Predicting The Winnipeg Jets’ Next Captain

It’s no secret that the most successful teams in NHL history have had their leadership group set in stone. Two alternate captains and a captain to lead on and off the ice. That was exactly the case with the Winnipeg Jets up until Sept. 16, 2022, when head coach Rick Bowness stripped the captaincy from Blake Wheeler, who had held the distinction for the previous six seasons.

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He joined the organization while they were still the Atlanta Thrashers, so it came as quite a surprise, to say the least. The decision was made to enter the 2022-23 campaign rolling only with alternate captains. While there’s no formula stating that having a captain named is required, knowing who the leader to look to is, serves as an advantage during all situations. Wheeler just took the decision on the chin and continued playing, but this season didn’t go as planned, so perhaps having a captain in the locker room and on the ice could steady the ship. I’ve compiled a trio of players with the potential of becoming captain.

Josh Morrissey

When Josh Morrissey was unavailable during the Jets’ 2022-23 playoff matchup with the Vegas Golden Knights, it was evident how integral he is to his team. The power play was not the same and offensive production just dwindled. Since he was drafted with the 13th-overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft by the Jets, he has developed into their number-one defenseman, a role that he has held exceedingly well.

Related: Jets Bowness Makes Gutsy & Necessary Decision With Wheeler

Since his NHL debut with the Jets, he has amassed 56 goals and 242 points, through 501 games played over nine seasons all with the organization. His numbers may not jump out at fans, but his impact on breakouts, and especially the power play, are where his importance lies (among other things). He plays a very heady game, with a strong emphasis on skating, shifty crossovers, head fakes and deceptive passes. Transitioning through the neutral zone and setting up shop in the offensive zone is his calling card and the power play runs through him.

The Athletic's Player Card, Josh Morrissey
The Athletic‘s Player Card of Winnipeg Jets Defenceman Josh Morrissey, created by Shayna Goldman and Dom Luszczyszyn

Aside from all of the things he can contribute on the ice, he provides a calming, veteran presence on the defensive side of the bench. He gives pointers and even discusses the ins and outs of playing a defensively responsible game for his counterparts, as well as the younger players.

Connor Hellebuyck

Many might have a chuckle or even question my sanity when I put a goaltender’s name as one of the options. But the suggestion isn’t so far-fetched — if you’ll remember, Roberto Luongo captained the Vancouver Canucks once upon a time, and if my memory serves me right that played out well. Now, here is the reason why I believe that Connor Hellebuyck could be a strong candidate for the vacant captaincy.

Connor Hellebuyck Winnipeg Jets
Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Fans and teammates alike could argue that on any given night, Connor Hellebuyck is one of the best players on the ice. He has kept the Jets within striking distance in many games and his calm demeanour is something to marvel at and, for younger players establishing themselves to emulate. He bleeds white and blue and plays his heart out, not for the name on the back of his jersey, but the crest on the front. Maybe it doesn’t happen, but it would be quite the feat to have him follow in Luongo’s footsteps, representing the team with a “C” on his mask or sweater.

Kyle Connor

Since torching the NCAA while playing for the University of Michigan Wolverines, Kyle Connor hasn’t looked back. In just one season with the Wolverines, he exploded on the scene eclipsing 35 goals and 71 points through 38 games during the 2015-16 campaign. He followed up his impressive 2014-15 United States Hockey League (USHL) season with the Youngstown Phantoms, further cementing the Winnipeg Jets’ decision to select him with the 17th pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.

New Jersey Devils Mackenzie Blackwood Winnipeg Jets Kyle Connor
New Jersey Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Kyle Connor. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade)

After graduating from the NCAA ranks at the duration of the 2015-16 season, he made his Jets debut and secured his spot within the organization. Although he split time between the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Manitoba Moose and the Jets during his rookie season, he cemented his spot with the big club the following season. Boasting 26 goals and 57 points through 76 regular-season games. He was there to stay and he didn’t take long in becoming the Jets’ offensive catalyst. Each time he is called upon, he has a way of providing a spark to the team’s offense and dragging them into the fight.

There may be other options, but given age, production and prowess within the organization, I believe one of the three names mentioned above has a very good chance of filling the vacant captaincy role quite nicely.

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