Winnipeg Jets 2022-23 Training Camp Battles: Defencemen

The Winnipeg Jets will enter training camp with an extremely crowded defence core. After trading for established veterans such as Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt, as well as having multiple highly-drafted prospects ready for NHL duty, they have built the stage for an interesting training camp showdown.

Related: 3 Biggest Challenges Facing Jets Head Coach Rick Bowness

Training camp begins on Thursday, Sept. 22, and new head coach Rick Bowness will have plenty of decisions to make early and often. While the offensive group is more established, the defensive side has plenty of questions.

Defenders Who Established Roles Last Season

Under the former regime, the top four defense remained the same for most of the season. Last season, the Jets’ top pairing consisted of Josh Morrissey and Dylan DeMelo, with Dillon and Neal Pionk on the second pair.

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Morrissey and DeMelo were an outstanding duo during a rough season for the Jets. According to MonePpuck.com, they held an expected goals percentage (xG%) of 57 percent and a Corsi percentage of 51.4 percent. They were the most consistent pairing all season long and the only ones that found chemistry early on. Dillon and Pionk started off strong, but were split up down the stretch when they struggled.

Josh Morrissey Winnipeg Jets
Josh Morrissey, Winnipeg Jets (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images)

Going into the 2022-23 training camp, the top pairing of the Jets last season seems to be the only one with a guaranteed role. The question for these two remains whether or not Bowness will elect to split them up to instil more balance across his pairings.

Jets Prospects Expected to Battle

The issue facing the franchise is that the Jets’ young defence core is all looking to make the NHL jump at the same time. Ville Heinola is 21 years old and has been regarded as the organization’s top defensive prospect. Dylan Samberg is a 23-year-old defender who can skate well for his size and took big strides in his puck-moving abilities last season.

Logan Stanley has been given the third-pairing role for the past two seasons but has failed to keep that spot and succeed in it. This is without mentioning Leon Gawanke and Declan Chisholm, who were both dominant for the Manitoba Moose in the AHL last season.

Logan Stanley Winnipeg Jets
Logan Stanley, Winnipeg Jets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Assuming Bowness chooses to keep the four established veterans in the lineup, this leaves just one spot open for all of these prospects to make a name for themselves. It’s never a bad thing to have too many defencemen, but general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s lack of movement this offseason will result in many prospects having their development stunted.

The frontrunners for the job are Heinola, Samberg, and Stanley, who have an advantage over the others. Stanley will not longer be waiver exempt, meaning he would have to clear waivers if the Jets wanted to send him down to the Moose. Whether or not he would get claimed is another conversation, but the other two defencemen can go up and down as the organization chooses.

Predicting the Jets’ 2022-23 Defence Pairings

Trying to predict how the defence core will look on opening night is a nightmare. The possibility of a defenceman being traded still exists, and nobody knows what Bowness; decision-making process will be.

Assuming Morrissey and DeMelo stay on the top pairing, I believe the real training camp battle lies on the left side of the second or third pairing. If Samberg can beat out Dillon, I believe this is what Bowness will roll with. He did a great job with the Dallas Stars.

Josh MorrisseyDylan DeMelo
Dylan Samberg / Brenden Dillon Neal Pionk
Ville HeinolaNate Schmidt

On Tuesday, the Jets released their roster and schedule for the 2022-23 training camp. Schmidt, Dillon, Pionk, Samberg, and Heinola were all placed on the same team, a clear indication that the coaching staff is holding an open tryout on defence, and those are the players on the “bubble”.

Do any of the young prospects have a realistic chance at beating out a veteran? How much will Heinola and Samberg being waiver exempt play a role in this? These are the main questions to follow as training camp gets started this week, and Bowness gets his first look at his new squad.


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