Jets: 3 Things To Watch for at Training Camp

Hockey is back, as the Winnipeg Jets are set to begin training camp this week. They just recently released their groupings and schedule for the festivities this week. Despite the barrage of noise surrounding their names throughout the offseason, Mark Scheifele and Connor Hellebuyck are still members of the organization.

From taking a long-term outlook throughout the majority of the offseason, it’s time to analyze the short-term and what the 2023-24 Jets will look like. With fans being permitted to attend these practice sessions, here are a few things to watch for as the players hit the ice in an organized fashion for the first time in months.

The Battle for the Second-Line & Fourth-Line Centre Positions

All eyes are on the centre position, with Scheifele under the microscope already due to his pending unrestricted free agency (UFA) status. In terms of the on-ice lineup questions surrounding the Jets, the second and fourth-line centre positions are among the most interesting to keep an eye on.

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Cole Perfetti, Gabriel Vilardi, and Vladislav Namestnikov are all candidates to inherit that role, with Perfetti being a solid bet, due to his inability to stay healthy on the wing. Vilardi was the main return in the Pierre-Luc Dubois trade, and another piece of that deal is in the running for the fourth-line centre position.

Cole Perfetti Winnipeg Jets
Cole Perfetti, Winnipeg Jets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Rasmus Kupari was the 20th overall selection of the 2018 NHL Draft, and he has played in 130 career NHL games. In those games, he has nine goals, 20 assists, and 29 points in a very minimal role for the Los Angeles Kings. Whether or not he will win the fourth-line centre role is to be seen, but he is the wildcard when it comes to this battle. Could a change of scenery resurrect his career?

Other names in the hat for that battle are David Gustafsson, who has seven points in 74 career NHL games, and potentially Namestnikov if the Jets choose to roll with a veteran presence on what projects to be their best fourth-line in years.

Questions About the Defence Core Remain

All of the noise this offseason was dedicated to Scheifele and Hellebuyck, and rightfully so, but flying under the radar is the fact that Brenden Dillon and Dylan DeMelo are also pending UFAs. The Jets are bringing back the same defence core from a season ago, with one extra body in the mix. The recently-signed Declan Chisholm is no longer waivers-exempt, and would almost certainly be claimed if he was placed on waivers.

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The Jets also re-signed Logan Stanley to go along with Kyle Capobianco for the names on the outside looking in. Is a trade on the horizon, or are the Jets willing to roll the dice on the waiver wire with one of their young and developing defenders?

Declan Chisholm Manitoba Moose
Declan Chisholm, Manitoba Moose (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

With the same personnel grouping returning for another season, will we see a change to the Jets’ defence pairings at all? I would label that unlikely, as head coach Rick Bowness recently stated in an interview that the Jets were “one of the better defensive teams in the league last season” and he is correct. They found themselves within the top 10 in many defensive categories, and that’s exactly the style of hockey the Jets are trying to play.

You will likely see Josh Morrissey and DeMelo resume their top-pairing minutes, Dillon and Neal Pionk carry forward the second-pairing role, and young standout Dylan Samberg will continue his progression on the third-pairing with Nate Schmidt.

Young Prospects Who Could Impress During Training Camp

Every year, there are at least two or three young prospects that impress the fans and coaching staff during training camp. With all the young talent the Jets have up front, someone is going to impress and make local headlines over the next couple of weeks.

Could it be Chaz Lucius, who put up incredible numbers in his six Western Hockey League (WHL) games before suffering an injury? Or could it be Nikita Chibrikov, who was the Jets’ 2021 second-round pick, and had an incredible showing at the Young Stars tournament? Or maybe Brad Lambert, who dazzled his way through the WHL last season as a member of the Seattle Thunderbirds?

One of the young and incredibly talented forwards is bound to break out, and training camp is a great time to do so with plenty of fans and media watching. Danny Zhilkin was impressive in 2022-23, and he will look to follow that up this season in order to secure a high-leverage spot on the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League (AHL). The Moose project to be a young, developing team, due to all the talent that is seemingly joining the organization this season.

While these three things are notable in their own right, there are situations not on this list that will need monitoring over the next three weeks. Adam Lowry was named captain of the Jets organization recently, how will that affect the dynamic between players and coaches? What are Hellebuyck and Scheifele’s comments going to be regarding their pending UFA status?

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