One thing that Winnipeg Jets fans haven’t seen very often is line shuffling. Head coach Paul Maurice has kept his lineup consistent on a nightly basis, which has so far gone according to plan for the Jets, who are in the hunt for the top spot in the Scotia North Division.
However, on Monday night, we saw some significant lineup changes, most notably, the separation of Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. The duo has been the heartbeat of the team’s top line for the past six seasons, so seeing them on different lines was shocking.
That said, there’s no reason to press the panic button just yet. The refreshed roster dominated the Calgary Flames en route to a 5-1 victory, and the newly formed top-six exceeded expectations, which ultimately begs the question, why wasn’t this done sooner?
While we’ll likely never know the answer, having Scheifele and Wheeler on separate lines has been overlooked before now, yet the potential behind that decision is still untapped. Here are the two main reasons why the Jets should continue to separate the pair and the possibilities that might follow.
Connor and Ehlers in Position to Succeed
Let’s face facts. Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor have shouldered most of Winnipeg’s offensive responsibilities this season, ranked second and third, respectively, in team scoring. While that feat is impressive on its own, how the two have commanded the offensive zone is even more admirable, creating open space at will and subsequently registering consistent high-danger scoring chances.
On the other hand, Scheifele has been the team’s best player, leading the way in scoring and playing a vital role in just about every aspect of the Jets’ success. So, what do you get when you put the top-three scorers from one team on the same line?
The trio combined for eight points against the Flames, dictating the pace of play from the drop of the puck and proving what happens when Maurice puts two and two together. Yes, hindsight is 20/20, but it’s a wonder that this move didn’t happen until now.
Scheifele, a proven playmaker, is enjoying one of his most dominant seasons to date. Connor has continued to develop into an A1 goalscorer as a staple on the Jets’ power play and a go-to offensive presence in any situation. Ehlers, arguably the most surprising of the three, has experienced massive growth and maturity in both skating and playmaking while never losing his goalscoring touch.
You don’t need to look far to understand why this line should stay together. Maurice has finally realized that it would be foolish not to put Connor and Ehlers in a position to thrive and maximize their offensive potential. Yes, the pair was effective alongside Pierre-Luc Dubois; however, they seem to have reached an entirely new level with Scheifele in between them.
Give Wheeler Support, Wait for the Results
Outside of the Connor-Scheifele-Ehlers line, Blake Wheeler has found himself a new linemate as well, with Dubois joining the fold as the Jets’ new top-line centre. While the captain hasn’t missed a step offensively, his defensive awareness has been lacking this season, which is why surrounding him with two-way talent will benefit him moving forward.
Don’t get me wrong, Scheifele was moulding himself into more of a two-way player; however, Dubois is already there. Inserting him on a line with another proven two-way presence in Paul Stastny would take some defensive responsibility away from Wheeler and provide some much-needed support in the process.
The beauty behind the Dubois acquisition is that he can be deployed anywhere in the lineup. As we’ve seen already this season, he is an effective facilitator alongside Ehlers and Connor. Now, his two-way abilities are being called upon to round out the Jets’ top line and provide stability at both ends of the ice.
Wheeler is also a decorated playmaker, a role that will greatly benefit Dubois’ offensive maturity. Dubois posted average offensive numbers with the Columbus Blue Jackets, so having a gifted distributor by his side will allow his offensive game to reach new heights. And if their first trial run together was any indication, the new duo will get along just fine.
In a way, the Dubois-Wheeler experiment has brought a unique situation to the table. Rarely do we witness two players who are poised to bring the best out of each other. Yet, Wheeler, with his veteran leadership and passing ability, combined with Dubois’ offensive potential and defensive awareness, seems to be a newly discovered one-two punch for the Jets.
Jets Host Maple Leafs in a Crucial Two-Game Series
All in all, Maurice’s lineup changes found new levels of success, a promising sign for things to come. The flip side, however, is that the new lines have only played one game together, and it was against a struggling Flames team to boot. The real test starts Wednesday when the Jets host the North Division-leading Toronto Maple Leafs in the first of two at Bell MTS Place.
Reasonably speaking, Maurice has no reason to reunite Scheifele and Wheeler. There are countless reasons why the duo brings out the best in those around them, and keeping them apart for as long as the team is successful makes the most sense in this unprecedented season. Trust the talent you have at your disposal, and see what new heights can be reached.
What did you think of the Jets’ new line combinations? Has Maurice found what works best for the team? Let me know in the comments.
A sport media student at Ryerson University, Josh Kim is currently a photographer with Ryerson, the ECHL and OHL and has covered a variety of events ranging from the PWHPA to the NCAA. In addition to being a Winnipeg Jets writer, World Junior contributor, and NHL Draft columnist with THW, he is the host of the Get Your Head in the Game podcast, which connects mental health and sport and is available on all platforms. If you’re interested in seeing a full display of his work, please visit his website: joshkimphoto.com