As a follow up to my previous article “Jets’ 3 Biggest Underachievers”, I will now look at the Winnipeg Jets’ three best performers of the 2019-20 season thus far.
I feel the top two names on this list are locks and deserve to be there with the third player being more debatable. These three players have been nothing short of excellent the entire season and have shown great consistency in their games.
Picking these three players went well beyond their point totals and plus/minus. Their consistency and expectations from the start of the season are being considered along with some deeper stat lines that most people overlook.
3 – Mark Scheifele
While maybe not as strong as the past two seasons, Jets’ first-line centre Mark Scheifele has still had another impressive campaign in 2019-20. He currently leads the team with 54 points and sits with a minus-one rating. He is tied for first in power play goals with seven and second in power play points with 16.
One of the most impressive stats for Scheifele this season is his team-high shooting percentage of 19.8%, which is just below his career-high shooting percentage of 20% in the 2016-17 season. He also leads all forwards on the Jets in average ice time – 21:32 per game. He has registered a point in 35 of 51 games, which is three more than the next closest Jets player.
I am sure a lot of people will argue Scheifele should not be on this list due to his defensive play being subpar this season, but I must disagree. Yes, his defensive play has not been where it was the past two seasons, but I feel it is a team issue more than Scheifele himself.
The Jets are on pace for 244 goals, down significantly from 2018-19 in which they had 272 goals for. The team’s goals against are on pace to be higher this season (257) than what it was last season (244) yet Scheifele is still on pace for 86 points, which is right where he has been the last two seasons.
His plus/minus still hovers around even on a team that only has six players above zero and that includes Bryan Little and Nathan Beaulieu who have only played a combined 28 games this season due to injuries.
With all that said, I rest my case why Scheifele deserves to be on this list but that’s not to say the honourable mentions of Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor do not deserve to be on here as well. I decided to choose three and unfortunately they just missed the cut, but they have also had spectacular seasons as well.
2 – Neal Pionk
Talk about the surprise of the season, Neal Pionk has exceeded the Jets’ expectations and then some. The 24-year-old had some big shoes to fill being involved in the Jacob Trouba trade between the New York Rangers and the Jets and he has delivered.
Pionk has put up career-high numbers in multiple categories thus far and we still have 31 games of the regular season left to play. He currently has 32 points, which is a new career high, and 27 of those are assists – also a career high. He has averaged just over 23 minutes per game of ice time which is – you guessed it – another career high.
Pionk leads the Jets with 18 power play points and I think the most impressive part of that is the team started the season with Josh Morrissey on the top power play unit instead of him. He is currently projected to smash previous career highs in shots and hits, as well as his Corsi For Percentage (CF%). He currently sits with a CF% of 50.8% – a major jump from his career average of 45.7%.
Pionk has been the Jets’ most consistent defender and quite possibly their most consistent all-around player this season. At this point, many people have even flipped sides as to who won the trade that sent Pionk to the Jets last summer, simply because all the guy has done is produce.
1 – Connor Hellebuyck
By far the easiest selection of the three was goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. The guy has been lights out for most of the season and he has stolen multiple games that the Jets had no business winning. The 26-year-old has been involved in a lot of Vezina Trophy talks thus far and for good reason.
His numbers have slipped a bit over the last two weeks but his overall numbers still look strong. He currently sits with a .917 save percentage and 2.74 goals against average, which is right around his career average.
Hellebuyck has four shutouts on the season – just two shy from his career high of six that came in the 2017-18 season that saw him go runner-up for the Vezina Trophy to Pekka Rinne. He has a quality start percentage of .575%, which is second-best to the .609% he put up in the 2017-18 season.
The most impressive thing out of all these numbers is the fact that the Jets have not been the best defensive team this season and they give up a ton of shots and high-danger chances each game. Hellebuyck has had to stand on his head and do so while sporting a heavier workload due to backup goaltender Laurent Brossoit struggling.
I look forward to watching how these three players close out the rest of the 2019-20 season and I believe Hellebuyck has a great shot at winning the Vezina Trophy this year if he can get back to his stellar play.
Do you agree with these three players? Who do you feel deserves to be on this list? Let us know in the comment section below.