The Winnipeg Jets earned a playoff berth for the second consecutive season in 2018-19, finishing second in the Central Division with 99 points. Winnipeg finished just one point shy of the Central Division champion Nashville Predators, setting them up for a difficult first-round matchup with the St. Louis Blues. The eventual Stanley Cup champions bested the Jets in six tightly-contested games, setting the stage for a long and difficult off-season in Winnipeg.
The Jets were forced into making some tough decisions thanks to the hardest cap crunch the franchise has faced since its move to Winnipeg. Jacob Trouba was sent to the New York Rangers in a trade for defenseman Neal Pionk and a 2019 first-round pick. The Jets will hope Josh Morrissey can continue to improve and fill the void left by Trouba’s departure. The team announced an eight-year, $50M contract extension for Morrissey on September 12. Unfortunately for Winnipeg, Morrissey is the blue-line’s lone bright spot heading into the 2019-20 season. Dustin Byfuglien has yet to report to the team as he continues to contemplate retirement, while Ben Chiarot and Tyler Myers both departed in unrestricted free agency.
With Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine both in need of a new contract, Winnipeg couldn’t attribute the appropriate funds to their depleting defensive corps. After prolonged holdouts from both players, Winnipeg was able to come to terms with both Laine and Connor just days before the start of the regular season. Laine opted for a bridge contract with a length of two years, keeping his cap hit at a manageable $6.75M. The Jets were able to lockdown Connor long-term, inking him to a seven-year, $7.14M AAV extension. Given the state of their blue-line, Winnipeg will need their high-end offensive talent to carry them in 2019-20 if they want to keep their playoff streak alive.
Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler should continue to be the driving force behind Winnipeg’s top line in 2019-20. The pair played over 1100 minutes together at 5v5 last season, with Connor being their most common third wheel. Connor saw 520 5v5 minutes with Scheifele and Wheeler and figures to find his way back there before too long, but Nikolaj Ehlers is expected to be in that spot when Winnipeg opens their season Thursday in New York. Bryan Little will serve as the team’s No.2 centreman, but he’s questionable for Thursday’s opener with an upper-body injury. If Little is unable to go, Adam Lowry projects to centre Laine and Andrew Copp on line two, while Connor will skate with Jack Roslovic and Mathieu Perreault on line three.
Mark Scheifele (C)
Scheifele will be relied on by the Jets more than ever in 2019-2020. The 26-year-old centre is fresh off a career season in which he tallied 38 goals and 46 assists. His shot volume is a little concerning, but Scheifele has proven himself to be an elite shooter, registering at least an 18.4 SH% in each of the last three seasons. His steady 5v5 production combined with his ideal usage makes Scheifele a safe bet for another point-per-game campaign in 2019-20.
Blake Wheeler (RW)
Wheeler registered exactly 91 points for the second straight season in 2018-19, scoring 20 times to go with an absurd 71 helpers. Wheeler is an average shooter with a career SH% of 10.6%, but he excels at getting the puck on net. His shot volume means he has 30-goal potential given a little bit of puck luck, but I wouldn’t bank on him notching another 70 assists this season. The team around him undoubtedly got worse, but Wheeler remains a point-per-game player at a very thin position.
Patrik Laine (LW/RW)
Laine’s 2018-19 campaign was the perfect example of the dangers of relying on an elite SH%. While his SH% stayed at a reasonable 12.2% in 2018-19, Laine still experienced a 14-goal drop off from the year before. He needs to improve on his shot volume if he wants to become a more reliable goal scorer, but his defensive struggles make it unlikely we’ll see a drastic increase in Laine’s ice-time. The man advantage will continue to be a reliable source of goals for Laine, but a lack of assists makes him very one dimensional. He’s a great offensive talent and a starting right-winger in fantasy hockey, but he’s still being a touch overvalued in drafts this season.
Kyle Connor (LW)
Armed with a new contract, Connor is set to enjoy another productive season in 2019-20. Having just joined the team, Connor is expected to start the season on the third line as he continues to get up to speed. It shouldn’t be too long before he reassumes his spot on the top line that resulted in a 34-goal, 32-assist season for Connor a year ago. His presence on Winnipeg’s elite power-play gives his production a very stable floor. Now that he’s finally signed, you can draft him with confidence.
Nikolaj Ehlers (LW/RW)
Ehlers was the biggest beneficiary of Laine and Connor’s contract holdouts as he was rewarded for a strong pre-season with a spot next to Scheifele and Wheeler on opening night. He’s certainly capable of a 30-30 season in that spot and is worth rostering as a result, though he does lack job security. Ehlers posted back-to-back 60-point seasons in 2016-17 and 2017-18 before his production fell off last season in a more limited role.
