The Winnipeg Jets opened their preseason with a 4-0 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday, the first of six games that they will play, with their last preseason game coming on Oct. 7. This week has given new head coach Rick Bowness the first chance to see most of these players on the ice. And while it’s not a guarantee that these players will play every game in the preseason, the games they do play are extremely important for their development.
The team has held three days of training camp so far, with young players and depth players making their case to be on the roster on opening night. This article will take a look at three players to keep an eye on that has a lot to prove this preseason.
David Gustafsson was arguably the most impressive player in the loss on Sunday. While he is likely penciled into a fourth-line role, he may be able to work his way up the depth chart by impressing the coaching staff in the preseason.
His ability to work below the goal lines in both the offensive and defensive zones is a play style that works with almost everyone. This gives the Jets much-needed flexibility at the centre position in a bottom-six that has many questions surrounding it.
The biggest issue for Gustafsson has been staying healthy. In both 2020-21 and 2021-22, he was called up from the AHL for a few games before suffering an injury that disrupted his momentum. He was able to score 30 points in 47 games for the Moose last season while shouldering top-line minutes. The 22-year-old centre is ready to make the full-time jump to the NHL, and the Jets are hoping he can stay healthy in the process.
Morgan Barron is reportedly working through an upper-body injury right now, which has prevented him from taking part in any training camp practices thus far. When the 23-year-old forward returns, he will be fighting for a spot in the bottom-six portion of the lineup. Barron scored six points over five games in the Calder Cup Playoffs last season and saw 14 games of NHL action after being acquired in the trade for Andrew Copp.
Jansen Harkins is currently filling the third-line left-wing role alongside Adam Lowry and Mason Appleton. That is the role that the organization is hoping Barron can thrive in, or else he will likely be sent down to the Moose for another season of development and be one of the first call-ups in the event of an injury.
According to Money Puck, Barron, Lowry, and Appleton played seven games together last season and held a 48.7 percent expected goals percentage. That line was asked by the previous coaching staff to play a shutdown role but ended up generating 3.95 expected goals per 60 minutes, which was good enough for fourth-best out of all the 2021-22 forward combinations.
Chaz Lucius has arguably the broadest range of outcomes out of any player at training camp. The NHL, AHL, and the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League (WHL) are all options for the 19-year-old centre. He scored 19 points in 24 games for the University of Minnesota last season before injuries to his hand and surgery on his ankle ended his campaign early.
Lucius has shown flashes of an elite shot and hands on the first days of training camp but is still working to get back up to speed. Throughout the preseason, the Jets will be looking for him to improve every game as he slowly gets healthy enough to play his best. He could start the season in the AHL, but these games will help him prove to management that he’s a high-upside option to call up should a spot open up.
Lucius is in a similar situation as teammate Brad Lambert, who was the 30th overall selection of the 2022 NHL Draft. There are many places they could play this season, but it’s up to them to prove to the management group that they belong in the NHL sooner rather than later.
The Jets’ next preseason game takes place Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators. This article featured three forward options, but the battle on defence between Ville Heinola, Dylan Samberg, and Logan Stanley is another thing to monitor.
The roster for Tuesday night’s game features Heinola, Samberg, and Cole Perfetti as notable young players. The projected top-six will all be in the lineup except for Pierre-Luc Dubois, and plenty of forwards that are projected to be on the Moose will attempt to make their case for a full-time roster spot. The game begins at 7 P.M. central time, with the Jets looking to win their first game of the 2022-23 preseason.