The Winnipeg Jets’ 2020-21 season was full of ups and downs and ended with a second-round sweep at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens. In this series, we’ll take a look back on the season, player by player, and grade their individual performances with an eye toward their future with the team.
Top Line Production
Throughout the Jets’ 2020-21 season, their top line wasn’t shy when it came to showing off their goal-scoring skills. Connor, Mark Scheifele and Jets’ captain Blake Wheeler combined for an impressive 159 points. And who was the team’s leading goal scorer? You guessed it… Connor.
Putting up a stunning 26 goals, the 24-year-old finished the season ranked ninth in goals scored in the NHL, just below Kirill Kaprizov. The left winger beat the hockey powerhouses Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby in goals scored, who both earned 24. I’m not saying Connor should be placed in the same caliber as these league veterans considering he’s still a youngster, but there’s no question he deserves more credit than he’s given in the NHL.
In this season, Connor tallied 50 points in 56 games, including 24 assists. His performance alongside Wheeler and Schiefele was excellent, and the chemistry that line had was undeniable when it came to producing offensively.
In Paul Maurice’s end-of-season media availability he praised the Jets’ core saying, “We’ve got a good, strong, coming of age core, there’s still some work to do for sure… I think this is the first group of guys that we’ve had that were kinda completely committed to Winnipeg, to the Jets.”
The coach also stated in regards to developing the core, “The pieces around the core are probably the most work we’ll do around it.” If I were to take an educated guess, Maurice will continue to group this top-line trio together partially because of their offensive skill and maybe more so because he doesn’t like change.
After watching the horror that ensued in Round 2 of the playoffs, Jets fans did have some concern about Connor’s ability to perform without Scheifele by his side.
Jets’ Offense Doesn’t Patch Up Defensive Holes
In the Jets’ series against the Montreal Canadiens, Connor walked away with a total of three points, which one could argue is not enough for the forward who signed a seven-year extension in 2019 with an average annual value of $7.14 million.
After Scheifele was punished with a four-game suspension for charging the Habs’ Jake Evans in Game 1, the domino effect his absence had on the Jets’ lineup was painful to watch. Connor could have sat on the sidelines for the next two games and it wouldn’t have made a difference. His next time getting on the stat sheet was Game 4 with two assists.
Connor needs to be an asset on the ice regardless of who his linemates are. Injuries are a given in the NHL and while he hasn’t been a victim to many, he needs to step up when his teammates suffer. The forward had a plus/minus of minus-4 this season and his linemates weren’t any better. Schiefele was also a minus-4 and Wheeler was a whopping minus-17. There are some clear holes on this line and while the main priority of a forward isn’t to defend, it still needs to be on your to-do list.
Again, I don’t think changes will be made to this lineup next season unless a major trade happens, but Connor and the rest of the Jets’ big three need to do some work in the D-zone.
Connor Proving His Self-Discipline
Connor has proven himself as a player who prioritizes putting his best foot forward at all times. He has kept his fitness and health in check, his only notable physical fault to-date being a lower-body injury that occurred back in 2017.
It’s clear Connor knows where he needs to improve and really goes to work in those areas (which is another reason why Maurice needs to be on him for that minus-4 from this past season). The forward delivered 18 hits and dished out the same amount during the 2019-20 season. While his hits remained the same, his penalty minutes were more than halved.
The left winger had 34 penalty minutes in 2019-20 and only 12 in 2020-21. This speaks to Connor’s discipline as a player in the NHL. It’s easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment and throw in a slash when you shouldn’t, which can cause major frustration for the coaching staff and players on the team. Luckily, Connor is not a player the Jets have to be concerned about when it comes costing the team in penalties.
Showing Up in Overtime
This report card wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the series-winning goal against the Edmonton Oilers that the Jets’ No. 81 scored in triple overtime.
After holding Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, arguably the deadliest duo in the NHL, to an empty score sheet for the first two games of the playoffs, the Jets were clearly in it for the long haul. While the series was cut short, their final game definitely wasn’t.
As the Jets and Oilers battled into triple overtime, many thought the players with fewer minutes were going to have to step up and score because the star players were practically running on empty. At 6:52 into triple overtime, Connor snuck out from alongside the boards to score the series winner. This moment showed Jets fans why they absolutely need him on their team’s roster.
Connor’s two-way game could use some improvement, but next season he will likely return to his place on the Jets’ top line and continue to score like the underrated, offensive threat he truly is.
Do you think there will be a major trade for the Jets in the offseason? What did you think of Connor’s season overall? Let me know in the comments below.
Final Grade: A-
Courtney is a 22-year-old recent graduate from the University of Western Ontario, earning her Honors Bachelors of Arts degree in Media Information and Technoculture and will be completing her Master of Media in Journalism and Communication beginning in September 2021. She combines her longtime love for hockey, journalism, and sports media as she covers the Winnipeg Jets and Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers.