With the NHL preseason just over a month away and the Winnipeg Jets’ roster having all but taken shape, let’s take a look at their 2019-20 projected lineup. Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor will sign eventually; it is a question of when, not if, and I don’t see the Jets adding another defenseman to the starting lineup, at least not right away.
With that said, the Jets have a lot of wiggle room with line combinations; many forwards on their roster can play multiple positions, which is a nice problem to have. The defense will have a new look this season with the departures of Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot. Goaltending will be the only thing with the same look as last year, barring any injuries.
Let’s get started and predict what the Jets’ opening night roster could look like when they visit the New York Rangers on Oct. 3, 2019.
Forward Line One – Connor, Scheifele, Wheeler
I think the Jets keep this line intact heading into the 2019-20 season. They have always performed well together and are a scoring threat every time they’re on the ice. The only way I can see this line being any different is if the Jets give Laine or Nikolaj Ehlers a shot on the top line to open the season, or if they move Wheeler to second-line centre. Switching the left-winger is way more likely, as I don’t see the Jets moving Wheeler to the second-line centre spot.
I, personally, like the idea of moving Wheeler. It will give the Jets a solid one-two punch up the middle and they have an abundance of talented wingers who could take Wheeler’s spot on the top line. However, as I mentioned earlier, I don’t see Paul Maurice and the Jets doing this.
Scheifele and Wheeler are locked-in to start on this line, with Connor being highly probable. Look for an 81-55-26 first line on opening night.
Forward Line Two – Ehlers, Little, Laine
This is another line I don’t see having much change for the Jets. I think we will very likely see Bryan Little centering this line again to start the season. Ehlers and Laine will both get opportunities on the top line throughout training camp and preseason, but I don’t see either sticking there permanently. If, and that’s a big if, the Jets were to move Wheeler to second-line centre and Little to third-line centre — thus opening up a top-six winger spot — I could see someone like Kristian Vesalainen or Jack Roslovic moving onto this line.
I don’t get excited when I see this line combination. I think it has been worn out over the past two seasons and they have gone on way too many cold stretches during that time. I think Little needs to get dropped into the third-line centre spot, to allow the Jets’ second line to become re-energized. I’m also not sold on Little being the best fit for Laine to have a bounce-back season. With that said, Maurice isn’t known for making exuberant line changes, so look for a 27-18-29 second line on opening night.
Forward Line Three – Perreault, Roslovic, Vesalainen
This is where things really start to get interesting. The Jets have some question marks in their bottom-six forward group and could go about line combos in many different ways. I think this combination gives them a good mix of skill and experience. The Jets know what they’re going to get out of Mathieu Perreault, but can Roslovic and Vesalainen step up and perform in the top-nine forward group?
I think we see Roslovic progress this season. He has been bounced around a lot over the past two seasons and I really think this is the year we see him settle down into a more prominent role within the line combos. Look for him to lock down the third-line centre (or right-wing) spot this season, with time on the second power play unit.
In my opinion, Vesalainen will make the opening night roster for the second straight season. He could very well get a look in the top-six forward group, but I think he starts the season on the third line, instead. He will bring size and skill to go with Perreault’s relentless work-ethic and Roslovic’s speed. We could see a lot of good things from this line combo to start the season. They have the ability to wear-down defenders while also having the talent to score on any given shift. The biggest question mark for this line will be their defensive zone reliability.
With all that said, look for an 85-28-93 third line on opening night.
Forward Line Four – Copp, Lowry, Appleton
I really like the potential of this line. Lots of people have been comparing Mason Appleton to Brandon Tanev, saying he will have a similar effect on a line with Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp. I must agree, they will bring a lot of energy to the Jets’ lineup like they did last year with Tanev on their line and I feel Appleton will give more offensive upside than Tanev did.
Take this bottom-six group with a grain of salt; this line could be listed as the third line on opening night instead, with Perreault, Roslovic, and Vesalainen dropping to the fourth line. If you want to rank lines by their minutes played, I see Copp, Lowry, and Appleton getting more minutes than Perreault, Roslovic, and Vesalainen.
However, I’m holding out hope that Maurice will balance his lines and not have his fourth line (whoever it ends up being) only play roughly eight-nine minutes per night. Look for a 9-17-82 fourth line on opening night.
