The prospect shelf of the Winnipeg Jets has long been considered one of the deepest in the league. In the coming weeks, they’ll have a chance to prove it. Just a couple weeks into this young season, the Jets already have players visiting the infirmary. Mathieu Perreault and Dmitry Kulikov both suffered lower body injuries in a 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, Adam Lowry was banged up against Vancouver, and Matt Hendricks has yet to make his Winnipeg Jets debut. These injuries have opened up spots for a few young Jets to show that they are ready for the NHL.
Kyle Connor made his season debut in the Jets 5-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. In a night where very little went well for Winnipeg, Connor was a standout. Connor was able to show his speed and skill with the puck, resulting in a goal and many chances. Connor played over 17 minutes and fit in nicely playing with the top six forwards. The young American started the game alongside Patrik Laine and Bryan Little but also spent time with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. Perreault looks to be out a while which will give Connor a chance to prove himself.
Connor will continue to get big minutes as well as he has spent the week practicing with Wheeler and Scheifele on the top line. He will also see minutes on the power play. Connor started hot in the AHL scoring three goals and five points in the first four games. He needs to find the same offensive touch in the NHL to help this team win.
Lemieux, son of former NHLer Claude, will make his NHL debut Friday for Winnipeg. The 6’1″ agitator took his style from his father – he is hard-nosed and hard to play against, piling up 130 PIM last season. Lemieux put in a ton of work this summer, however. A lot more speed and muscle have upped his offensive upside, notching five points in his first four AHL games this year. Lemieux was a stand out during training camp and had many thinking he may make the team. He ended up being one of the last few cuts but will get his chance thanks to a couple early injuries.
Lemieux will likely fit in on the fourth line with Shawn Matthias and Nic Petan in the middle. Matthias has created many chances this season, and Petan’s offensive skill is undeniable. If Winnipeg wants this season to live up to expectations, they need production from this line. Lemieux will provide toughness, and, more importantly, the Jets are hoping for offence. The bottom six forwards have been an Achilles heel for Winnipeg this year. Now, they’ll look towards the future as they hope to find a solution.
Unlike the two other players mentioned thus far, Poolman has been with the NHL team since day one of the season. Poolman played in the NCAA last year with the North Dakota Fighting Hawks. Making this roster was not a sure thing, but Poolman was their top defensive prospect. Winnipeg opened camp with seven defensemen on one-way contracts, but Poolman’s play forced Winnipeg to open the season with eight defensemen on the roster, an oddity in the NHL.
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The decision has paid off so far for Winnipeg. Poolman has already played in three games, getting his first action when Dustin Byfuglien went down injured. Now, he fills in for Kulikov in what could be a role that lasts more than just a few games. So far, Poolman has met, if not exceeded, all expectations.
Watching the Jets play, you rarely hear his name – a good sign for a defenseman. He has averaged over 15 minutes of time on ice per game and played a season-high 18:04 against Columbus earlier this week. Poolman has already jumped Ben Chiarot as the number seven defensemen, and, if his play continues, he could find himself in the lineup every night. If, during this stretch, Poolman can add some offence to his game. the Jets will not be able to keep him out.
Winnipeg was already a team that relied heavily upon their young players. With the most recent rash of injuries, the team gets even younger. These players will be counted on to be the core of the team in a few years. They will get a chance to move up that timeline over the next few weeks. If the Jets want to become the team everyone expected this year, they will need contributions from all of them.