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2013-14 Winnipeg Jets Preview
By Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor
(Sports Network) - In the first two seasons since the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg and became the Jets, a great deal has changed within the franchise.
Unfortunately, the club's inability to qualify for the playoffs has remained the same.
Winnipeg missed out on the postseason by eight points in 2011-12 and by a measly four points last season. That makes it six seasons since the franchise's one and only playoff appearance in the spring of 2007, when the Thrashers were swept out of the first round by the New York Rangers.
There is no shortage of talent in Winnipeg, where Evander Kane leads the offense and blueliners Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom create havoc from the back end.
The Jets added forwards Devin Setoguchi and Michael Frolik via trades this summer, but those moves may not be enough to keep pace in a new division and conference. Winnipeg played the last two seasons in the now-defunct Southeast Division, which was often the weakest division in the league.
This season, the Jets switch from the East to the West, conference wise, to join the Central Division, which expects to be much tougher than the Southeast. Not only will the Central be the home of the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, but the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild also expect to challenge for the division title, while the Jets, Colorado, Dallas and Nashville simply try to stay afloat.
Claude Noel is back for a third season behind the bench, but he could be in the hot seat if the Jets struggle to find their footing in their new surroundings. Meanwhile, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff earned a vote of confidence before the season when the Winnipeg brass gave him an unspecified extension earlier this month.
FORWARDS - Kane has been criticized as brash and immature, but he also happens to be the Winnipeg forward with the highest ceiling.
Atlanta selected Kane with the fourth overall pick of the 2009 draft and he has shown goal-scoring skills from Day 1. After recording 14 and 19 goals for the Thrashers in 2009-10 and 2010-11, respectively, he exploded for 30 goals in 74 contests during the 2011-12 season.
While playing in all 48 games during the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign, Kane posted 17 goals and 33 points to finish third on the team in both categories. Having recently turned 22 years of age, Kane could be due for his biggest season yet in 2013-14.
Kane played left wing on the second line last season and he'll likely stay in that spot, as Noel isn't expected to break up the successful unit of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler.
Ladd led Winnipeg in scoring from the top left wing spot in 2013, recording 46 points on 18 goals and a team-best 28 points. Wheeler plays the opposite wing and notched a team-leading 19 goals to go with 22 helpers.
While both of his wingers are capable of reaching 20 goals and beyond, Little busies himself with distributing the puck. Little had seven goals and 25 assists in 48 games last season.
One of Cheveldayoff's goals this offseason was to get Kane some help on the second line and he hopes to have achieved it with the trade for Setoguchi, who cost the Jets a second-round pick in the 2014 draft. The former 30-goal scorer has recorded 19 or more tallies in four different seasons and he had 13 goals and 27 points in 48 games for Minnesota in 2013.
The second-line center spot was Olli Jokinen's job last year, but he could lose it to youngster Mark Scheifele this season.
The 34-year-old Jokinen had just seven goals and seven assists in 45 games for the Jets last season. Although the 20-year-old Scheifele only has managed one goal in 11 career games, he was the seventh overall pick of the 2011 draft and could be in line for a breakout year if he wins the second-line center job.
Frolik was acquired from Chicago for two draft picks -- third and fifth- rounders -- at the 2013 draft in June. The 25-year-old is a versatile forward and had three goals and seven assists in 45 games during the 2013 regular season before adding 10 more points (3G, 7A) in 23 games during Chicago's push to a Stanley Cup.
Besides Frolik, there is little hope for secondary scoring from the bottom two lines. The lack of scoring depth was a factor in Winnipeg in finishing 16th in the league in scoring during the 2013 campaign, and there is a good chance the problem will resurface this season.
DEFENSE - With Byfuglien, Enstrom and Zach Bogosian roaming the blue line, the Jets boast some of the NHL's most dangerous offensive defenseman.
Byfuglien is a big guy with a blazing slap shot and a love for joining the rush. Used as a forward by the Blackhawks during their 2010 Stanley Cup- winning season, the 28-year-old has really made a name for himself since switching back to the blue line after being traded from Chicago to Atlanta in the summer of 2010.
Byfuglien had 20 goals in 2010-11, added 12 more in 66 games in 2011-12 and managed to record eight tallies in 43 games during the shortened season in 2013. He had a total of 28 points last year to pace the Winnipeg defense in scoring.
Although Byfuglien has struggled with keeping his weight down in the past, he came into training camp earlier this month in excellent shape. Now, if he learns to cut down on the mistakes in his own zone, there is no reason Byfuglien can't contend for a Norris Trophy one day.
While not nearly as dynamic, or noticeable, as Byfuglien, Enstrom is the better all-around defenseman. The problem is the 28-year-old Swede has trouble staying healthy. Enstrom played in all 82 games during his first three seasons in the NHL from 2007-08 to 2009-10, but has missed a total of 56 games over the last three campaigns.
Enstrom only skated in 22 games in 2013, but still managed to record four goals and 15 points in that brief run. When healthy, Enstrom is expected to skate alongside Byfuglien this season.
Bogosian, who had five goals and 14 points in 33 games last year, is normally paired with stay-at-home defenseman Mark Stuart. The 23-year-old Bogosian has 34 goals in five seasons as an NHLer, but 19 of those tallies came in his first two campaigns.
Stuart recorded two goals, two assists and a plus-five rating in 42 games for the Jets last season.
Not to be outdone on the offensive end of things, Grant Clitsome contributed 16 points on four goals and 12 assists in 44 games for Winnipeg in 2013. Clitsome will stay on the third pairing with either Adam Pardy or Paul Postma.
Jacob Trouba, the ninth overall pick of the 2012 draft, could also be in the mix, but at only 19 years of age it may be too early to rush the prospect into things.
With all the offensive talent on Winnipeg's blue line it was shocking to see the club finish dead last in the league on the power play. That's not entirely the fault of the defensemen, but Byfuglien, Bogosian and Enstrom certainly have the skill to make a positive impact on the man advantage this season.
GOALTENDING - Although Ondrej Pavelec has proven himself to be a workhorse over the years, there are some folks who question his ability to be a dependable No. 1 goaltender.
Pavelec played in 44 of Winnipeg's 48 games in 2013 and was the club's starting goaltender 43 times while recording a 21-20-3 record. However, his 2.80 goals against average and .905 save percentage were hardly impressive numbers. In fact, in 231 career games -- all with the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise -- the Czech backstop is sporting a lofty 2.95 GAA.
With Al Montoya returning as the backup, Pavelec, who carries an annual cap hit of $3.9 million through the 2016-17 season, will be the undisputed No. 1 netminder once again. Montoya has played in 64 career games with Phoenix, the New York Islanders and Winnipeg and is 24-18-10 with a 2.77 GAA.
WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE - If the Jets couldn't break through to the postseason while playing in the weak Southeast, it doesn't seem like they have much of a chance to land one of the Central's three automatic playoff bids in 2013-14. In fact, it would be surprising if Winnipeg manages to stay in the race for one of the West's two remaining wild card spots. There is no shortage of talent in Winnipeg, but it's been pretty clear over the past several seasons that something is missing and it just may be Pavelec. Cheveldayoff's acquisition of Setoguchi and Frolik will make this a marginally better team in 2013-14, although it won't be nearly enough to end the club's playoff drought.
09/25 14:53:30 ET
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