The Winnipeg Jets are past the halfway point of their preseason, and with only two games remaining, certain players have been granted an extra look by the coaching staff. Rick Bowness and the management group have cut the roster down to 15 forwards, 10 defencemen, and three goaltenders.
The Jets have had a good mix of players stand out thus far in the preseason. Young prospects, former Manitoba Moose players, and veterans who have struggled to find their footing in the NHL are all giving the coaching staff a reason to choose them for the opening night roster. Internal competition is a great way to find motivation, and these four players have excelled under those circumstances so far.
Brad Lambert has only been active for two preseason games, but he has been the most polarizing prospect by a wide margin. His talent has been on full display, and he is quickly becoming one of the fans’ favourite prospects.
Lambert finished his first game against the Montreal Canadiens with a goal and an assist and followed that up with a strong performance against the Edmonton Oilers. The 30th-overall pick of the 2022 NHL Draft is proving to be the real deal, at least for the time being. With only two more forward cuts for the organization to make, Lambert making the opening night roster is not out of the question.
After struggling with the Pelicans in Finland’s Liiga, many experts questioned his ability to play at a high level, which is why he slid to the back end of the first round. It’s safe to say that he’s made a name for himself through two games, and his play on Wednesday against the Calgary Flames will be something to monitor.
Cole Perfetti is going to be an X-factor within the Jets’ top six this year, and he has proved that he’s ready for that responsibility so far in the preseason. Most importantly, It seems as though he is fully recovered from the upper-body injury that held him out of the majority of his 2021-22 season.
He scored two goals in the 3-2 loss to the Oilers on Saturday and has looked more comfortable in every game he’s played. He finished his inaugural campaign with seven points in 18 games and showed incredible flashes of talent that have fans excited for a potential breakout in 2022-23.
His linemates throughout training camp have been Pierre-Luc Dubois and Blake Wheeler. The reality is, Perfetti’s play style is compatible with every forward in the lineup. This gives Bowness the ability to shuffle his line combinations and not have to worry about the 20-year-old’s production falling off.
Who could’ve seen this one coming? Saku Maenalanen is a former fifth-round pick of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and hasn’t played in the NHL since 2018-19. That season, he scored eight points in 34 games for the Carolina Hurricanes.
Maenalanen is a 6-foot-4, 207-pound winger whose biggest strengths come when forechecking and being a physical force. Because of these traits, the coaching staff has decided to give him an extended look at a potential bottom-six role.
Adam Lowry, Mason Appleton, David Gustafsson, and Sam Gagner are a few players that he has had the opportunity to build chemistry with early in training camp. The fact that he has made it this far without being sent down to the Moose, indicates he is making a strong impression on the coaching staff. Keep an eye on Maenalanen in the game on Wednesday against the Flames, as this will likely be his last chance to secure a roster spot.
David Gustafsson has had plenty of chances to play for the Jets but has been unable to stay healthy when given the opportunity. This preseason, he looks poised and ready to take the fourth-line centre role that has been awaiting him for years.
The “Gus Bus” is ready to take his game to the next level. Last season in the American Hockey League (AHL), he played top-line minutes in every situation for the Moose and was able to score 30 points in 47 games.
Gustafsson will be slotted into a penalty-killing role, which is an area the Jets struggled in last season. Their penalty kill percentage was 75 percent, which came in well below the league average of 79.39 percent.
With two preseason games remaining, there are plenty of decisions that have yet to be made. On defence, Logan Stanley, Ville Heinola, and Dylan Samberg have all failed to prove why they deserve the last available position. In the bottom-six, Morgan Barron is looking to make up for lost time after suffering an upper-body injury early in training camp and will be looking to beat out Jansen Harkins and Dominic Toninato for a depth, left-wing role.
The Jets will face the Flames twice to close out the preseason on Wednesday and Friday before they open the regular season on Oct. 14 against the New York Rangers.
Connor Hrabchak is 20 years old and is currently covering the Winnipeg Jets and Ottawa Senators for The Hockey Writers. He is working towards completing his communications and media degree. He was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He’s been watching hockey ever since the Jets moved back to Winnipeg in 2011, and that has inspired him to write about the sport and attempt to make it into a full-time career.