The Winnipeg Jets and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff had arguably one of their most active offseasons since the team arrived in Winnipeg in 2011. Chevyldayoff traded future draft picks for Nate Schmidt and Brenden Dillon to revitalize his defence group. These moves gave the team an above-average defence on paper, which they have not had since Dustin Byfuglien left in 2019. The Jets also signed Evgeny Svechnikov to an extremely affordable contract, which has been a major boost to the forward core.
With these moves and the majority of the Jets’ core being signed through 2023-24, they’ve established a three-year contention window. This article will cover how these new acquisitions are performing 30 games into their first season with the Jets.
The best move that the Jets made this offseason was acquiring Schmidt from the Vancouver Canucks for a third-round pick in the 2022 draft. The main reason the Jets were able to acquire him for just a third-round pick was that he was coming off of a down year with the Canucks. in 54 games, he had only five goals and 10 assists and had a career-low plus-minus at minus-7. With four years left on his contract at $5.9 million, the Jets saw it as a perfect opportunity to buy low on a top-four defenceman, with the Canucks looking to move the contract.
Schmidt has had a bounce-back season with the Jets and has also been a major factor in his defence partner Josh Morrissey having a bounce-back season. After totaling only 15 points in 2020-21, Schmidt has already racked up 17 points in 30 games in the 2021-22 campaign. Those totals put him on pace to break his career-high in points when he recorded 36 points with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18.
One day before trading for Schmidt, the Jets traded two second-round picks to the Washington Capitals for Dillon. He has recorded one goal and seven assists as a member of the Winnipeg Jets, but scoring points isn’t what the Jets traded for. They traded for a 6-foot-4, 220-pound defenceman that’s good in the defensive zone and plays extremely physical.
Once the Jets traded for Dillon, it was almost a guarantee that he would be playing alongside Neal Pionk on the Jets’ second pairing. Thirty games into the season, and they have been one of the Jets’ most reliable at defending scoring chances against. According to Moneypuck.com, Dillon and Pionk have outscored their opponents 21-14 at 5-on-5, along with accounting for 53.5 percent of the shot attempts and 50.4 percent of the expected goals.
Through 30 games, Pionk has shown he is the perfect defence partner for Dillon. He is more of a puck-moving, offensive-minded defenceman that allows Dillon to flourish in the role that he’s played in throughout his career. After signing a four-year contract in the 2021 offseason worth $5.875 million a year, he has recorded two goals and 14 assists so far this season. If he is able to play a majority of the games, he will be well on his way to breaking all of his career highs. Playing with Dillon allows him to take more chances offensively and play the offensive defenceman role he’s played the last two seasons with the Jets and play it effectively.
The Jets added Schmidt and Dillon in the offseason to replace Tucker Poolman and Derek Forbort in their top-four. This has been a massive upgrade that needed to be done sooner rather than later with most of the Jets’ core entering their primes. With these moves, they’ve become a much better team defensively, and once these players get more comfortable in the Jets’ system, they should be able to play at a level high enough for them to be a playoff team.
The low-risk, high-reward signing of Svechnikov during training camp has paid off for the Jets. He was offered a professional tryout, and after impressing the Jets in pre-season, he later signed a one-year contract. He was producing in Winnipeg’s top-six, playing alongside Pierre-Luc Dubois and Kyle Connor before being moved onto the fourth line.
But when the Jets are at their best, Svechnikov is playing inside their top-six. It’s not a direct result of his play, having only recorded two goals and six assists throughout 28 games in 2021-22. It’s him playing inside the top-six that allows the Jets to have three scoring lines, which makes them one of the hardest teams in the league to match up against. He might not be lighting up the scoresheet every night, but he plays a much bigger role than the stats would indicate.
Svechnikov has been an underrated factor in Connor and Dubois’ success this season. When they’ve played together, Moneypuck.com says they have outscored their opponents 7-4 at 5-on-5, which is a higher number of goals than any other linemate that Connor and Dubois have played with. While he has been hurt, the Jets have tried other wingers alongside Connor and Dubois, such as Jansen Harkins and Kristian Vesalainen, and it hasn’t worked as well as it did with Svechnikov.
With that line being effective, it also allows Mark Scheifele to play with Nikolaj Ehlers and Paul Stastny, and that line has outscored their opponents 4-0 at even strength so far this season. He allows interim head coach Dave Lowry to have three scoring lines, which is something the Jets did not have at their disposal last season.
Altogether, the 2021 offseason seems to have been a success for the Jets. After a rocky start which included multiple COVID issues and a coaching change, the team still sits only three points outside of a playoff spot with a win-loss record of 15-11. If they want to go on a run and make the playoffs, these new additions will have to be major factors in the second half of the season. So far, the Jets have shown the potential to be a contender in the Western Conference, but they’ll have to do it consistently if they want to make a deep playoff run.