Jets Should Gamble on Ryan White

It is a rare occurrence when Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Winnipeg Jets have an active offseason. In 2012, it was viewed as a busy summer signing forwards Olli Jokinen and Alexei Ponikarovsky. This July, the Jets inked a pair of players that already have a secured spot on the opening night roster and hopefully this duo fares better than the last one.

Shoring up the goaltending position was priority number one for Jets management and they did so by picking up the Philadelphia Flyers’ veteran net minder, Steve Mason. The 2009 Calder Trophy recipient posted his worst statistical season as a member of the Flyers in his five years on Broad Street last season. Mason will be determined to prove his career is still enjoying an upwards trend in his mentorship of Connor Hellebuyck this season.

Steve Mason has his eyes on the prize looking to win the Jets’ starter position come camp. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The second addition was signing Dmitry Kulikov to strengthen their blue line as a left-handed option. Kulikov is coming off an abysmal season with the Buffalo Sabres, who dealt away budding defender Mark Pysyk to the Florida Panthers for the 26-year-old Russian. Kulikov will look to rekindle the success he achieved in Florida as a reliable shutdown top-four defenceman.

The rest of the work done thus far by Jets brass consists mostly of depth additions and subtle retooling. Michael Sgarbossa was scooped up as a utility NHL to AHL tweener. Cameron Schilling and Buddy Robinson were brought in to help a below-average Manitoba Moose club that ranked 25th out of the 30 teams in the AHL last season.

At 42 contracts and over $8 million in available cap space, the Winnipeg Jets have plenty of wiggle room. Training camp inches closer as every summer night spent by the bonfire comes to an end. A possible topic of conversation shared over a couple cold ones by the toasty fire is whether the Jets plan on adding another piece before training camp.

Ryan White the Right Fit

Who doesn’t want to see a Manitoba boy, like Ryan White, come home? As a 15-year-old, the Brandon native played with the AAA Brandon Wheat Kings but wasn’t lucky enough to join the WHL’s Wheat Kings as a homecoming during his junior hockey days.

Ryan White celebrates a goal as a member of the Wild, who acquired him at the trade deadline.
(Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

Instead, White’s tenure in the WHL was spent with the Calgary Hitmen, where he was primarily a point producer with a whole lot of grit. His 237 points in 275 games paired with 95 penalty minutes or more in each of his four junior seasons represent that.

White dressed in 141 games with the Montreal Canadiens but struggled to become a regular in the lineup. He signed with the Flyers in 2014 but still spent a handful of games in the AHL until his coming out party in the 2015-16 season.

Okay, “coming out party” is a bit of a stretch. The Flyers rugged forward did match his career total of goals in that single season, celebrating 11 times, and adding a career high 16 points and 101 penalty minutes. White matched his career high in points last season split between the Arizona Coyotes and Minnesota Wild. While his scoring touch seems to be increasing, his toughness is what is really sought after.

Replacing Thorburn

White, a 2006 third-round pick, only stands at six-feet tall but never backs down from a competitor whether it be in a board battle or a momentum-gaining scrap. His grittiness and physical edge could be a useful tool for the Jets as they lost their tough guy of ten years.

After a franchise record 709 games with the Atlanta/Winnipeg organization, Chris Thorburn moved on to the St. Louis Blues. It was unexpected that Thorburn was able to net himself a two-year contract but the Blues felt the need to replace a long-time enforcer of their own, Ryan Reaves.

Last season with the Jets, Thorburn only managed a measly four points in 64 contests. White would surely be an upgrade offensively over Thorburn, not to mention five years younger. White averaged almost four more minutes per game than Thorburn last season and would come in at a lower cap hit than his counterpart’s $1.2 million last season.

(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Jets having their affiliate Moose play in the same city should be used as a recruiting tool for players like White. If the Jets were able to sign him to a two-way contract, White can stay in Winnipeg regardless of whether he is with the big club or the minor league squad, saving him the travel that many other clubs face with their affiliate.

He may not be used as a regular in the Jets lineup due to their abundance of young players competing for roster spots. Kyle Connor, Marko Dano, JC Lipon, Nic Petan, Sgarbossa and Brandon Tanev will be in an all out battle in camp. White may have an advantage due to his experience in the war that is the NHL. If head coach Paul Maurice dressed Thorburn in 64 games last season, you can bet he could find room for White.