The 2021-22 NHL regular season has arrived, and the Winnipeg Jets will be playing their first regular-season game against the Anaheim Ducks. Following a disappointing conclusion to their playoff campaign that saw them get swept by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff made several acquisitions to help his team get back to the postseason.
Some notable additions include trading for defensemen Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt in order to add some much-needed stability and puck movement to a struggling blue line. The signing of Riley Nash, one of the better shutdown depth forwards in the league, should further improve the team’s defensive performance.
Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice can likewise evaluate their internal options to bolster the Jets’ lineup. Coming off impressive first years with the Manitoba Moose, defenseman Ville Heinola and forward Cole Perfetti could be players the organization turn towards to bolster their lineup. While both players could secure themselves roster spots at some point during this season, their respective development paths mustn’t be sacrificed for the sake of competing.
In the case of Perfetti, the forward is expected to make his NHL debut on opening night. While this will be a valuable experience, there are multiple reasons why the Jets do not need to rush him into the lineup to play what might inevitably be a bottom-six role unless there are injuries to key players.
Perfetti Is Already Ahead of Schedule
On Oct 6. 2020, the Jets selected Perfetti 10th overall in the NHL Entry Draft. The forward was expected to start the season with his junior team, the Saginaw Spirit. Given the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and government health regulations, the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) could not begin its 2020-21 season. Consequently, he was unable to return to Saginaw and play out the season. The Jets then had a choice between having him on their NHL roster or sending him down to develop in their farm team.
For a player from the Canadian Hockey League to play in the American Hockey League (AHL), they must be at least 20 years old. However, the shortened season was not typical for many junior players who were left without teams to play on.
An exception was made for the players whose respective teams or leagues would not be playing out their season. For Perfetti, he would end up playing for the Jets’ AHL affiliate, the Moose. Considering he would not have started the year in the OHL under normal circumstances, the forward had a rather impressive professional debut. In 32 games played with the Moose, he recorded 26 points and spent most of the year within the top-six. While there was an adjustment period, he still managed to finish second in scoring on the team.
Considering his recent success, Perfetti could be seen as being ahead of schedule in his development and deserving of a look at the NHL level. However, doing so should not come at the expense of playing in all types of game situations.
Jets Are Already a Strong Team at the Forward Position
While there are still question marks surrounding whether Perfetti will develop into a center or play on the left wing, the current Jets lineup would make it difficult for him to play in either of those positions. Down the middle, the team has proven centers in Mark Scheifele, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Adam Lowry, and Riley Nash. Then there are players like Kyle Connor, Andrew Copp, and Paul Stastny, who assist in solidifying the top-nine on the left wing.
As the Jets coaching staff likely does not want Perfetti playing on the fourth line in a checking role with minimal ice time, playing on the left wing is out of the question.
While this center core isn’t impenetrable, it may be seen as irresponsible to place Perfetti in a position where he still requires another year of development and evaluation to determine if he is well-equipped for those responsibilities. A possible scenario would be to have him play as the team’s third-line center, thus pushing Lowry down to the fourth line and Nash on the wing or out of the lineup. However, the inherent problem with this approach is that there are concerns about whether he can play center in the NHL, with defensive issues and his small stature cited as concerns.
On opening night, Perfetti is expected to line up alongside Stastny and Lowry while playing on the right. This can prove to be a beneficial experiment; however, they would be placing him in a position that he does not have much experience in at even strength.
Perfetti and the Importance of Ice Time
Considering the log jam at both center and on the left wing, Perfetti would face an uphill battle in outplaying some forwards and receiving adequate ice time to help in his development. Barring injuries, Perfetti would likely spend most of the time in the team’s bottom-six, with ice time that reflects as much.
“All three of those guys have a ways to go before I put in either of them to kill penalties against the Edmonton Oilers power play, which was number one in the league. Or take Matty Perreault’s job on the power play.”Jets head coach Paul Maurice
While the time on the powerplay could be an alternative, Maurice has shown reluctance in the past in giving powerplay time to some of the Jets’ younger players, preferring to go with established veterans instead. As such, it might be best for Perfetti’s long-term development if he is given top-line minutes in the AHL to hone his offensive abilities further. Likewise, he would be given opportunities to work on his defensive game in a league that is more forgiving of mistakes.
Perfetti Becoming a Fixture the Jets Lineup in the Future Is Inevitable
Perfetti’s talent is undeniable, and it will not be long until he is considered one of the core offensive pieces of the Jets roster. However, the organization has no reason to rush this player, given their depth up front. In a year’s time, when the Jets may lose one or both of Copp and Stastny in free agency, Perfetti will have a wide-open opportunity to claim a spot in the top-nine.
Preparing to make his debut, Perfetti could very well impress and earn himself an extended look with the Jets. However, there will not be any cause for concern if it turns out that Perfetti requires more time to solidify his game. As the NHL is not a development league, more time on the Moose would ensure the organization’s top prospect is given every opportunity to build on his strengths and improve upon his weaknesses.
Emmanuel is a Montreal-based writer covering the Winnipeg Jets for the Hockey Writers. Having spent three years covering the Montreal Canadiens on Twitter through post-game analyses, trade breakdowns, and opinions surrounding league-wide news, Emmanuel was looking to take a more professional approach to covering the game. As such, he spent the last few years writing editorials for various fan-based outlets.