5 Forgotten Jets of the 2.0 Era

Some former Winnipeg Jets will remembered for a long time — bruising x-factor Dustin Byfuglien, Finnish phenom Patrik Laine, dedicated centre Bryan Little — but those are the exception. Despite the Jets relocating from Atlanta just 11 years ago, there are already a number of players most people have probably forgotten played for the team.

This list is not meant to make you say “wow! I never knew he played for the Jets!” It’s meant to stoke your memory and make you say “oh, yeah, I remember him now! He was (insert adjective here.”)

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For fairness’ sake, no player who played fewer than 10 games with the Jets will be included — that eliminates 19 former Jets from 2011 through April, 2022.

With that caveat out of the way, it’s time to take a trip down memory lane and recall five former Jets for the first time in a long time.

Randy Jones (39 Games, 2011-12)

Out of all the forgettable players the Jets iced in their inaugural season, Randy Jones is perhaps the most forgettable of all. Unlike many of the other fringe players the Jets were forced to dress throughout 2011-12 due to inheriting a totally bare cupboard from the Atlanta Thrashers’ incompetent regime, Jones played in more than just a handful.

Related: Top 5 Draft Busts In Atlanta Thrashers History

Jones, a left-shot defenseman, signed a one-year contract with the Jets in early July, 2011 and came to Winnipeg with some experience, having played 326-combined games with the Philadelphia Flyers, Los Angeles Kings, and Tampa Bay Lightning. His best statistical season came with the Flyers in 2007-08, when he recorded five goals and 26 assists for 31 points in 71 games.

Randy Jones Winnipeg Jets
Randy Jones, Winnipeg Jets (Michael Miller, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)

But Jones did not produce to nearly the same extent as a 30-year-old Jets’ blue-liner. In 39 games, he had one goal and one assist and a plus-four rating, but had poor possession metrics.

Jones’ lone assist was a memorable one, however. He was part of the famous “Flying W” — when the Jets came in on a five-on-one against the Florida Panthers on March 1, 2012 — and drew the secondary assist, passing to Blake Wheeler before Wheeler dished it to Bryan Little for the one-timer goal. (He’s #12, in the middle of the ice.)

The Jets’ were Jones’ last NHL team. He was not re-signed and his last pro season was 2013-14 with the AHL’s Portland Pirates. He is currently the head coach of the Brockville Braves Junior A Hockey team in Brockville, Ontario, and has been so since 2019.

Alexei Ponikarovsky (12 Games, 2012-13)

Most people remember that former Maple Leafs Nikolai Antropov played 109 games over a pair of seasons for the Jets, but most forget that his former Leaf teammate Alexei Ponikarovsky suited up for a dozen alongside him.

The Jets signed the big, Ukraine-born left-winger in the offseason in 2012, after he’d spent 2011-12 between the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils. By then, he was a veteran of 11 seasons and of more than 600 games.

The hope was Ponikarovsky — who had a pair of 50-plus point seasons in his career — would bolster the Jets’ attack and provide some veteran presence in their sophomore season. But it didn’t work out.

The start of the season season was delayed until January due to the lockout, during which time Ponikarovsky returned to his home country and played for KHL’s Donbass. When the 48-game slate began, Ponikarovsky suited up for the first 12 and scored two goals before being traded right back to the Devils to free up a roster spot for the recently-acquired Eric Tangradi.

“I probably didn’t click in,” Ponikarovsky said at the time to The Hockey News. “But I appreciated the Winnipeg organization, and I’m happy now to go back to the team I played for last year.”

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“If you’re worried about taking swings and missing you’re not going to get up to the plate,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in the same piece. “You have to try and do some things. Again, there’s different reasons why guys are available —age, opportunities, teams looking to use younger players within their organization — so free agency is a time where you look at what’s available, you try to fit some needs, some of them fit, some of them don’t.” (From ‘JETS TRADE ALEXEI PONIKAROVSKY TO DEVILS TO MAKE SPACE FOR ERIC TANGRADI, The Hockey News, Feb. 13, 2013.)

