If you’re an avid Winnipeg Jets fan, tonight’s season opener versus the Anaheim Ducks will be like seeing a kid at a candy store. You know the one…the kid who looks in the front window from the street, but the store is locked? He sees all the goodies inside and even has money to buy some, but the store is hopelessly closed. Well, tonight they open the front door to the Jets’ NHL season, but just to add to the anticipation, they’re going to excruciatingly make you wait until 9:00 CDT for the magic to start. For the first time since Feb. 2020, the Winnipeg Jets will step onto the ice and two national anthems will be sung prior to puck drop, which will hopefully be the start of a full season of normalcy, or at least as close as possible to what we once knew was normal.
The Jets have an interesting October, to say the least, and this trip to California, the first of two this month, will see the Jets open the season with a visit to the Honda Center to take on the Ducks. While watching the action tonight, after the excitement subsides and you’ve all shouted your home version of “TRUE NORTH” during O Canada, there are a few subtleties within the game to keep an eye on.
The Jets’ first-round pick of the 2020 Draft, will be suiting up for this first career NHL game. The 19-year-old, 5-foot-11 forward has impressed throughout training camp, and although everyone in the organization admits he will be a full-time NHLer in the future, Perfetti’s hockey IQ and abilities have accelerated that view and he may be ready for the big leagues sooner than most anticipated. The fact that Mark Schiefele’s playoff suspension still carries one more game into this season provides coach Paul Maurice the perfect storm to get the rookie into the lineup in a significant role at least for this one game.
Look for Perfetti to be a winger on the third line with Adam Lowry and Kristian Vesalainen tonight. The interesting thing about Perfetti’s inclusion into the lineup this evening is that he could force the Jets’ hand sooner than most thought. Should he have a stellar debut, the Jets’ brass will need to have a pretty deliberate and discussion about his immediate future. Should he be less than impressive or even ordinary, the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League, which is what all of the so-called experts are suggesting, will likely be his home for the near future (From “Perfetti getting glowing reviews at Jets camp, but Moose likely landing spot,” Winnipeg Sun, 5/10/21).
Perfetti is an NHL-calibre forward, can play all three positions upfront and has the maturity and intelligence to match his physical abilities, but with the depth and experience of the current Jets forward unit, cracking into this group full-time seems to be a long shot for now without further AHL development and meaningful ice time.
Much has been made of the upgrade to the Jets’ defensive corps this season. Tonight will be the first real-time look at how effective the revamped unit can provide protection for Connor Hellebuyck and ease the workload of their netminder. Josh Morrissey has had a great fall camp and is looking to return to form and lead this unit that is bigger, stronger and more defensively capable than last year’s group. The key component to look for will be how easily they can get out of their own end and transition to offence. That has been an issue for the Jets the past couple of seasons, but this new and improved unit should be more effective at advancing the puck securely and quickly onto the sticks of the forwards and out of harm’s way. This should be easy to pick up and notice even to the casual viewer.
Talk about being excited to get going? How about the chance for this 23-year-old to show the Jets faithful that his acquisition is going to pay off. After a less than stellar, and self-admitted poor season in 2020-21, Dubois has returned to the prairies in better physical shape, has impressed the coaching staff, and has found real stability in his hockey life in Winnipeg.
Look for him to shine in tonight’s game. He will play the middle on a line with Andrew Copp and Nick Ehlers and the trio could be key to the Jets’ offensive success. With Dubois down the middle, the 6-foot-2 power forward should return to form that had him lead the Columbus Blue Jackets in scoring in just his third year in the NHL. Mind you, the Blue Jackets weren’t as deep up front as the current Jets squad, but the fact remains that Dubois can and likely will be an offensive problem for the opposition.
Most pundits have the Ducks finishing last in what has been considered the weakest division in the NHL, and the Dubois, Copp, and Ehlers line should have some room to maneuver and put pressure on the Ducks tonight. Look for Dubois to get his name on the scoresheet and for that line to be a real presence in the game.
So, there you have it, three things to look for this evening while you’re enjoying the Jets opener late into the night. Perfetti’s NHL debut, the ability of this defence to live up to its offseason billing, and the return to normal for Dubois, who has something to prove to himself and his teammates. It’ll be interesting to see how these storylines develop throughout the game. I haven’t been wrong in any of my 2021-22 predictions so far!
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.