The Winnipeg Jets scratched and clawed their way to a 5-3-1 record in October, a good start considering all the adversity thrown their way early on in 2022-23.
Despite not excelling consistently as a team as they adapt to new head coach Rick Bowness’ new systems and taskmaster tendencies, some individual players have started out the season quite well. Here, we’ll take a look at three in that camp.
Latest News & Highlights
1) Mark Scheifele
Mark Scheifele entered the season with much to prove to the new coaching staff and fans alike, and he’s off to a promising start.
Through nine games, Scheifele leads the Jets with six goals and has given noticeably more effort without the puck than last season, where his laziness on the defensive side often hurt the team and was unbefitting of an alternate captain. Despite his shortcomings, Scheifele retained his A even after Bowness shook things up by stripping Blake Wheeler of the captaincy.
The goal against the Los Angeles Kings, where Scheifele battles in front of his own net to free up the puck and eventually springs himself on a breakaway, is sequence one wouldn’t have seen from him last season and an example of his recommitment to giving effort in every zone.
Despite lighting the lamp six times, Scheifele is yet to record an assist. He’s never before gone nine games without an assist in his 12-year NHL career.
“It’s strange. I don’t think I’ve ever in my career had more goals than assists. And then not even having an assist on the year, it’s a little funky,” Scheifele told the Winnipeg Free Press before the Jets fell 2-1 to the Vegas Golden Knights and he had a three-game goal streak snapped. “I’ve been giving some guys some chances, so I know I’m not just a selfish player. You just want to get wins in here, and if that’s a matter of scoring or getting an assist or just making a good play in the D zone, that’s what we want to do here and that’s what we’re building here.” (from ‘Is Scheifele a puck hog? Nah,’ Winnipeg Free Press, Oct. 31, 2022.)
For the first eight games, Scheifele played with Kyle Connor, who usually scores in droves but is severely snakebitten thus far, with just one empty-net goal.
Assistant coach Marty Johnston said Scheifele’s hard work is paying off and helped him snap a three-game pointless mini-slump.
“We kind of challenged them a few games ago to get to the slot. In the last three or four games, Mark has gotten a couple right in the dirty area of the ice,” Johnston said. “He’s a super-skilled player that can score from the outside, but he’s getting goals from the inside. We have to make sure we get to the net front, and he’s done an excellent job of that.”
2) Cole Perfetti
Was Cole Perfetti ready for prime time? He sure was. The 2020 10th-overall pick has three goals and three assists already and is averaging nearly 16 minutes per game in a top-six role.
It’s quite the opportunity for a 20-year-old, and he is making good on the new coaching staff’s trust in him to provide some of the offensive punch lost when Paul Stastny and Evgeny Svechnikov departed in the offseason. His hockey IQ and skill with the puck, are quite honestly, pretty scary.
Perfetti, who sustained a season-ending injury in February on a hard check from the Seattle Kraken’s Jamie Oleksiak — during a stretch he was playing well on the top six — has been bullied physically from time to time again; opponents have taken some questionable or straight-up dirty runs at the undersized top prospect. He has put himself in some vulnerable positions by turning away from his pursuer and is quickly discovering that to be a full-time player in the best league in the world, one cannot get away with what one could in juniors or the AHL.
“Every team, I’m sure they have their description of players of the opposing team before the game and if some teams think they can play physical against him, that’s how you shut him down, then that’s what they think,” Pierre-Luc Dubois said recently. “But (Perfetti) is creative, he’s smart, he’s elusive, he’s fast. He’s smart enough that whether another team wants to play physical on him or whatever they want, he seems to always find a way out of there.” (From ‘Perfetti learning on the fly,’ Winnipeg Free Press, Oct. 27, 2022.)
For the first eight games of the season, Perfetti played with Dubois and Blake Wheeler on the second line, but was recently elevated to the first line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. Expect him to keep playing big minutes.
3) Connor Hellebuyck
As Connor Hellebuyck goes, so do the Jets.
That’s been a truism for a few seasons now. While the collective goal coming into the season was certainly to lighten the load for the workhorse netminder, he’s already had many busy nights and stolen them some points — against the New York Rangers (40 saves in a 4-1 win,) Los Angeles Kings (44 saves in a 6-4 win), and Vegas Golden Knights (46 saves in a 2-1 overtime loss.)
Hellebuyck’s 2021-22 season was subpar by his own sky-high standards, but it was mainly due to being overworked when it came to both number of starts and the number of high-danger chances faced per start. By March, he was obviously dead tired and the quality of his play dropped dramatically.
In the first month of the season, Hellebuyck was rock solid, with a 4-2-1 record, 2.41 GAA, .931 SV%, and one shutout. His Goalie Points Share — an estimated number of points contributed by a goaltender due to his play in goal — and Goals Saved Above Average are both top six in the NHL. He has also allowed only seven goals on 89 high-danger chances, an sparkling percentage of .921.
The defensive tightening up Bowness wants has not yet come to fruition yet — Hellebuyck is facing an average of 35.28 shots per game, still too high. Although backup David Rittich’s pair of starts haven’t inspired much confidence, if Hellebuyck is going to face this much rubber again this season, Rittich will need more starts to keep Hellebuyck fresh for the stretch drive.