The Winnipeg Jets flew high as a team in November as they posted an 8-3-0 record and sit second in the Central Division, one point behind the Dallas Stars with two games in hand.
While it’s tough to find anyone on Rick Bowness’ resilient club who isn’t doing their job or didn’t contribute to the much-hotter-than-expected first quarter of 2022-23 in some way, three players in particular excelled in November, players we’ll highlight here.
1) Josh Morrissey
You know you’ve been playing well when the team’s Twitter account pays tribute to you in their bio.
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“Beware of Josh Norrissey,” the @NHLJets account bio currently reads, referring to the nickname the defenseman has gained of late due to his elite play. The 27-year-old is playing the best hockey of his career and it’s tough to fully describe how revelatory he’s been in every facet of the game. No player has been a bigger part of the team’s success thus far.
Empowered by Bowness to jump up in the offence, the Jets’ leading point producer racked them up at a ferocious pace throughout November, scoring five goals — including two overtime winners — and adding 12 assists for 17 points. He was also named the NHL’s second star of the week for the week ending Nov. 27.
Morrissey had five multi-point games last month and entering December, is tied with the New York Rangers’ Adam Fox for third among all NHL defensemen in points with 25.
Morrissey, who has logged an average of 23:01 per game and has a plus-eight rating, has responded in a massive way to what Bowness told him during the summer — that he wants the 2013 first-rounder to be in the top-10 for Norris Trophy voting at the season’s end.
If his production remains steady, he’ll shatter his previous career point high of 37 and be much higher than top-10 in voting. What will Josh Norrissey do next? Just keep watching, because this could be just the beginning.
2) Pierre-Luc Dubois
Pierre-Luc Dubois is the player who best embodies the hard-working, aggressive style Bowness wants the team to play.
Of course, that style of play wasn’t unfamiliar to the hulking power forward, who proved with a rebound campaign last season that if there’s a thick of things to be in, he’ll be in the thickest part.
He’s proving that once again, recording seven goals and seven assists for 14 points in November (this included four multi-point games and his 100th point as a member of the Jets on Nov. 29.) He’s succeeded even with his line being in flux — Kyle Connor has been a staple on his left, but the 24-year-old has had a rotating cast on his right, with Sam Gagner, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, and Morgan Barron occupying the spot in the past three games alone.
It doesn’t seem to matter much to Dubois, who drives play regardless of who’s around him, never shies away from getting into the dirty areas net front or from using his body, and irritates opponents with the best of them. There’s no such thing as a low-event game for him and he is tied for third in the NHL in penalties drawn with 15 (he also leads the Jets with four power play goals.)
While the blockbuster trade that brought him to Winnipeg from Columbus nearly two years ago has stabilized the Jets’ middle nicely and looks pretty good for Kevin Cheveldayoff and company currently — especially with Patrik Laine injured again for a bottom-feeding Blue Jackets team — its uncertain whether Dubois will ultimately be franchise player.
His unwillingness to sign long-term in Winnipeg and his offseason comments about wanting to play for the Montreal Canadiens created a firestorm and put the Jets in a bind. But that was then — right after a highly-disappointing season where Dubois was not the only player openly questioning his future in Winnipeg — and this is now, with the Jets playing well and sustainably. Winnipeg is not as attractive a market as Florida, New York, or Vegas, but being a winner goes a long way into making a place desirable.
Dubois’ one-year contract and pending RFA status make him easy to trade at the deadline, but if the Jets are still in a playoff position by then, they’d be best to keep him as an in-house rental and try in the offseason to convince him that Winnipeg is a place he can win Stanley Cups and be a cornerstone.
3) Blake Wheeler
Blake Wheeler dominated in the Jets’ most recent contest, scoring the fourth hat trick of his career in a four-point night as the Jets thumped the defending Cup champion Avalanche 5-0.
It wasn’t a one-off performance, but rather the culmination of a very nice 13-point month for the 36-year-old and Jets’ highest-paid player, who is now playing with Mark Scheifele and Cole Perfetti and is benefitting from their skill sets.
Questions abounded before the season began about how Wheeler would respond after Bowness dropped a bombshell by stripping him of the captaincy he’d held for six seasons. Would he pout and be a toxic influence, or would he accept his lesser role as a necessity for the franchise to move forward?
Thus far, it’s been the latter, and Wheeler may be a better leader without the “C” than he ever was with it. His ultra-serious disposition was not becoming of a captain, and he ultimately failed to live up to the responsibilities one must shoulder — first and foremost, at building a winning culture. He even admitted those responsibilities became a heavy burden on him.
Bowness removing some of the pressure and stressing leadership by committee has not only made the team culture much better, but has also allowed Wheeler to simply focus on his game. He looks re-energized and like he’s having fun for the first time in a long time — more like the player who had back-to-back 92-point campaigns and less like the player who was a massive liability over the past two seasons and was a combined minus 32.
Wheeler is no longer in his prime but is still an excellent playmaker, and his 13 assists and 20 points in 21 games lay that bare. Now that his ice time is being managed correctly — he is playing about 17-and-a-half minutes a night opposed to 20-plus under Paul Maurice — he is much more effective.
“This is clearly the best he’s played… He’s skating a lot better right now,” Bowness said of Wheeler recently. “He knows where he is in his career and he’s doing everything he can to help this team win and help this team get better. His play is speaking for itself.”
Declan Schroeder is a 27-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.