The Winnipeg Jets have built an impressive core of young players, and their drafting record is nearly immaculate. But sometimes things don’t go as planned, and this year wasn’t perfect.
The Winnipeg Jets have learned that development isn’t exactly linear. After getting guys like Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor, Josh Morrissey, Patrik Laine and Mark Scheifele to bust onto the scene from the first round of the draft, things have suffered a bit this year.
The Jets are still good, to be sure. But they had 114 points last season and were second in the NHL in goals scored and fifth in goals allowed.
There were hopes that another youngster would break out this season, as it seems like we’ve been spoiled with one every year. But Mason Appleton got little playing time, Kristian Vesalainen went to the KHL, and Jack Roslovic hasn’t quite looked the part.
Despite sparse playing time (25 games) and unimpressive offensive production (1G, 3A), Sami Niku has looked pretty solid for stretches. He’s not very big, but he’s more physical than one might think, he can skate well, and his vision seems to be a plus.
But by no means has he broken out. Roslovic has 21 points (7G) in 70 contests, and his defense isn’t a plus and he’s been poor in the faceoff circle (43.7%).
I won’t even delve into Connor Hellebuyck, but I can imagine the Jets envisioned a bit more for him when he signed a six year extension after a record-breaking 2017-2018.
It’s even been a tough year for the established youngsters. Nikolaj Ehlers has struggled with injuries, playing in just 52 games, though he has played well in them. Ditto Josh Morrissey, who is much-needed but has suited up in just 59 games.
Patrik Laine’s struggles have been heavily detailed, both here and elsewhere, and I see no reason to pile on. It’s been a tough year. Like I said, development isn’t always linear. Doesn’t mean he won’t bounce back at any moment.
Kyle Connor’s sophomore season has looked a lot like his rookie season, which is not a complaint. Lots of dudes have outlier rookie seasons, but Connor’s on almost exactly the same pace as last season. He looks good.
Mark Scheifele is still 25, but it’s his sixth full season. To his credit, he has a career high in goals and is just five assists shy of a career high there. Three away in points, as well. He’s slowed down the scoring pace but is still more than a point per game player.
Now, all of this has made a slightly disappointing year for both the Jets and their fans. I suppose the jury is still out on that one, as a Stanley Cup would certainly ease any concerns fans have about the franchise.
But the team is worse than they were a year ago, and a lot of their players didn’t take steps forward. That’s okay, it doesn’t mean they’re all worse or won’t contribute in the future.
Jack Roslovic could break out next season. Ditto Kristian Vesalainen. Patrik Laine could turn around and put up 50 goals at any given moment. We saw him catch fire earlier this season, so we know it’s in there.
It’s just, sometimes things don’t always go as planned. But they’re still in the race, leading their division. And for the kids, it could click in an instant. It just didn’t click very easily this season.