With training camp in full swing and the regular season just around the corner, here’s a look at what to expect from the Jets in the 2019-20 season as well as some predictions for the players and the team. Things are not as peachy as they were at the beginning of last season, when many thought the Jets were legit Stanley Cup contenders after their long 2018 Playoff run.
The story line dominating the news involve the still unsigned RFAs Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor and the morerecent absence of Dustin Byfuglien. Those are three massive holes in the Jets’ lineup and could prove to be costly if they continue to drag on; hurting the Jets’ hopes of making the playoffs in what will likely be an even tougher Central Division.
Related: Jets’ 2019-20 Projected Lineup
Hopes were higher than ever when the Jets started training camp for the 2018-19 season, and it sure feels different this time around. You have to assume this uncertainty will eat away at the players participating in camp eventually, as this is the time of year to be talking about the return of hockey and getting excited for the season ahead, not facing endless questions and distractions about players not currently at camp.
Who Steps Up On Defense?
The Jets said goodbye to three key defencemen this offseason when they traded Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers and let Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot walk in free agency. Now with Byfuglien out for who knows how long, the Jets are going to get a good taste for what their depth on the backend is all about. Josh Morrissey – who recently signed an eight-year contract extension – will be leaned upon even more than anticipated.
I still believe Neal Pionk will be Morrisey’s partner to start the season, but without Byfuglien, what does the second pairing look like? Nathan Beaulieu and Dmitry Kulikov could be that pairing, which does not strike a lot of fear into opponents. Ville Heinola has looked really strong throughout training camp so far, but he is still a long shot to start in the Jets’ top-six defense group. He is a player you want to have playing this season rather than sitting in the press box. The AHL or back to Finland are his best options if he can’t make the Jets.
Everyone knows head coach Paul Maurice loves his veterans, so bet on Anthony Bitetto to crack the top six. He is battling with Sami Niku and Tucker Poolman for the final two spots. If there was ever a time for Maurice to trust the youngsters and give them a little more free rein, now is the time. There may be some growing pains, but Niku, Poolman, and Heinola – along with the Jets – will benefit in the long run if they’re given playing time now.
Forward Depth and Scoring Ability
If the Jets do in fact start the season without Laine and Connor in the lineup, who fits into their spots come opening night? Nikolaj Ehlers could get a look in Connor’s spot on the top line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, while the versatile Mathieu Perreault could get a shot in Laine’s spot on the second line with Bryan Little. Perreault can play anywhere in the lineup and still be effective. I don’t mind him taking over that spot, but in a perfect world, he is best slotted on the third line.
Who then takes Ehlers’ spot on the second line if he moves up? I could see either Andrew Copp or Jack Roslovic getting bumped up to the second-line left-wing spot. Copp has grown every year so far and has gained the confidence of Maurice. Roslovic is due for an extended look in the top-six – he has been stuck in the bottom-six forward group for the last couple years – if there was a time for him to step up, this would be the season.
Will the Jets still have the same scoring ability with Laine and Connor out of the lineup? The quick answer is no, but it may not be all doom and gloom. They still have some heavy hitters in the top-six and if one or two players step up and surprise, things will not be all that bad. I think the real test this season will be the bottom-six point production.
With players moving up the lineup that would have originally been in the bottom-six, that leaves holes to fill in the bottom-six. Mark Letestu, Gabriel Bourque, and Andrei Chibisov are most likely to fill those two spots left open by the RFA absences. Chibisov has really turned some heads so far in training camp and might even get a look in the top-six. He has looked good playing along Scheifele in the preseason. Letestu and Bourque do not strike as much fear as players like Copp, Roslovic, or Perreault would.
Will the Power Play Be the Same?
Again, the quick answer is no. Laine is a major weapon on the power play. His shot is world-class and he brings that extra element that all NHL teams want on their special teams. This is another area I think the team will struggle this season if Laine sits out. The Jets power play was nothing special before he was around.
Opponents will be able to shadow Scheifele in the slot more and not have to worry about the upcoming missile from Laine on the left side. No player that the Jets put in that spot will garner the same respect Laine does and it will create a domino effect that will take a bit away from everyone else on the top power-play unit. Wheeler will have to be even more spot-on with his cross-ice feeds as no one has nearly the range Laine does to get off quick one-timers with his accuracy and velocity.
Top Point Producer?
I am going with Mark Scheifele to lead the team in both goals and points this season. He has been so good for the Jets over the last few seasons and I think he is poised to have a career year. I predict he will hit the 40-goal, 95-point mark in 2019-20.
I think Wheeler is still a lock to lead the team in assists, his passing is just too good and I feel he will be a close second in total points behind Scheifele. I think we see Wheeler hit 60+ assists again and a total of 90+ points.
This year’s dark horse will be Adam Lowry. He is a guy who has not put up a ton of points for the Jets and plays mostly a shutdown role. I think he will get a shot at the second-line centre spot and have a career year doing so.
This is a very bold prediction, but I have a feeling we will see a different Lowry in 2019-20; mark him down for 15+ goals and 25+ assists.
Bounce Back Candidate?
Laine is my player for this one; of course, he has to play to earn this honour. If he does holdout or unfortunately gets moved to another team my next pick for this is Ehlers. He struggled a lot last season but I think he will turn things around and get back to his 2017-2018 form. He has way too much speed and skill to consistently be held off the score sheet. I predict we see him hit 30+ goals for the first time in his NHL career.
In the Hot Seat
Connor Hellebuyck is unfortunately in this position. With his below-average play last season and question mark filled defense pairings, the pressure to perform has probably never been greater for the Jets’ starting goaltender. He will need to have a monster season for the team to have any hopes of making the playoffs.
Do the Jets Make the Playoffs?
One of the biggest questions and most controversial debates this season is, of course, will the Jets make the playoffs? I think they will. They still have enough in their lineup to squeak into the postseason. I have the Jets pegged to earn the second wild-card spot, finishing the regular season with 90 points.
As I have stated before, Maurice has his work cut out for him. As for him being in the hot seat, I don’t think this is a make or break season for him. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has as much trust and loyalty in Maurice as Maurice has in his veteran players, which is a lot.