Top 3 key Winnipeg Jets to watch against Calgary Flames tonight

Sep 27, 2023; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Calgary Flames center Adam Ruzicka (63) checks Winnipeg Jets center Cole Perfetti (91) in the second period at Canada Life Centre. Mandatory Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 27, 2023; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Calgary Flames center Adam Ruzicka (63) checks Winnipeg Jets center Cole Perfetti (91) in the second period at Canada Life Centre. Mandatory Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports /

We’ve all had our turkeys, we’ve all gotten to see Connor Bedard’s NHL debut, and it’s time for what we’ve waited all summer for.

Which is the puck dropping on another season of Winnipeg Jets hockey.

The Jets battle the Flames tonight at 9:00pm.

Here are the three key players that will be critical to Winnipeg success.

Cole Perfetti, C

Perfetti starts the season with a huge opportunity in his young NHL career. He has shown a clear ability to handle the pace of the league, and as he gets more reps, his sublime hockey sense and hands will shine through.

But in his first regular season NHL game at center, he’ll have his work cut out for him. The Flames are deep at center, boasting Elias Lindholm, Nazem Kadri, and Mikael Backlund. All three are defensively sound, and all three have been in the league for roughly a decade or more.

Just treading water in the faceoff dot will be a plus. But with top line center Mark Scheifele and grinding captain Adam Lowry set to handle the difficult assignments, Perfetti may get some opportunities against the Flames’ second line of Yegor Sharangovich, Nazem Kadri, and Matt Coronato.

Kadri is solid defensively, but Sharangovich does not have that reputation, while Coronato is playing in his second NHL game.

That’s the matchup Perfetti will want. Power play time will be great for building up his confidence too.

Brendan Dillon, LHD

Brendan Dillon was solid last year, tying Dylan DeMelo for third on the team in ice time per game among defenders. He was even more important on the Jets penalty kill, playing the 2nd most on a per game basis in that role.

He’ll need to continue to bring that value.

But he’s been demoted to the third pair to start the season, seemingly usurped by the young Dylan Samberg as Rick Bowness’ first choice in the top four.

Frankly, Dillon looked shocking in the preseason and while I don’t expect that to carry a ton of weight as a veteran player, he has something to prove from my point of view.

Penalties also tend to spike early on the season as the players adjust to whatever the league has decided their cracking down on this year. His role on the PK could be more important than normal.

If Dillon can provide positive minutes in a third pair role alongside Nate Schmidt, the Jets could have a real plus brewing on their third pair. Given the newfound depth on offence the Jets possess, they’ll have decent players in front of him, no matter which trio of forwards Bowness sends out to complete the unit.

Alex Iafallo, LW

This section could be the entire third line, but I said three players not lines, so I’ll focus on the new guy, Iafallo.

Iafallo is just a good, well rounded hockey player. He’s fast, has solid hands, and isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty on the forecheck. He’s also seen some time playing the bumper position on the power play, suggesting the coaching staff sees some finish and headiness in his abilities.

The Jets have often had a plus-third line, buoyed by years of Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp combining to outplay and outchance their opponents. That identity has slowly disappeared over the past few seasons, and this is the first year in a while where the Jets have reason to believe they have an excellent third line.

And that’s primary because of the addition of Iafallo. Appleton has the speed, Lowry the two-way gumption and size, and Iafallo is the swiss army knife of the three, capabale of playing sound defensively while also showing decent puck skills and offensive awareness.

He’s an underrated part of the return the Jets got for Pierre-Luc Dubois, and will be front and center if the Jets’ third line can effectively challenge the top guns of the Flames, or outproduce their counterparts that are similarly placed on the depth chart.

Bonus: The entire top line

Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, and Gabe Vilardi make up the Jets entire top line. Scheifele will play his first season without Blake Wheeler, and if this Jets offense is going to be anywhere near lethal, these three will be the sparkplug.

The combination is interesting: Connor is shifty, quick, and dangerous. Scheifele is calculated and cerebral. And Vilardi is powerful and crafty.

There will be lots of intrigue surrounding them in Calgary tonight.