The Winnipeg Jets will come into training camp this season with a problem that many teams wish they had. While the team’s top two lines are most likely set, the bottom six has a fair amount of room for players hoping to make an impact and make an NHL roster. The remaining Jets forwards, outside of the top six, will compete come trading camp for probably only three to six spots. With so many players fighting for so few roles, look for training camp to be ultra competitive come September.
The Jets went out this summer and created depth in the organization. Whether from the outside, in free agent pick ups, or from inside, with new and matured prospects ready to make the jump. These players will challenge the incumbents, the players who held these roles for Winnipeg last year. For arguments sake, we’re going to assume a few things.
Scheifele, Wheeler, and Ehlers, the top line for much of last year is going to return as such. For the purposes of this article, we will also assume Little, Perreault, and Stafford all have spots safe. Both Kyle Connor, and Patrik Laine will at the very least begin the season in the NHL as well. That leaves four everyday spots for Jets forwards to fight for, and probably two more roster players that will spend most of their time in the press box. In part two we will be looking at the prospects and the free agents acquired this summer that will attempt to earn a roster spot on this team.
The Free Agents
Winnipeg was quiet again this year during the free agency period. As has become their mantra, the Jets are counting on their draft and development programs to supply them with the bulk of their future roster. They have used free agency, however, to make smaller splashes instead of adding depth to their franchise. They have done that once again this season by picking up Shawn Matthias and Quinton Howden.
Shawn Matthias: Matthias is the guy on this list who will most likely be playing with the Winnipeg Jets this upcoming season. Matthias is a big- bodied forward with plenty of NHL experience. He may find himself fitting onto the third line with some pretty skilled linemates. This season could provide Matthias with a chance to improve on his totals from past seasons. Last year, between the Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche, he scored 12 goals and 16 assists. If Matthias finds himself on the team he will likely play his 500th game this year, providing the Jets with some experience that they need.
Quinton Howden: The second free agent that the Jets picked up this summer was Oakbank, Manitoba’s own Quinton Howden. Howden was drafted 25th overall in the 2010 draft by the Florida Panthers where he has been since. He split time between the NHL and AHL over the last six years. He has amassed 10 goals and seven assists in 92 career NHL games. Howden will likely find himself in the AHL to start the year but may get an opportunity at some point to prove he is an NHLer.
The Winnipeg Jets have been long applauded for their deep prospect lists. These depth charts have only grown deeper with two first round picks this year including of course Patrik Laine. For many hopeful Jets forwards this is bitter sweet. Top end acquisitions are always great for a team, but for individuals fighting for NHL roster spots, these guys are leaving fewer spots up for grabs.
Here are a few prospects that will be fighting to become Jets forwards this season:
Nic Petan: Petan could also have fit into the incumbent’s category as well, but his time with the big club last season drew mixed reviews at best. Petan made the Jets out of camp and played 26 games last year. He spent some time in the press box before playing the last 47 games in the AHL. Petan has all the skill and potential in the world, but there may not be enough space for him. Petan may also be trade bait at some point as a top prospect, but to start the year he is likely a top player with the Manitoba Moose.
Brendan Lemieux: Lemieux was another piece in the Evander Kane trade two seasons ago, and has excited Jets fans with the way he plays. His father Claude Lemieux was one of the best agitators that ever played the game and like father like son. Hard-nosed, mean, with a knack for finding the puck around the net, Lemieux has shown scoring potential and plays right on the edge. He is built to be a great third or fourth liner and will try to make it this year; likely he needs a little more conditioning first.
Brandon Tanev: Tanev played for Providence College last season racking up 28 points in 38 games. He then joined the Moose to end the season and showed management that he has the ability to play pro hockey. Speed is the name of the game for the six-foot winger, and though a long shot, Tanev does have an outsiders chance of finding himself on the fourth line.
J.C. Lipon: Lipon plays a very similar game to Lemieux with possibly a little less offense. Lipon is more seasoned however having spent 3 years playing professional hockey so far. Lipon set a career high last year putting up 30 points in 45 games with the Manitoba Moose before being called up at the end of the season. Lipon played nine NHL games and though he only notched a single assist he did impress with his tough style of play.
Chase De Leo: De Leo played his first year of pro hockey last season and impressed many within the organization. A pure scorer, De Leo managed 19 goals for the Moose, as well as making his NHL debut last season at the end of the year. De Leo has great hands, speed, and is a goal scorer, twice putting up 80 point seasons with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks.
Though many on this list are long shots, we saw last year how important depth is. Injuries happen and when they do, many of these prospects, as well as players such as Jimmy Lodge, Ryan Olsen, and Scott Kosmachuk will get their chances to make an impact. The team that may have gotten the best news this year will be the Manitoba Moose. The Jets continue to build organizational depth and both their pro teams will benefit.
Born and raised Winnipeg sports fan and contributor with The Hockey Writers.