Defense Pairing One – Morrissey, Pionk
I think the Jets will start the season with Josh Morrissey and Neal Pionk as the top pairing. Morrissey is becoming a star on the Jets back end and is a lock for the left side. Many people have been writing off Pionk before he even signed his two-year contract with the Jets.
I may be alone on this, but I think Pionk will be better than people think, especially playing on the top-pairing with Morrissey. He is still young, just 24-years-old, and still has a lot of room to grow as a player. The New York Rangers have not been the best team the past couple seasons, that’s no secret, but to say he is a bad player based on his time there, is simply bogus. If you put him in the right situation with the right coaching, I think it is very possible we see a different Pionk — one Jets fans will be excited about.
I predict a breakout year for the former Ranger; a Morrissey – Pionk first defense pairing on opening night seems possible.
Defense Pairing Two – Niku, Byfuglien
I think we see Dustin Byfuglien and Sami Niku paired together to start the season. A lot of people have compared Niku to former Jets’ defenseman Toby Enstrom (who played seven years with Byfuglien), and this pairing makes a lot of sense. I think Niku would be a great fit on the left side with Byfuglien to start the season. The other option the Jets might look at is Nathan Beaulieu, but it will depend on which left-handed defenseman they want to have playing on the right side.
Niku will undoubtedly be on the opening night roster; I predict he earns a spot in the top-four. Byfuglien could start on the top-pairing with Morrissey if the Jets want to go top-heavy to start the season, but based on Maurice’s coaching style, that’s not likely. Look for an 8-33 second defense pairing on opening night.
Defense Pairing Three – Kulikov, Beaulieu
The Jets have some options in this spot, as four players will battle it out for the two remaining spots. Dmitry Kulikov, Nathan Beaulieu, Tucker Poolman, and Anthony Bitetto will all have a chance to earn their way into the Jets lineup.
I can’t see the Jets keeping Kulikov in the press box; his $4.3-million cap hit would have been bought out if that was the case. He will be on the Jets’ opening night roster, barring injuries, which he is prone to getting.
Beaulieu will most likely be the last defenseman to earn a spot, in my opinion. He played very well during his short stint with the Jets at the end of last season and he has the ability to play the left or right side. I predict he makes the opening night lineup, look for a 7-88 third pairing on opening night.
Goaltending – Hellebuyck, Brossoit
The goaltending situation is the only certain with the Jets lineup. Connor Hellebuyck will be back between the pipes for his fifth season with the Jets. He will undoubtedly have some added pressure this year, as he looks to have a bounce-back season.
Laurent Brossoit should keep his backup job behind Hellebuyck after signing a one-year contract in May. I don’t see Eric Comrie or Mikhail Berdin taking that spot away from him.
Comrie still has a lot of question marks regarding his game and whether or not he can be effective at the NHL level.
Mikhail Berdin is still just 21-years-old, with only 23 games of experience in his first AHL season in 2018-19. He will battle Comrie for the AHL starting job and in my opinion, may very well win it.
Extras – Letestu, Poolman, Bitetto
I think the Jets will start the season with Letestu, Poolman, and Bitetto as the three extras to round out their 23-man active roster.
Mark Letestu is a guy who could sneak his way into the opening night starting lineup. Maurice does enjoy having an older, more experienced forward in his bottom-six forward lines. However, I think barring any injuries, Letestu will start the season in the press box. If someone like Appleton or Vesalainen struggles in the first couple weeks of the season, look for Letestu to step into the lineup.
Tucker Poolman is very close to being a full-timer in the Jets’ lineup. I think it is possible he gets a shot at the right-defenseman spot on the third pairing at some point this season. He has a higher ceiling than Bitetto, so it would only make sense. I have Bitetto starting the season with the Jets for one reason, and that’s question marks on the back end. The Jets will need defense readily available if things go south quickly.
The Jets will undoubtedly juggle their lines like all teams do throughout the year, but this gives you a general outlook of how the team could lineup going into game one of the regular season. The Jets are pretty set with a top-six and bottom-six forward group. How they juggle the players within those two groups is where we will likely see a lot of changes. Look for Maurice to try different defense pairings as the season goes on as well.
Related: Is the Jets Contending Window Shut?
I think the Jets are still a playoff team and as we all know so well; once you make the playoffs anything can happen.