American Thanksgiving traditionally marks the quarter point of the NHL season. The Winnipeg Jets aren’t technically there yet, having just played their 20th game of the season. However, some trends have emerged as well as the team’s most valuable players.
Connor Hellebuyck, Josh Morrissey, and Pierre-Luc Dubois have been the strongest, most consistent players on the team thus far. Without these three, the team’s resurgence to relevance in the Central Division would not have happened and they are now back in the playoff conversation.
Hellebuyck Has Been Brilliant
Hellebuyck, a former Vezina Trophy winner, is back on track after last year’s mediocre season. He has been sensational, and the number one reason the Jets sport a 13-6-1 record, good for second place in the division.
He’s unbelievable. He’s looked fantastic this year. He’s looked sharp from the first day of [training] camp. [Hellebuyck] gives us the confidence that we can do our job in front of him and play the right way, and he’ll do his thing every night to give us a chance to win.– Josh Morrissey, Trophy Tracker: Hellebuyck of Jets leading way for Vezina
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Hellebuyck is in the upper echelon of individual goalie statistics this season. His .926 save percentage is fourth in the NHL (among goalies who have played at least 10 games), and his 2.46 goals-against average is sixth. He is also sixth in the NHL with a .934 even-strength save percentage, despite facing 242 even-strength shots on goal, which is second-most in the NHL.
Hellebuyck also thrives as a workhorse. He has faced 30 or more shots in a game 10 times this season and on four occasions, faced at least 40 shots. In those four games, he has a record of a 3-0-1 record, including an absolute steal of a game against the Vegas Golden Knights in October when the Jets were completely outplayed and still walked away with a point.
Morrissey Is Having a Career Season
Morrissey has been reinvented under head coach Rick Bowness. Although he has always contributed offensively, in 20 games this season, the blueliner leads the Jets in scoring with 23 points (four goals and 19 assists). He has also scored their last two overtime-winning goals and leads the team in ice time, averaging more than 23 minutes per game. His point total ranks third in the NHL amongst defensemen.
During training camp, Bowness mentioned that the defence needed to increase their scoring production from last season. In 2021-22, the Jets’ blueliners scored 27 goals. They already have 10 this season, and Morrissey’s contributions couldn’t be more timely. Of his four goals, three have been game-winners.
Josh Morrissey scored his third gamDubois Has Been the winner of the season and tied Adam Fox and Erik Karlsson for the most among defensemen. His two overtime goals also tied Karlsson and Vladislav Gavrikov for the most among all blueliners in 2022-23.#NHLStats: https://t.co/5B3Kyu7YVc pic.twitter.com/exWVvTtF8H— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) November 26, 2022
Morrissey has been the most reliable Jet in terms of day-to-day expectations. When he came into the league, he had plenty of offensive skills, however, he found himself behind Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba, so he concentrated on improving his defensive game. Now that he is their top defenseman and has been given the green light to get involved in the offence, his star is shining brighter than ever.
Morrissey is on pace to score 94 points, considerably more than his career-high of 37, recorded last season. Should he keep up the pace, he will easily be in the conversation for the Norris Trophy.
Dubois Has Played Gritty & Determined
Dubois is a restricted free agent and should be general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s top priority this offseason. He has been the Jets’ best forward, not because he leads all forwards in scoring, but because he brings a physical presence to every game and earns the ire of the opposition every night.
The next low-event game Pierre-Luc Dubois has will be his first.– Mike McIntyre (from “Connor’s Night to remember”, Winnipeg Free Press, 18/11/2022)
Dubois is a beast in front of the net, as he uses his size and incredible strength to get under his opponent’s skin. He can also position himself in such a way that he becomes a problem for the opposition. His long reach, combined with the use of his long stick makes him extremely difficult for defensemen to deal with.
Former Columbus Blue Jacket teammate David Savard once said, “(Dubois’) lower body is so strong, but it’s the way he positions himself, the way he protects the puck, and the way he keeps going, keeps his feet going. It reminds me of (Anaheim’s Ryan) Getzlaf. He’s in that group of guys who are really good one-on-one, protecting the puck. Even when you think you’ve pinned him, he finds a way to move out and make a play” (from, “Blue Jackets’ Pierre-Luc Dubois drawing attention by drawing penalties”, The Athletic, 15/11/2019).
Not only is Dubois a master irritant, drawing penalties on a daily basis, but he also puts the puck in the net. Last season, he scored a career-high 28 goals, and this season, he is on pace to score 40. With 10 goals and nine assists through 20 games, he’s on a pace to score 80 points. Having been reunited with Kyle Connor, with whom he had a lot of chemistry last season, do not expect his production to decrease anytime soon.
Dubois’ physicality, combined with his offensive skillset, has made him the Jets’ most valuable forward thus far. He has yet to take a night off, and his consistent play has been a major factor in the team’s early season success.
Jets’ Most Valuable Players Create Balance
The fact that the Jets’ three most valuable players play different positions is a testament to their balanced lineup. Hellebuyck is arguably the best goaltender on the planet and has won a couple of games with his incredible play alone. While he’s out to prove last season was an anomaly, Morrissey has some new-found freedom that has vaulted his game. He is having a Norris-calibre start to the season, while Dubois has been a problem for the opposition in the defensive zone. His physicality and scoring prowess is a combination every team wished they had. These three have been key to Winnipeg’s great start and have proven themselves invaluable.
Keith Forsyth is a freelance writer and sports junkie from rural Manitoba who is covering the Winnipeg Jets for The Hockey Writers. Keith loves all sports and is a huge fan of the NFL (Skol Vikings… if you know, you know) and the Montreal Expos (they’re coming back… you watch!). He recently retired from the education world teaching high school, where his greatest passion was coaching young athletes. He brings that same logical, behind the bench type of approach to you as he delivers an insightful look into the NHL and specifically the Jets. For interview requests or content info, follow Keith on Twitter or his social media accounts. They appear under his photo on articles like this one.