When it comes to the Winnipeg Jets, there has not been a lot to get excited about over the past month. The team is struggling to pick up wins and is now on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. The Dustin Byfuglien saga seems to finally be coming to an end but, unfortunately, not in a good way for the Jets and their fans, and on top of it all, the team continues to deal with constant injury woes as forward Mathieu Perreault is out again with an upper-body injury.
With that said, this article is not here to dwell on all of that but rather to embrace the opportunities that other players get to step up and show what they’ve got when another player goes down.
Forwards Mason Appleton and Jansen Harkins are two examples of players who have done just that this season, especially as of late, and they both look to be keepers for the Jets in the long run.
After his promising finish to the 2018-19 season, Appleton struggled to carry that momentum into this season. He eventually was sidelined for an extended period of time after suffering an off-ice injury prior to the 2019 Heritage Classic in Regina.
Once healthy, the Jets elected to send Appleton back to the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League on Dec. 10 where he played four games, registering one assist. It wasn’t long before the Jets recalled him back to the big club – just eight days in fact – and that is where he has been since.
Appleton has started to show those signs people were getting excited about in 2018-19 and his play is starting to take promising strides. Most recently, Appleton has been rewarded with a chance to play in the Jets’ top-six forward group on a line with Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers and he has not looked out of place through two games against tough opponents in the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators.
The line as a whole has been operating at a Corsi-For percentage (CF%) of 60.0 and they have generated nine scoring chances while only allowing two through those two games. Appleton was able to find the back of the net against the Predators on Feb. 4 after a solid drive to the net with speed and force.
Harkins Embracing Bottom-Six Role
After tearing up the AHL for 31 points in 30 games this season, Harkins finally got his shot with the Jets after being recalled along with Appleton on Dec. 18. The 22-year-old has shown major strides in his game this season at both levels and it should be something the Jets and their fans can get excited about.
Harkins has played a bottom-six role since being recalled with the majority of his time being played on the fourth line. His high motor and compete level have been evident every game and he is a guy that has the skill to chip in on the score sheet from time to time as well. I think he can easily fill the role former Jet Brandon Tanev played during his time with the club and the Jets desperately need someone to be that guy.
Their bottom-six has been full of question marks this season and the penalty kill has been atrocious as I am sure many of you know. Tanev played huge roles in both of those areas last season and I have full confidence Harkins can step up and be that guy. He has looked good in the 14 games he has played thus far and with more time and experience he should be able to slowly increase his role much like we saw Tanev do during his four seasons with the Jets.
Keepers for This Season and Beyond
With the trade deadline fast approaching and the Jets apparently eyeing up a top-four defenceman I do not think any Winnipeg prospect is safe at this point. I have said it before and I will say it again – the Jets need to be sellers at the deadline, and making any rash moves to grab a defender for the remainder of the 2019-20 season would be a mistake.
Appleton and Harkins have shown they need to be a part of the Jets’ future this season and beyond. Appleton may not be ready for a full-time top-six spot yet but I believe he can be at some point and I also really like him on the third line with the likes of Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp.
Harkins has the speed, skill, and high energy needed to play a bottom-six role in today’s NHL and I fully believe his future with the club is bright. If Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff wants to move a prospect I think he should look at Jack Roslovic who just cannot seem to find a permanent role with this team, but that is a discussion for another time.
Related: Jets’ 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Assets
Even with a full, healthy lineup, the Jets need to find a way to keep these two in the lineup and I hope they are a major part of their plans going into next season as well. Appleton and Harkins are NHL caliber players and we should not see them in the AHL again.
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