The Winnipeg Jets announced their 2023-24 opening day roster today, featuring 13 forwards, 8 defensemen, and two goaltenders.
Given the logjam on defence (even with Ville Heinola being injured), this was always the configuration that seemed likely. Winnipeg’s defense group is a veteran one, and their prospect pool on the back end has players at 22 and 23 years of age that are knocking on the door and approaching waiver eligibility.
With injuries to Heinola and Chisholm, Kevin Chevyldayoff is able to push difficult waiver wire decisions down the road.
But those decisions are coming, even if this opening day roster seems rather harmonious from a roster retention point of view, with Alex Jonsson-Fjallby and Kyle Capobionco clearing waivers.
Here are a few stand out thoughts from the Winnipeg Jets opening day roster.
Winnipeg Jets inject unfamiliar feeling of youth into lineup
The Jets have felt like an ageing squad of late, adding veteran defencemen to their group over the last few seasons and having few players under 25 years old make the roster in meaningful roles.
That has changed this year.
Winnipeg has 7 players on their opening day roster who are 24 years or younger. Cole Perfetti (21), David Gustafsson (23), Rasmus Kupari (23), Declan Chisholm (23), Gabe Vilardi (24), Dylan Samberg (24), and Morgan Barron (24) are all Winnipeg Jets.
Ville Heinola (22) would also possibly have been in the mix, but he’ll start the season on the Injured Reserve.
There is real talent there, and important players both for this season and the future. Breaking that group of seven into tiers produces the following groups:
Key pieces for this season (3)
Cole Perfetti, Gabe Vilardi, Dylan Samberg
These are the players that have solidified that they have the potential of becoming more than bottom pair or bottom six forwards. Samberg has top four potential, while Vilardi and Perfetti should both be meaningful top six contributors with room to grow. This trio will be valuable to the Jets not only this year, but for years to come.
Useful contributors with room for more (2)
Morgan Barron, Rasmus Kupari
Morgan Barron is a player who’s skillset I love, and obviously endeared fans with his bravery last season in the playoffs. He’s an effective bottom six forward whom I believe has the hands and sense to grow into a useful middle six contributor. There’s lots players who fit the “middle six” bill on this team, so competition will be fierce and the line combinations interesting.
Kupari is a great skating, six foot three center. Coaches love that, I’m intrigued by it, and as his game becomes more refined there could be more than a bottom six talent there. He finds himself with a much bigger opportunity than he had in LA to climb the lineup, given the depth of the Kings’ prospect pool and forward group.
Show us what you got (2)
David Gustafsson, Declan Chisholm
Gustafsson is a big, checking winger who can create puck possession on the forecheck. The question for him is whether he can find a way to contribute more offence, and it was a nice story for him to bury three goals in the preseason. His two-way game is good for a 23 year old centerman.
Chisholm showed me exactly why he scored 43 points in 59 AHL games last year all throughout the pre-season. I hadn’t seen him play before, and his skills with the puck easily stand out as above average. But he was questionable defensively, and will need a long leash from the coach to prove he can be a low-risk third pairing option in the NHL.
Jets ice huge, sort-of-young team for 2023-24
By the numbers, the Jets have a few interesting anecdotes worth sharing.
First off, they’re the second tallest team in the league according to Elite Prospects, with an average height of 6 foot 2, or 187.92 cm. The tallest? Defending Stanley Cup Champion Vegas Golden Knights, standing at 6 foot 2 or 187.96 cm, just 0.04 cm taller. Which means we can book the Cup parade, baby.
The Jets have always been big, especially when they had Tyler Myers, Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler, and Adam Lowry all standing 6 foot 5 or taller.
Only Lowry remains, yet the Jets have still managed to stay as one of the league’s tallest teams.
When it comes to weight, they’re tied for 10th in the league, averaging 200 lbs. The Islanders were the heaviest at 206 lbs.
But the breath of fresh air is the injection of youth and the larger roles available for younger players on the team, such as Perfetti, Vilardi, and Samberg mentioned above.
That checks out on when it comes to average age across the league, where the Jets rank as the 10th youngest at 27.04 years. Buffalo is the youngest at 25.25 years, while Pittsburgh is the oldest at 29.84, and the only team above 29.
It’s crazy that Kyle Connor (25), Nik Ehlers (26), and Josh Morrissey (28), all still have so much career left. It feels like they’ve been here forever, especially with Scheifele and Hellebuyck both being 30 years old now.
But the Jets have star players in their prime, and with the contract extensions to Scheifele and Hellebuyck official, the urgency for some regular season and playoff success only grows.
Oh, and let it be known that Brendan Dillon now takes over from Blake Wheeler as the new official Old Guy on the team at the ripe age of 32.
Jets defence group is familiarly deep, familiarly mediocre
The Jets defence group is okay.
They have a star number one guy, and basically a bunch of decent top four defencemen who are forced to play the role of the number two and three.
True Stanley Cup contenders have the luxury of playing top pair defenseman in a second pair role.
My valuation of the defence group goes like this:
Josh Morrissey: Number one defenseman
Dylan DeMelo: Number three/four defenseman
Neal Pionk: Number three/four defenseman
Brendan Dillon: Number four defenseman
Dylan Samberg: Number five defenseman (with room to grow)
Nate Schmidt: Number five defenseman
Declan Chisholm: Depth defenceman, maybe number six
Logan Stanley: Depth defenceman, maybe number six
We’ll see if anyone can take a big step and have a monster year on the blueline, filling the hole at the number two and three spot that (in my eyes) are currently occupied by DeMelo and Pionk.
Samberg was taking line rushes over the past few days alongside Pionk on the second pair, and if Samberg can grow and perform in a top four role this year, that’ll be a huge win for the Jets.