Although they technically hit the halfway point of the season at game 41, the All-Star break is always considered the mid-way point, and for the Winnipeg Jets it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Limping into the break with with just three wins in their last 10 games, the Jets certainly need a few days off to rest their bodies and give some extra recovery days to injured stars like Dustin Byfuglien and Evander Kane.
Losing in Carolina on Monday and New York last night has left the Jets with a .500 record and five points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. While that would be the bad news, the good news is that they are only five points behind the Southeast division lead, and with plenty of oppurtunity to make up ground in divisional game, the possibility for a playoff spot remains.
With a week off before their next game, the Jets will have plenty of time to refresh both their minds and bodies but first they must mull over their mid-season report cards.
This is how this I graded each player’s performance through the first 50 games of the season:
Nik Antropov: B
Now in his third year with the organization, Antropov continues to be a reliable player in both consistency and production. Fourth on the team in scoring with 26 points, the big Kazakh has rekindled a nice chemistry with his former Toronto teammate Kyle Wellwood and Andrew Ladd as part of the Jets most consistent line this year.
Zach Bogosian: B+
The closest any player came to receiving an A grade, Bogosian could make a case for being the best Jets player this season. The subject of trade talks coming into the year, Bogosian has put that notion to rest as he has been the club’s best all-around defenceman. Leading the club with an average of 23:47 minutes per game, the 21-year-old has shown the physical gifts that made him the third-overall pick in 2008 but more importantly he has made vast improvements in his puck-moving and defensive positioning, and is playing with more confidence than he did at any point in his first three seasons.
Alex Burmistrov: B-
In his second NHL season, the young Russian has certainly shown glimpses of a player with star potential, but he is not quite there yet. Burmistrov’s skill and confidence with the puck is obvious but he still needs a better understanding of when he needs to just make the safe play as he has a tendency to hold on to the puck too long. The good thing for the Jets is that he has been an excellent two-way player and is already proving to be a tenacious backchecker; something that is rare in a young player who possesses so much skill.
Dustin Byfuglien: B
The big man’s injury derailed his promising season and may have sunk the Jets playoff chances with it. As soon as Byfuglien went down you could tell that the team just wasn’t the same. His ability as an elite offensive defenceman simply could not be replaced; especially on the power-play. His passing, poise, vision and point-shot made him the Jets most dangerous weapon with the man advantage and seemed to calm the play down whenever he was on the ice. Many have questioned his defensive play, but Byfuglien’s absence was the beginning of the team’s struggles and one that they badly need to return.
Tobias Enstrom: B-
Enstrom was another integral piece on the backend who was sorely missed when he was injured. His size is a bit of a detractor in the defensive zone but his speed often allows him to skate out of trouble, and with the puck he is capable of making smart, crisp passes or putting an accurate shot on net. With 19 points in 30 games, Enstrom is picking up much of the slack for the injured Byfuglien in terms of production on the blueline. Now, if we can just get him to use a smaller stick, a lot of his fumbles with the puck could be avoided…
Eric Fehr: C
Acquired in the off-season expected to provide the Jets with a big body presence and a goal-scoring ability, Fehr’s pre-season injury got him off to a slow start to where he has never been able to recover. A former 20-goal-scorer with the Washington Capitals, Fehr has just one goal in 26 games this year and has had a hard time finding his skating legs and quality ice time. In the past few games he has looked better and has had some scoring chances but continues to be unable to make much of a contribution to the team.
Mark Flood: B-
Early season injuries to the likes of Tobi Enstrom and Ron Haisey forced Flood into extended action for the first time in his career and the 27-year-old has performed quite admirably. Demonstrating poise with and without the puck, Flood has been solid in his zone and even gave the Jets some minutes on the power-play. Forced to the press box with the return of Enstrom, Hainsey and Randy Jones, Flood did everything that was asked of him when he was in the lineup and should be able to draw back in eventually.
Tanner Glass: B-
A member of the Vancouver Canucks the previous two seasons, Glass was brought in by general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff in a hope that he would bring a hard working, winning attitude to the Jets on and off the ice, and that is exactly what he has done. One third of the GST line, Glass has been played a consistent grinding role, providing the club with quality minutes as a penalty killer and a momentum changer. A surprising contributor offensively, Glass has already established a career high with 12 points and has been one of the Jets most physical forwards on a nighty basis.
Ron Hainsey: C+
Hainsey is another defenceman who has been in and out of the lineup with injuries and it has at times hindered his play. Normally a reliable player with the puck, Hainsey has struggled somewhat with his puck-carrying and passing. The veteran blueliner has used his savvy in his own zone and leads the team with a +5 rating but he will be required to provide a little more offense as long as Dustin Byfuglien remains sidelined.
Randy Jones: C+
In limited action, Jones hasn’t looked totally comfortable as of yet but is showing signs of providing solid defensive minutes for the Jets. Having appeared in just 21 games, he has started to improve his play in recent games and has actually been one of the club’s more reliable players in his own end.
Evander Kane: B
The player most often looked at as the face of the franchise, Kane has had an interesting season to this point. There have been stretches where he has been a dominant player capable of taking over a game with his individual talent, but then there will be a few games where you hardly notice him at all. Early in the year he was scoring at a frantic clip and was once among the top 5 in the league in goals, but his play has tapered off a bit and he even found himself on the bench in a recent game against Boston. As much as his up and down play has frusturated head coach Claude Noel, the fact that the Jets leading goal scorer and most dynamic forward is now out with a concussion is a major blow to the club’s offense; and it has been painfully evident of late.
