The Winnipeg Jets are accumulating depth up front better than ever before. Their core top-six remains intact and their constantly fluid bottom-six continues to be an extremely fierce competition.
Veterans like Bryan Little, Matthieu Perreault, and captain Blake Wheeler are undeniably penciled into their top two lines. Having Little healthy for the whole season will be a massive boost for the Jets.
Young prominent players are beginning to accept larger roles with the team, like Mark Scheifele, who has embraced his role as the first line centerman and introduced a preponderant voice in the dressing room.
Wingers Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine bring their incredible, dynamic skillset to the lineup. Ehlers’ hands and vision can create a play from nothing. Laine’s frame and thunderous shot generate a scoring opportunity from anywhere on the ice.
The bottom-six includes a pair of centers in Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp, who with another year under their belts can hopefully take a substantial step forward. Kyle Connor has earned a spot to at least start the season with the big club.
Joel Armia has shown enough to the Jets’ staff to warrant a full-time look not only in camp but to begin the season. His size and stick make him an effective player on the penalty kill. Shawn Matthias is also an everyday NHL player.
This only leaves one more spot in the opening night lineup and likely another forward as a healthy scratch in the press box as an extra in case of injury. The Jets still have three other forwards who saw a combined total of 134 NHL games last season vying for a spot on this exciting, young team.
Marko Dano – Left Wing
From Columbus to Chicago to Winnipeg, Dano has struggled to become a regular in a lineup. His numbers suggest he should be a full-time NHL player by now and has produced at the level of a third-line winger.
In 107 games, Dano has registered 42 points—over an 82-game season, that averages out to be 32 points. Last season, that total would have ranked him in the Jets’ top-10 point producers. The Austrian-born Slovak, however, only found his way into 38 games.
The 22-year-old missed a large portion of the second half due to a lower-body injury. It would be very interesting to see what kind of damage Dano could do as a regular in the Jets’ lineup.
The former first-round pick unquestionably has the skill but it’s about rounding out the finer details of his game. He will look to stay with his NHL club for the entire season for the first time in his career. Every year since entering the league, he has spent time in the AHL.
At 5-foot-11 and weighing in at 212 pounds, Dano is stalky. Surprisingly, despite his limited action, Dano placed top-ten in hits on an aggressive Jets squad. Perhaps a necessary tool if he’s destined to be a bottom-six player.
Matt Hendricks – Center/Left Wing
Nothing says “team player” like a guy going out there and putting his body on the line for his teammates. It takes some cojones…and not just metaphorically.
Hendricks was brought into Edmonton for the final few years of their decade of darkness and that is no coincidence. The Oilers didn’t make the trade to add a fighter to their lineup—the premium was put on his personality and leadership.
His personality was to bring a voice in the room and the right attitude every day to the rink. His role as a leader was to influence young players from Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins all the way up to last year with a couple of superstars in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Hendricks said that fellow Minnesota native Dustin Byfuglien put in a word to management about bringing him in as a depth addition and dressing room presence for the Jets’ superstars of their own.
He can play wing with his tenacious forecheck and can play center with his approach on the faceoff. As a penalty kill specialist, his versatility is one of many attractive features.
Though the 6-foot, 207-pound forward entered the league as a tough guy, his fighting decreased dramatically with a career-low one tilt last season. His career average has been around ten per season.
In his 72 career fights, 83 percent of his combatants have been his height or taller. Seven of the 11 times he has fought down, his opponent has been renowned enforcers Mike Brown (two), Steve Downie (two) and Zac Rinaldo (three). Hendricks is a stand-up guy.
Drafted in the fifth-round in 2000, Hendricks had to wait nine years until his debut with the Colorado Avalanche — he willed himself to an NHL career. Now a veteran of over 500 NHL games and 100 points, Hendricks’ next and likely final stop will be in Winnipeg.
In case anyone was still doubting Hendricks’ honest, hard-working game, take a look at his jock after blocking that Alex Goligoski blast from the video above. If that doesn’t show how much of a warrior he is then I don’t know what will.
— Matt Hendricks (@MattHendy26) January 22, 2016
Though it shouldn’t be expected of Hendricks to dress every night and this list of suitable depth players is one of the many reasons for that, when he is in the lineup, he is certain to give 100% percent.
Nic Petan – Center/Left Wing
Perhaps the most polarizing fringe forward in the Jets’ system is former Portland Winterhawks captain Nic Petan. In an attempt to increase Petan’s playing time, head coach Paul Maurice is auditioning him on the wing instead of center.
Petan can help the Jets’ second power-play unit with his vision and ability on the half-wall. The way he plays is quite reminiscent of his teammate Perreault, who experienced a similar transition from center to the wing courtesy of Maurice.
“He’s great at getting the best out of his players. For me especially, he made me a winger and I think ever since that has happened I’ve been a better player offensively and it helped my game a lot,” said Perreault on Maurice’s decision to shift his position.
Hopefully, Petan’s transition includes a positive review of his coach’s decision like his teammate. The Delta, BC product has 19 points in 80 career NHL games. Last season, the dexterous individual was sat in favour of tough guy Chris Thorburn at times.
Skill or grit is a timeless debate but this one had a bit more heat to it. Through Twitter and other hockey forums, it was clear that sitting the 2013 second-round pick and playing Thorburn instead made fans quite upset.
While these three fringe forwards are battling it out in camp for a select number of spots, they also have competition like Michael Sgarbossa and Brandon Tanev itching to find their way in the lineup.
These roster determinations are hard to make, but one indisputable fact is that it is much better to have these problems than the opposite.