays the game really well.
With players like Peter Mannino, Akim Aliu, Ben Maxwell, Spencer Machacek, Riley Holazpfel, Carl Klingberg, Paul Postma, and Brett Festerling looking for roster spots, the lineup on opening night won't have a lot of star power, but there will be a very blue-collar group of players who will work hard for the fans at MTS Centre. Festerling and Postma are probably the two players who are ready to take the next step, but the competition on the blueline for roster spots will be tough.

Personally, I'm looking forward to what the Jets will show in their first season back in Winnipeg. I like the hard-working qualities that a lot of these players possess, and it seems that this lunchpail gang will be asked to outwork every team it plays. Hard work is a skill that one develops, and this team looks like it has the makings of a very solid team that will put its nose to the grindstone every night.

The only question will be how many games will the new-look Jets win?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Peter Santellan said...

The new Jets don't look like a team that will threaten anyone on paper, but given that they'll have the support they never had in the last few years in Atlanta, the young players especially should be able to feed off of that, and I think that alone should be worth a couple of wins. Goaltending is solid, if unspectacular, and if the Jets can get the 2009-10 Antropov and not last season's version, I think the Jets could squeak into the playoffs.

Regardless, I look forward to the new Jets stepping onto the ice, and I hope to get the new Jets jersey whenever it gets announced.