Ponikarovsky played in the KHL through 2018 before retiring.

Keaton Ellerby (52 Games, 2013-2014)

Ellerby enjoyed a brief career resurgence with the Jets, with an emphasis on brief.

Ellerby with the Florida Panthers. (THW)

The native of Strathmore, Alberta possessed a monster 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame, dished out a big hit from time to time, and was decent in his own zone, but wasn’t particularly physical given his size and had little offensive ability. The majority of his 212 NHL games came over four seasons with poor Florida Panthers teams that only finished above .500 once.

After being traded from the Panthers to the Los Angeles Kings and finishing the 2012-13 season there, the Jets claimed him off waivers. He was a Jets’ blue-line mainstay for most of 2013-14, playing 51 games and averaging 13:55 for a team whose back end was both ravaged by injuries and thin outside their top four.

Ellerby quickly became expendable, however, as the Jets improved and Cheveldayoff amassed viable young talent via the draft — something the Thrashers’ regime never did. In 2014-15, Ellerby was relegated to the St. John’s IceCaps and appeared in just one game for the Jets.

After 2014-15, Ellerby went to Europe and has remained there ever since. As of 2021-22, he plays with the Sheffield Steelers of the British Elite Ice Hockey League.

Lee Stempniak (18 Games, 2014-15)

Here’s a guy you’ll remember fondly as soon as you read the name, even if you haven’t thought about him in years, because his acquisition represents the first time the Jets were in a position to buy at a Trade Deadline.

To help his team in their 2015 Stanley Cup Playoff push, Cheveldayoff acquired Lee Stempniak for the stretch run from the New York Rangers in exchange for Karl Klingberg.

Stempniak, a veteran of 690 career games at the time, had recorded 359 points (159 goals, 200 assists) and fit right in with the Jets, scoring six goals and adding four assists for 10 points in 18 games. With his help, the Jets finished fifth in the Central Division with a 43-26-13 record and clinched a playoff berth for the first time in the 2.0 era.

The Jets, of course, were unceremoniously swept by the Anaheim Ducks in the first round. But fans who hold that season dear will recall, after a bit of prodding, Stempniak’s game-opening goal in Game 3 — a raucous scene and the first playoff game in WInnipeg in 18 years, 11 months, and 23 days.

The goal got the white-clad crowd going so crazy, you couldn’t even hear the goal horn.

One has to wonder how the Jets would have fared in 2015-16 — they finished four games under .500 and missed the playoffs — if they’d re-signed Stempniak instead of letting him walk to the New Jersey Devils. Stempniak notched notched 41 points in only 63 games with the Devils before being dealt at the 2016 Trade Deadline to the Boston Bruins and finishing the season with 51 points between the teams.

Gabriel Bourque (54 Games, 2019-20)

The fact you’ve likely forgotten about Bourque despite him playing for the Jets fairly recently is a testament to just how unmemorable his time with the team was.

The Jets signed Bourque to a one-year, two-way deal in August, 2019 after the Colorado Avalanche let him walk after the 2017-18 season. The Former Av and Predator was considered to be on the bubble, but won an NHL gig out of training camp.

Gabriel Bourque Winnipeg Jets
Gabriel Bourque, Winnipeg Jets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In a season where a lot remarkable happened — the 2019 Heritage Classic in Regina, Connor Hellebuyck’s Vezina-winning campaign, the season shutdown when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged and changed the world forever — Bourque was quite unremarkable, even as far as fourth liners go. He recorded two goals and four assists in 54 games, but only averaged 8:36 per game. Many wondered exactly what his role was and why he was getting minutes at the expense of a prospect with more potential.

When hockey returned for the summer 2020 bubble playoffs, Bourque played in three Qualifying Round games against the Calgary Flames, which the Jets lost in four games in a rather disappointing fashion.

The Jets let Bourque walk and he took the 2020-21 season off. As of 2021-22, he plays for the AHL’s Laval Rocket in his home province of Quebec.