With Big Buff currently out of the picture, Winnipeg’s top-four is underwhelming, to put it lightly. Morrissey is an above-average defenseman in all situations, but this blue-line lacks the offensive prowess it’s possessed in recent years. The newly-acquired Pionk will be thrusted into the spotlight as the team awaits Byfuglien’s decision. Pionk should see time on the top pair as well as on the second power-play unit in Byfuglien’s absence. Pionk registered six goals and 26 points in 73 games for the Rangers last season but struggled at 5v5 to the tune of a 43.9 CF%.
Nathan Beaulieu and Dmitry Kulikov are also set to take on larger roles after neither saw more than 17 minutes a game last season. 2019 first-round pick Ville Heinola has made the opening night roster and could also factor in for some power-play time early on. He is expected to be in the lineup on Thursday, but Winnipeg will have to make another decision on Heinola’s immediate future before the team’s ninth game on October 17. Playing in nine or more regular season games will burn a year of Heinola’s entry-level contract, so the 18-year-old will need to impress early and often.
Dustin Byfuglien (D)
There is an undeniable amount of risk here, but with all of the uncertainty surrounding his future, Byfuglien is sliding to the bottom of drafts in standard leagues right now. He could very well never play another game in his NHL career, but you simply can’t find a defenseman with this kind of upside at the tail-end of your draft. There is no timetable on Byfuglien’s decision, so taking him will require a good amount of patience. Again, it’s all about minimizing risk early on draft day, and you can’t reliably draft him as a starting defenseman on your fantasy team, but I’m certainly in on Big Buff in later rounds when the price is right.
Josh Morrissey (D)
Trouba’s departure and Byfuglien’s uncertain future have helped pad Morrissey’s fantasy value heading into the 2019-20 season. He should be featured on the top power-play unit so long as Byfuglien isn’t playing, which could very well be the whole season. A full 82 games on the man advantage with the likes of Scheifele, Wheeler, and Laine could do wonders for Morrissey’s production, but it’s far from a guarantee. His 5v5 production alone is enough to keep him relevant in standard leagues, so you’re getting a lot of value out of Morrissey’s current ADP of 178.
Connor Hellebuyck will continue to handle a full starter’s workload for the Jets in 2019-20. The 26-year-old netminder struggled with consistency at times last season but still managed to record a .913 SV% along with a 34-23-3 record across 63 appearances. Winnipeg’s loss of quality defenders is concerning, but Hellebuyck is a talented goalie that will receive plenty of goal support and 60-plus starts. He remains a bona fide No.1 fantasy goalie.
Laurent Brossoit will reassume his role as Hellebuyck’s backup this season. He impressed in his 21 appearances last year, posting a .925 SV% to go with a 13-6-2 record. He could be worth spot-starting in the right matchups, but he’s definitely not worth dedicating a full-time roster spot in standard leagues save for a Hellebuyck injury.
Projected Scoring Leaders
|P. Laine (39)||B. Wheeler (59)||B. Wheeler (83)||P. Laine (15)||B. Wheeler (28)|
|M. Scheifele (34)||M. Scheifele (45)||M. Scheifele (79)||M. Scheifele (10)||P. Laine (23)|
|K. Connor (31)||D. Byfuglien (36)||P. Laine (65)||K. Connor (10)||M. Scheifele (19)|
Jets in the DFO Top 300
- 25 — Mark Scheifele (C)
- 39 — Blake Wheeler (RW)
- 52 — Patrik Laine (LW/RW)
- 57 — Connor Hellebuyck (G)
- 78 — Kyle Connor (LW)
- 125 — Dustin Byfuglien (D)
- 139 — Nikolaj Ehlers (LW/RW)
- 165 — Josh Morrissey (D)
|1||NASHVILLE PREDATORS||45-27-10||100 PTS|
|2||DALLAS STARS||44-28-10||98 PTS|
|3||ST. LOUIS BLUES||45-30-7||97 PTS|
|4||COLORADO AVALANCHE||43-28-11||97 PTS|
|5||WINNIPEG JETS||44-31-7||95 PTS|
|6||CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS||40-32-10||90 PTS|
|7||MINNESOTA WILD||37-36-9||83 PTS|
The Winnipeg Jets simply took too many steps backward on defense in the off-season for us to confidently project them to finish inside the top three of a stacked Central Division. These new-look Jets could really struggle to get the puck out of their own zone if Byfuglien does opt to hang up the skates, and they are on the playoff bubble as a result. They have enough talent up front and in goal to secure a Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, but a lackluster defensive corps seems to have put Winnipeg’s window of cup contention on hold.