The year is 2018. The Winnipeg Jets are gearing up for what promises to be a deep playoff run, and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff is actively looking for ways to improve his team. On Feb 26, he seizes an opportunity, sending a conditional first-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2020 Draft, and prospect Erik Foley to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Paul Stastny.
In hindsight, the Jets can look back on this trade as a roaring success as Stastny flourished in his high-usage role in Winnipeg’s top six. Registering 13 points in 19 regular-season games is impressive enough, but Stastny managed to one-up his own performance, tallying 15 points in 17 playoff games before the Jets were ousted by the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final.
After initially departing Winnipeg and joining those same Golden Knights, Stastny became expendable during Vegas’ pursuit of Alex Pietrangelo. With a familiar face on the trading block and a hole at centre in need of filling, Cheveldayoff pulled the trigger again, reuniting Stastny with some familiar faces and subsequently enjoying similar results.
Flash forward to today, Stastny is centring the Jets’ second line on a nightly basis and has significantly contributed to the early season success of players like Andrew Copp and Nikolaj Ehlers. Re-creating the dynamic one-two punch with Mark Scheifele, the 35-year-old is still making an impact that extends far beyond the scoresheet.
Depth, Defense, & Durability
Much like he did back in 2018, Stastny has continued to provide much-needed support for the Jets down the middle. Having a two-way presence and a reliable playmaker has worked wonders for Winnipeg so far this season and has allowed them to exploit their winger-heavy talent.
Leading the team’s centre group in faceoff percentage at 52.63% while also being tied for second with a plus-7 rating, the Quebec City-native has been a standout defensively while also playing with a variety of linemates over the first quarter of the abbreviated season.
In a small sample size, Stastny has continued to produce consistently since his first run with the Jets. Averaging nearly an identical production pace compared to 2018, all while fulfilling his role with the team has seen his impact grow night in and night out. As the condensed schedule continues to play out and the consistent deployment of Pierre-Luc Dubois on the horizon, the Jets’ depth at centre will be among the best in the league.
Special Teams Flexibility
The Jets’ power play currently sits at 23.4%, good for 13th in the league and a couple spots up from last year’s totals. And while that doesn’t seem like a monumental improvement, it’s certainly one that should be acknowledged, and the Jets’ revamped structure is the foundation behind it.
With the return of Stastny and the departure of power play staple Patrik Laine, the Jets seemed to have changed their power play setup altogether. The faces remain the same, with Blake Wheeler down near the goal line, Josh Morrissey being the only defenseman, and Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor sharing duties on the wing. However, Stastny’s role, which has been dubbed the “bumper” league-wide, has opened up entirely new possibilities on the man advantage.
With Stastny clogging the middle of the ice in the offensive zone, the Jets have seemingly shied away from the one-timer option, instead opting for short, quick passes that open up shooting lanes before the opposition can react.
Keeping the defensive team on the move has allowed both of the Jets’ systems to funnel more pucks to the net, which has resulted in far more goals off of rebounds and deflections. Opening seams has also left teams scrambling, making cross-ice passing options much more fluid than before. While Stastny isn’t the sole reason behind the Jets’ power play success, his presence in the middle of the ice has certainly simplified things for an already lethal combination.
Veteran Leadership Can’t Be Measured
One of the main reasons that Stastny was originally acquired was because of his performances in the playoffs. With 97 career playoff games under his belt, he has enjoyed some of his most productive postseasons in the last three years, something worth noting during his second stint with the Jets.
Averaging nearly a point-per-game during the 2017-18 playoffs, Stastny’s veteran leadership is something that flies under the radar when it comes to his individual impact. Yes, he’s been able to produce consistently and make those around him better, but I believe that it’s his experience at the season’s end that has and will continue to pay dividends for the Jets.
Much like Stastny, the vast majority of the current Jets’ roster has been battle-tested in the playoffs. And while the success hasn’t necessarily been there, the importance of having experienced players who know how to perform when it truly matters is often underestimated in today’s day and age.
With plenty of games left to go and the intensity already heating up, it’s all but certain that Stastny will play an impactful role as the Jets continue to chase that ever-elusive Stanley Cup.
The Road Ahead
With the Jets remaining competitive in the high flying North Division, Stastny’s impact so far has been quite the pleasant surprise. Playing an integral role in Winnipeg’s top-six, aiding their newly formed power play structure, and bringing an experienced, veteran presence on a nightly basis, Stastny’s second stint has brought similar amounts of success compared to his first run with the franchise.
The fact that Kevin Cheveldayoff has been able to acquire him twice, while also giving up minimal assets in return, is simply a testament to the team that he’s built in Manitoba.
How has Stastny impressed you so far this season? What do you think of Winnipeg’s performance in the early going? Let me know in the comments.