Andrew Ladd: B
What Andrew Ladd brings to the table has become something that is highly speculated among the media and fans alike. Some consider Ladd to be a very valuable player in terms of his leadership and two-way play, while others question his skill level and ability as a top line player. He may be on the fence of those two perceptions but the captain is without question a key component to the Jets attack. Ranking second in team goal-scoring with 16 and fifth in points with 25, Ladd has begun to assert himself more as the season has gone on, but with Kane on the shelf, he will need to find the back of the net with more consistency as it is something the team is really struggling to do.
Bryan Little: C+
Little started the season in a slump and then busted out to help the line of Evander Kane, Blake Wheeler and himself to become a truly electrifying trio. Then he caught the injury bug and hasn’t been the same since. Little’s 11 goals and 22 points have become two of the more disappointing statistics as quite frankly much more was expected of him in both departments. His inability to generate anything in the way off offense of late is something that most definitely must change; and change rather quickly.
Chris Mason: B-
The veteran netminder has been solid in a backup role, giving Claude Noel the confidence that he can rest starter Ondrej Pavelec without losing much between the pipes. A character guy on the ice and in the dressing room, Mason is very well liked by teammates and goes about his business with class and professionalism
Antti Miettinen: C
Originally starting his season in the NHL, Miettinen was acquired in December with the idea that he would provide a smart two-way game and some speed on the wing, but the acquisition hasn’t quite worked out the way the Jets had envisioned it. Although it hasn’t been for a lacking of effort on Miettienen’s part, the Finnish forward is yet to score a goal and has just three assists in 17 games. Offensive production isn’t a necessity from Miettinen but it would be nice if he were able to chip in more than he has.
Johnny Oduya: B-
While many of his fellow defencemen have gone down with injuries at different points in the season, Oduya has been a constant in the Winnipeg lineup and with the effort he puts out on a nightly basis, that alone is commendable. One of the club’s more sound defensive rearguards, Oduya has battled hard all season long and will continue to be one of the leaders of the Jets defense core moving forward.
Ondrej Pavelec: B+
At first glance, Pavelec’s numbers don’t look that great but if you’ve watched the team play, you would know that he has largely been responsible for many victories this season. The Czech goalie has seen his numbers inflated in some bad team games but he has been particularly strong in the Jets wins; looking every bit of a number one NHL goalie in the process. Pavelec struggled somewhat in recent games but the losses were hardly his fault. A nice break is just what the doctor ordered for him to get his game back to where it certainly will need to be for the second half surge.
Jim Slater: B-
The organization’s longest serving player, Slater has given the club exactly what they expected out of him coming into the year; a solid two-way center who plays an energy game, kills penalties and can be counted on to take important faceoffs. Slater’s -8 might look a little suspect but he is entrusted with playing against some of the opposition’s top lines more often than not which has in turn caused him to be on the ice for more goals against.
Tim Stapleton: B-
Having already established career highs in goals and points, Stapleton has been a pleasant surprise for the Jets this year. A similar type skill-set to that of Kyle Wellwood, Stapleton has earned time on the point of the power-play thanks to his playmaking ability and accurate shot. His lack of size tends to hold him back in some areas but his unexpected contributions and low salary have made him a valuable commodity.
Mark Stuart: C+
Based on effort and determination Stuart would without question be given an A+. His warrior-like play as a rugged defensive-defenceman has been almost incredible to watch. Whether it is blocking shots, laying the body or dropping the gloves with other teams’ heavyweights, Stuart brings an amzing intensity to every game and every shift. There is no measurement for heart, and while his puck-moving and skating leaves a little to be desired, there is no heart bigger than Stuart’s.
Chris Thorburn: C+
Another longtime member of the Atlanta/Winnipeg organization, Thorburn, despite having not scored a goal, has actually played well for most of the year. The third member of the GST line alongside Jim Slater and Tanner Glass, the veteran winger has played a solid grinding game and generated his fair share of scoring chances. If there was ever a guy deserving of scoring a goal it would be Thorburn and hopefully he can start being rewarded for his hard work.
Kyle Wellwood: B+
As one of the lowest paid players on the team, Wellwood has become one of the best bargain players in the league this year. With 30 points in 50 games played, Wellwood is currently third on the team in scoring and is also one of three Jets players (Glass and Ladd) to play in all 50 games. His incredible smarts with the puck and the fact that he creates a play almost every time the puck is on his stick makes up for what he lacks in speed and strength. Despite not playing physically in his own zone, Wellwood is able to survive by having a knack for positioning and is able to make slick transition passes that most other players don’t really look to make.
Blake Wheeler: B+
After a terrible start to the season, Wheeler turned his game completely around; to the point where he has become the team’s best offensive player. Leading the Jets in scoring with 33 points in 48 games, the 25-year-old has displayed a tremendous skating ability for his size and utilizes that speed to create scoring chances for both himself and his linemates. Thought of to be a player who didn’t always compete hard during his time as a Boston Bruin, Wheeler has changed that perception by giving a strong effort at both ends of the rink and has become a player who leads not only through his talent, but through hard work as well.