Winnipeg Jets’ depth and talent go hand in hand with 1-3-0 start

Feb 28, 2023; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey (44) skates past fans before a game against the Los Angeles Kings at Canada Life Centre. Mandatory Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 28, 2023; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey (44) skates past fans before a game against the Los Angeles Kings at Canada Life Centre. Mandatory Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports /

The Winnipeg Jets lost their third game of the season last night, falling 5-3 to the Vegas Golden Knights.

An empty net goal makes that score seem a more lopsided than it was, and it was a very entertaining game. Winnipeg carried the play for large stretches of time, but Vegas netminder Logan Thompson stymied the Jets in the critical moments.

It wasn’t enough, and the Jets enter the second weekend of the season with a 1-3-0 record.

What does it mean?

Jets’ great depth but medium talent makes 1-3-0 start no surprise

Stretches of games like this were always going to be the possibility for this year’s Jets, and, while I think they’ll finish 3rd in the Central or in a Wild Card spot, their forward group leaves room for performances like this.

Puck possession, but not enough goals.

The Jets ice a deep, but not superbly talented team. Winnipeg has carried the game and played well in two of their three losses, and that is partially due to their ability to play four lines deep.

They controlled significant stretches of the game against Calgary, and the same can be said for last night against Vegas. In both games, they outshot their opponent by more than 10 shots.

But having the puck, controlling the puck, and keeping it in the opposition territory is one thing. Scoring is another entirely. And that reality may continue to show itself as the Jets outplay and outwork opponents but fail to cash in.

Let’s be real here, too. Logan Thompson was outstanding list night and made two timely A+ saves that certainly impacted the game. Jacob Markstrom was also excellent on opening night.

Did Winnipeg get goalie’d, or is this just the tradeoff between depth verse talent?

It could be a little bit of both. But Winnipeg’s stars are doing their part, as Mark Scheifele has yet to be held off the scoresheet, and Kyle Connor has four points in four games on the back of his three point home opening night. Josh Morrissey also has four assists so far.

That’s where the depth needs to convert possession into goal scoring.

Yes, the eye test favors Winnipeg early, and there are positive signs. Fancy stats admire their puck possession ability, with the Jets sitting fourth in the league when it comes to Shot Attempt Percentage, controlling 56.7% thus far.

We’ll see if the team’s fortunes can change in the coming games. It’s a tough league, and moral victories lose their flavor rather quickly. The Jets certainly cannot afford to sewer the season in October.

Rasmus Kupari has standout performance against Vegas

Given the noise around Gabe Vilardi, his 20 goal breakout season last year, and his reputation as a former 11th overall pick, Rasmus Kupari came to Winnipeg decidedly as the “other guy” in the trade for Pierre-Luc Dubois. Vilardi was the centrepiece top six forward, Alex Iafallo was the versatile, consistent middle six singer, and Kupari was a nice younger player to add to an NHL roster.

He might be more than that.

With Kupari, it’s not a question of what he brings to the table. The tools are obvious. It’s a more a matter of how he uses them and what opportunities he can create and cash in on.

The athletic ability stands out. He’s six foot three and skates like the wind with above average hands. And it’s those attributes that mad Kupari so noticeable against Vegas, stripping pucks off players, rushing the entire sheet of ice with his speed, and flashing some nifty moves. He’s also been good in possession along the boards.

Yet he leaves that game with zeroes across the board, save for a hit and three shots on goal.

Good, but not quite in line with the impact I perceived visually.

The final evaluation for me will be assessing his vision, hockey IQ, passing execution, shot, and puck/game management.

There’s no doubt to me that he evolves into a good middle six forward. Whether there’s more than that in the long term depends on how well he can convert those talents into meaningful differences in a hockey game.

In Winnipeg, the opportunity is there to find out.

Winnipeg has yet to give up less than four goals in a game

No one expected the Jets to ice a top 10 defence core this season. And while the Jets have okay depth on the back end, they certainly have a talent deficiency.

This team has yet to give up less than four goals in a game (though Florida did score two meaningless goals late in that game), despite icing one of the best goaltenders in hockey.

It’s this leakiness that is undoing all of the positive puck possession mentioned above. Winnipeg has generally played well. But they’re still offering up too many grade A chances for their opposition, and they’ve allowed some real momentum killers to go in.

It’s good see a veteran like Nate Schmidt being scratched after a poor start to the season. The veterans shouldn’t be untouchable this year, given the depth around them and the age of those players trying to break into the NHL. He’s also just been poor early on.

Regardless, this amount of goals against is unsustainable for a team that is trying to “win now”. Winnipeg direly needs another defenceman capable of winning minutes as a number two or number three.

They don’t have that. It will continue to a “defense by committee”, but so far, it looks like what we all thought: that the team’s blueline will be a question mark all season.