The Winnipeg Jets may or may not be an improved team under Rick Bowness, as they remain an inconsistent bunch even more so after their 6-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday (Nov. 23). They are facing a mountain of adversity, with Nikolaj Ehlers and Mason Appleton projected to miss an extended period of time. Through 18 games, he has the team playing at a good enough level to be in a playoff position with an 11-6-1 record.
Bowness is changing the systems on the fly and is still learning about players’ strengths and weaknesses. Despite their up-and-down start to the season, there are three players that are enjoying success under the new structure that the coaching staff is implementing.
Brenden Dillon’s defensive analytics have returned to the level that the Jets were expecting after trading for him in 2021. On a per 60-minute basis, his expected goals against, actual goals against, high-danger chances against, and Corsi against are all improved from last season according to Natural Stat Trick. His percentages in these categories haven’t improved by much, but it does mean that he has taken a step forward into the role he was meant for.
His bounce-back is also a big reason why the Jets currently have the fifth-best penalty-kill in the NHL at 83 percent and are sixth-best in terms of goals against per game, giving up 2.61.
The Jets suffering a few injuries to their forward group is making people wonder about the potential of a trade to replenish it. If Dillon keeps playing the way he has, he may be able to become a staple in the top four and shake the potential of a move. His affordable contract and defensive abilities are what make him an attractive trade option, but it remains to be seen whether or not the Jets want to pursue that route.
Josh Morrissey being in contention for the Norris Trophy was not on the mind of many Jets fans, but here we are. Before the season, Bowness told reporters that he mentioned to Morrissey “when there’s a discussion of who the top-10 D are for the Norris Trophy voting, I want to see his name in there”
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So far, Morrissey is living up to those expectations and then some. He’s tied for sixth in points for defenders across the entire NHL with 19 points in 18 games. Bowness has unlocked the offensive side of his game, as before this season his career-high in points was 37, which he is currently on pace to more than double.
With the forward group growing thin, it has become even more crucial that the defenders chip in offensively. Morrissey’s partner, Neal Pionk, has 11 points in 18 games and seems to have rebounded offensively to start the 2022-23 season. Bowness’ system is a huge part of why these two defenders are enjoying higher point totals, as they are heavily encouraged to jump into the rush whenever they feel appropriate. The more aggressive their top pairing is offensively, the more success the Jets will experience.
Mark Scheifele started the season on fire and has regressed slightly, but Bowness’ system is helping him accomplish more at both ends of the ice. Offensively, he has 14 goals in 18 games, which puts him on pace for what would be a career-high 45 goals. His current career-high is 38, which he had back in 2018-19. He has picked up the scoring slack for his linemate Kyle Connor, who started the season slowly but has found his scoring touch as of late.
Defensively, Scheifele is conceding the least amount of goals against per 60 since 2017-18. He has yet to completely revitalize his two-way abilities, but this is a much-welcome sign for a Jets team looking to create a dynamic “one-two punch” from the centre position. Pierre-Luc Dubois has contributed to that by posting 16 points in 18 games so far this season. A fully healthy top-six could create two effective scoring lines which would be extremely beneficial to a potential playoff run.
The Jets are currently third in the Central Division, and their next three games feature opponents within the division. Their next contest comes tonight (Nov. 25) against the leader of the pack, the Dallas Stars. They will then end the road trip in Chicago against the Blackhawks on Sunday (Nov. 27), before returning home to take on the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday (Nov. 29).
Connor Hrabchak is 20 years old and is currently covering the Winnipeg Jets and Ottawa Senators for The Hockey Writers. He is working towards completing his communications and media degree. He was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He’s been watching hockey ever since the Jets moved back to Winnipeg in 2011, and that has inspired him to write about the sport and attempt to make it into a full-time career.