The Winnipeg Jets have made their final cuts and announced their opening roster for the season.
Mitchell Clinton reported the line rushes this morning, and you’d think that those will be the lines for opening night against Calgary.
Murat Ates of The Athletic also tweeted that Nik Ehlers would be ready to go Wednesday, which is great news for the Jets. Of course, you wish he got some preseason reps in and some time alongside Perfetti, but at least he’s ready to start the season.
Here’s a look at the week ahead and some thoughts on the opening night roster.
Dylan Samberg starts season on the second pair
There weren’t a ton of surprises in the line combinations above, but what did fly under the radar was Samberg starting in the top four alongside Pionk.
Given that DeMelo and Pionk are our two only righties, and are in my opinion the team’s second and third best defensemen, that makes whoever plays with Pionk the final top four defenseman in the eyes of the coaching staff.
Samberg looked excellent in the preseason, playing the part of the seasoned veteran early on while playing with the younger rosters, and continuing to show his presence on the backend as the roster became more mature.
Samberg is undoubtedly the team’s second most valuable defenseman, based on his age and trajectory as a future top four defenseman. The question now, is, can he continue to produce results against improved competition? The early assignment in the top four suggests Rick Bowness thinks he can, and will be an interesting storyline to track this season.
Winnipeg has two third lines and no fourth line
Alex Iafallo, Adam Lowry, Mason Appleton, Vlad Namestnikov, Morgan Barron, and Rasmus Kupari make up Winnipeg’s bottom six forward to start the season.
What stands out to me is the current configuration of the bottom two lines.
Those lines could easily be interchanged as the third line. Lowry is the superior defensive center, no doubt, but the flexibility through those six players is enormous. Barron can easily move up to that third line and so can Namestnikov. Kupari, meanwhile, still has plenty of room to grow, but has a useful blend of plus-skating and size.
This depth figures to be a real strength of the team, particularly as injuries and the inevitable challenges of an NHL season come up.
That Axel Jonsson-Fjallby cleared waiver is only a bonus, as I do see him as a serviceable fourth line player, no matter how limited his puck skills are.
With full health, the Winnipeg Jets enter the season with two third lines. The bottom six will be a strength of the team, allowing Bowness to roll four lines without hesitation. As long as the team can stay out of the box, they should be able to wear opponents out, particularly if they can establish the forecheck and stay on it.
I’d bet that Winnipeg currently boasts one of the best fourth lines (on paper) in the league.
Jets start season with rivalry game and an early measuring stick
Winnipeg will start the season Wednesday night in Calgary, taking on the team they just edged out last season for the final Wild Card spot. Many pundits predict a similar outcome for both teams for the season ahead.
The Jets will be playing a motivated Calgary squad, looking to hit the refresh button after a challenging season which resulted in the termination of former coach Darryl Sutter. New coach Ryan Huska makes his NHL head coaching debut, while Jonathan Huberdeau will be looking to bounce back from last year while sporting his new $10.5 million price tag.
The Flames also have an interesting group of younger talent up front on the roster, with Dillon Dube, Matthew Coronato, and Adam Ruzicka. Dube has slowly been developing into a middle six spark plug capable of scoring 20 goals, while Ruzicka is a towering, 6’4 forward who has quietly started his 75 game career with 31 points so far. Coronato, selected 13th overall in 2021, is the highest first round pick the Flames have had on their roster since selecting Matthew Tkachuk 6th overall in 2016.
Winnipeg’s home opener will be Saturday night against Florida, for what should be an entertaining game.
Today’s Florida Panthers are similar to the 2020 Jets, with high end forward, good-to-great goaltending (depending on which Bobrovsky shows up early this season), but a defense group that is questionable at best. Stalwarts Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour will start the season on the injured reserve.
Countering that, of course, is Sasha Barkov, who is a few tiers above Mark Scheifele as a center, and Matthew Tkachuk, who is a top five winger in the league, depending on who you ask.
The Jets will get an early measuring stick against last year’s surprise Cup Finalists, and get to do it against their former coach, Paul Maurice.
It’ll be a fun few games to get the season started before the mayhem kicks into full gear.