The 2018-19 season was not a great one for the Winnipeg Jets. Sure, they finished second in the Central Division with 99 points, but after what they accomplished in 2017-18, something just did not seem right this time around. In this series, we will take a look at some key Jets players who may or may not have been part of the problem in their up-and-down 2018-19 campaign.
Kyle Connor played all 82 games last season, his first full season since joining the Jets. He set career-highs in goals (34), assists (32), points (66), and saw his average time on ice increase nearly three minutes per game compared to his 2017-18 season. He also put up three goals and two assists in the six-game series versus the St. Louis Blues and saw his average ice time increase again, up to over 21 minutes per game.
Connor had a fairly consistent season with the exception of one month (December) in which he had season lows for points (4) and plus/minus (minus-10). His defensive play was a bit of a question mark last season, as well. He was on the ice for 75 even-strength goals against last season, which is a 31-goal jump from his 2017-18 total of 44 goals against. He finished plus-8 in 2017-18 and minus-7 in 2018-19. Many fans have been calling out the Jets entire top line last season; I would suggest he needs to improve his defensive play the most out of the trio heading into 2019-20.
Increased Power Play Time
Connor saw a heavy increase on the NHL’s fourth-best power play last season; he was on the ice for over 285 power play minutes over the course of the season, an 83-minute increase from the 2017-18 season. He has cemented himself on the top unit as the guy who plays down low along the goal line. His quick hands and passing in-tight to the net make him a great fit for this spot. He has become consistent at finding Mark Scheifele in the slot or feeding the puck back to Blake Wheeler so he can work his magic along the half wall.
In 2017-18, Connor saw his role on the top power play diminish when the Jets brought Paul Stastny onboard. Stastny was the better choice in my opinion and he proved that during his short stint with the club in 2018. The team then brought in Kevin Hayes for their 2019 playoff run last season, but Connor was able to hold onto his spot on the top power play unit this time around.
I think it is safe to say we will see him keep his role on that top unit for 2019-20. The only way I can see him losing it is if head coach Paul Maurice wants to spread his talent around a little more and bump up Jack Roslovic or even someone like Kristian Vesalainen to the top unit. With that said, not a lot of teams give their number two power play units much time anymore. Lots of teams are trending in the direction of the five best players seeing nearly the full two minutes on power plays. It will be interesting to see if Maurice shakes things up heading into the new season.
Uncertainty Heading Into 2019-20
As everyone knows, Connor is still without a contract (as of when this article was written 30/08/2019) and things do not appear to be moving very quickly. The 6-foot-1 winger is looking for a long-term deal as he recently stated: “we will look at everything, but probably focus more on long term.” He also stated in the same interview he hopes to have a contract in place before training camp starts. He was recently in Winnipeg for a golf event and did not have any meetings planned while he was in the city.
I think it would be in the Jets’ best interest to lock Connor up long term and shoot for a bridge deal with Patrik Laine. Something around seven years and $7 million per season is what a lot of people are projecting for Connor’s next contract. Being as tight to the cap as they are with his and Laine’s expected values, the team will want to get that number as low as possible if they sign him long term.
With how things have been going around the league this offseason, I would not expect Connor or Laine to be signed prior to Jets training camp. I also think it is very realistic they start the regular season with at least one of these guys unsigned, if not both. I think you can expect that among many other teams as well, unfortunately.
We definitely did not see Connor’s best in 2018-19, but he still improved in some areas of his game. He continues to gain confidence with the puck and is starting to really show fans what he can do on the rush and in-tight to the net. He played the majority of the year on the first line and showed some great chemistry with Scheifele and Wheeler. I liked his creativity on the power play and expect him to continue that once again.
He will need to figure out the defensive side of his game as I believe he regressed in that sense last season. The team, in general, was a lot worse with their defensive play during last season – but after what we saw from Connor in 2017-18 – there is no reason he can’t turn things back around for 2019-20. A lot of people are calling for some line juggling by the Jets this season, so maybe that will be good for him. He did show well during his limited time on the second line last season and has a vast skill set that can fit anywhere in the top-six forward group.
With a full season finally under his belt and that much more experience and knowledge, it is hard to think we won’t see Connor’s best in 2019-20. He will have the talent around him once again and is one year older and wiser now. It is time for the 22-year-old to take that next step and really round out his game. I’m not saying he will do it this season but he has the potential to hit 40 goals and 80-90 points at some point in his career. However, here’s hoping he gets signed and does accomplish those feats this season.