Coming into the 2021-22 NHL season, the buzz around the Winnipeg Jets was that they are offensively top-heavy; they can score, but they have trouble keeping the puck out of their net. In the offseason, the front office addressed their defensive needs with the acquisition of Nate Schmidt and Brenden Dillon, while their defensive leader Josh Morrissey was looking to have a bounce-back season. For the most part, the reviews are okay, they have shown at times they can lock things down, and their 5-on-5 play has them well below the league average in terms of goals against.
The offense, which was discussed ad nauseam in the preseason, was supposed to be the power behind their proverbial engine. Having scored 99 goals to date puts them in the lower half of the league and does not demonstrate the offensive prowess that should come from a club laden with as much offensive talent as the Jets possess. The striking fact that the Jets have scored the same number of goals as allowed should sound off some alarms.
To say the Jets are the middle-of-the-pack in terms of scoring just sounds wrong. They have the firepower to be top five in the league in terms of lighting the lamp, and worst-case scenario, top 10. Compare that to the Colorado Avalanche, who leads the NHL in goals scored and has scored seven goals in a game seven times this season. The Avalanche are one of the teams the Jets are chasing in a hyper-competitive Central Division and who recently shot down the Jets by an ironic score of 7-1.
Lowry Has Shown Willingness to be Flexible to Create Balance
Former head coach Paul Maurice had a penchant for playing his senior players too much and demonstrating non-trust for younger players, while interim head coach Dave Lowry, whether due to COVID protocol or a philosophy shift, has given some of the younger players in the Jets system a chance to play. Maurice was famous for breaking up lines that were working to maintain what he had in his mind that should work. The Kyle Connor – Mark Schiefele – Blake Wheeler combination, for example, was always the number one line in Maurice’s head and the rest of the offensive combinations revolved around that.
Lowry has shown that there is going to be more flow into the line combinations, and he’s going to stay with teammates who are working well together and rewarding players who are giving to the team and staying with them. Like Maurice, Lowry has been preaching more net-front presence and scoring from within that area five feet from the crease. He is relying on the size and strength of players like Pierre-Luc Dubois and Andrew Copp to consistently put the puck in a while in that small area, and with the NHL’s new rules seriously impeding on a lot of what defensemen can physically and legally do in front of the net, the time is now for the Jets to improve upon scoring from that area on the ice.
Jets’ Young Players Need to Add to the Offensive Balance
The idea that only your top two lines can significantly contribute to your team’s offense is a bit archaic. The Jets need their third line to contribute more offense than they have. Center Adam Lowry has been a key shutdown center for several years. What do you need a shutdown third line for? What then is your fourth line for? One idea could be to move Paul Statsny to center the third line and fill it in with youth. It’s time the Jets recognize that they will need three lines consistently being a threat to put the puck in the net, and they have a plethora of young talent that can contribute to that.
It’s debatable whether Cole Perfetti is fully ready for the NHL, but it’s time to give him a shot. He was recently called up from the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League and should be in one of the top three lines. In 17 games at the AHL level, he has 15 points (6G – 9A), including two goals on the power play. He has an NHL-level hockey IQ, the question for him will be the speed of the NHL, but how does one adjust if not thrown into the mix?
Kristian Reichel has been called up and scored his first NHL goal against the Vegas Golden Knights, and in the last three games, has averaged about 11 minutes of ice time. With the Moose, Reichel has five goals and seven assists this season and has contributed to the power play. The son of former NHL’er Robert Reichel, this 23-year-old has the speed and ability to play in the NHL and has been a team leader at every level he has competed.
Kristian Veslelainen needs more development. Maurice missed the mark by keeping Veselainen in the fall. In 29 games this season, he has contributed two goals and an assist, and in 46 career NHL games has added only two more assists to his point total. He needs to be reassigned to the Moose for more development to find some success and confidence before he makes his way back to the Jets. He has been reduced to a fourth-line winger, and the 22-year-old has more to contribute than that. He needs more time. Bring in someone better suited to a defensive role like David Gustaffson, who has 16 points in the AHL and, for the most part, has been the best player on the Moose all season. The Jets have plenty of offensive talent in their system, it’s time to see what some of them can do.
Consistency is the Key to Balance
This is a no-brainer, but the Jets have not shown consistency throughout the first 30 games of the year. They are scoring at a middle-of-the-pack pace with an elite-level roster. For example, in the first 15 – 20 games, Dubois, Connor, and Copp were leading the way and on pace to be in the Top 20 scorers in the NHL. That has tailed off of late. Dubois has scored a single goal in the past five games, while Connor has added only three points in the same span.
Early on, Wheeler and Scheifele were nowhere to be seen. In fairness, they did have COVID but were still missing from the scoresheet upon return. Schiefele has picked it up as of late and had six points in the last five games, and above the point per game pace he has shown throughout his career.
If the Jets can get their offense inline; meaning finding three solid lines that can all put the puck in the net with some better net presence, and if they can find a balanced attack from all three lines on a game to game basis, this team is still a good bet to take a deep playoff run. Coach Lowry has shown early he’s willing to give the ice time to those that produce, so the pieces are in place, people. The Jets just have to put them all together.
Keith Forsyth is a freelance writer and sports junkie from rural Manitoba who is covering the Winnipeg Jets for The Hockey Writers. Keith loves all sports and is a huge fan of the NFL (Skol Vikings… if you know, you know) and the Montreal Expos (they’re coming back… you watch!). He recently retired from the education world teaching high school, where his greatest passion was coaching young athletes. He brings that same logical, behind the bench type of approach to you as he delivers an insightful look into the NHL and specifically the Jets. For interview requests or content info, follow Keith on Twitter or his social media accounts. They appear under his photo on articles like this one.