It would be an understatement to say that the Winnipeg Jets have had it rough with injuries this season. On Dec 17, head coach Rick Bowness provided bad news for a few more players, to add to the already lengthy list of injuries. Despite all of these injuries, they find themselves second in the Central Division, and third in the Western Conference with a 20-10-1 record.
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Because of the mounting adversity, certain players have been asked to step up and contribute at a higher level. The organization has been active on the waiver wire, claiming Karson Khulman and Axel Jonsson-Fjiably this season, which has added to their forward depth.
Morgan Barron missed a few weeks with a wrist injury, but he has since returned to the lineup and has been a huge addition to the bottom six. He’s got nine points in 21 games on the third line alongside Adam Lowry, and his defensive responsibilities have grown.
Barron was a piece of the Andrew Copp trade from last season’s trade deadline. The 24-year-old winger is a former sixth-round pick and struggled to crack the lineup with the New York Rangers in his tenure there. A change of scenery has helped him considerably as he is now a valued bottom-six player for the Jets.
With the injuries to the forward core, some players have been asked to move up in the lineup. Barron is an exception, as they have kept him on the third line to be responsible defensively and continue to build chemistry with Lowry.
Dylan Samberg is a player that has stepped up and been an effective defender. Along with that, he has been an underrated piece to the Jets’ improved defence core. He hasn’t been asked to play a bigger role, but his improvement over the course of the season has been noticeable.
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His penalty-killing abilities have provided a big boost to the Jets’ improved penalty kill, which is succeeding at a rate of 82.1 percent, good for seventh best in the NHL. He is not being asked to score goals, but on Dec. 4 he managed to score his first career NHL goal against the Anaheim Ducks.
When training camp began, Samberg was fighting for a roster spot and a chance to play with the Jets after only appearing in 15 games in 2021-22. Twenty-three games into this new season and it is safe to say that he has earned a full-time role with the team.
In 79 games last season, Lowry put up 21 points. Through 31 games this year, he has already managed to put up 19 points. The offseason was flooded with questions about the Jets’ bottom six, and the 29-year-old centre has been the X-factor for that group so far this season.
His wingers have changed a handful of times, but his line always produces no matter the circumstances. Money Puck says that of lines centred by Lowry with at least 35 minutes on ice, three out of four combinations have above at least a 50 percent expected goals percentage, and are subsequently allowing less than two expected goals against per 60 minutes.
Without Lowry playing at an elite bottom-six level, the Jets would be suffering mightily from a lack of forward depth. Bowness has been adamant about his forwards being responsible defensively, and the longtime centre has built a career off of doing just that. If he can continue to provide a strong presence down the middle with Mark Scheifele and Pierre-Luc Dubois doing the same, the Jets will remain a matchup nightmare for opposing teams.
Nikolaj Ehlers is roughly 2-3 weeks away, with the rest of the injuries being around a month or more. If the Jets are able to weather the storm over December and January, they can emerge as a healthy team geared for a playoff run. It will make the trade deadline interesting if the injuries continue to mount, as general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff may be forced to make a move to remain atop the playoff race.