At the beginning of the 2020-21 regular season, I made three bold predictions for a Jets team that was looking to re-establish itself as a Stanley Cup contender.
Now that the 56-game schedule has come and gone — in the blink of an eye, because it seems the Jan. 14 season-opener was just yesterday — it’s time to revisit those predictions and see how accurate they were.
Prediction 1: Kyle Connor Will Challenge For the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy
This prediction, the boldest of my three, didn’t come true.
Connor had by all means a respectable season from a scoring perspective, finishing first on the Jets with 26 goals in 56 games. Many of those goals showcased the creativity, speed, and scintillating shot everyone’s come to expect from the player who tickled the twine a career-high 38 times in 2019-20.
While he was 10th overall in goals, it was a distant 10th and he never truly challenged for the Trophy. He finished 15 goals behind 41-goal-man Auston Matthews.
A late-season seven-game pointless drought and the Jets’ hapless play through most of April didn’t help Connor’s chances, although he did score four goals in his final three games to finish the season on a good note. He’ll have another five seasons to challenge for the trophy as a member of the Jets yet.
Prediction 2: Connor Hellebuyck Will Lead the NHL in Starts
This prediction did come true! Hellebuyck made 45 starts, more than any other NHL goalie. In second was the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy with 42.
The Jets rode Hellebuyck hard in 2019-20 (he was tied for first in games played with 58) and he won the Vezina Trophy thanks to his heroics between the pipes. So it was only natural to predict the team would trot the workhorse out as much as possible in 2020-21.
Despite there being fewer off days and eight sets of back-to-back contests, backup Laurent Brossoit made only 11 starts (14 appearances as Hellebuyck was yanked on three separate occasions.) The rest went to Hellebuyck.
The big backstop, who has never been shy to say that he wants the crease every night, performed well for the most part, registering a 24-17-3 record, 2.58 GAA, .916 SV%, 25 Quality Stars, and four shutouts.
Prediction 3: Jets’ Third-Liners Will Log More Minutes Than Last Season
This prediction came true, partially. Two out of three players I pegged as “third liners” did indeed log more minutes, but they didn’t end up being third-liners all — or even most — of the time.
Adam Lowry mostly skated as the third-line centre and saw his ice-time jump slightly to 15:32 from 14:58 during his injury-riddled 2019-20. The truculent and tenacious forward recorded 10 goals and 13 assists for 23 points in the role and dished out a team high 161 hits.
Andrew Copp saw his ice time jump as well as he established himself as a legitimate top six option. His boost in ice time — to 18:15 from 17:42 the season before — was well-deserved as he played much of the season up in the lineup. Showing off his increasing offensive ability, the pending RFA recorded career highs in goals (15) and assists (24) and is set to cash in nicely this offseason.
Trevor Lewis, meanwhile, skated on the fourth line, mostly with Nate Thompson and Matthieu Perreault, and saw time on the penalty kill as well. Because he was on the fourth line instead of the third as I predicted, his ice time dropped to 9:52 from the 11:54 he logged as a member of the Los Angeles Kings last season.
Summing it Up
Overall, I’d call my predictions decently, but not entirely, accurate. They were based on educated hypotheses and they were fun to make and look back on.
Declan Schroeder is a 26-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.