By: Adam Wazny | Thursday, January 17
Winnipeg Jets' Olli Jokinen (front) gets his pass away in front of Blake Wheeler on day three of training camp in Winnipeg on Jan. 15, 2013. (John Woods/Canadian Press)
Three players to watch
The Jets franchise (formerly Atlanta Thrashers) hasn't made the playoffs in five seasons. For a chance to change this direction, they'll need some strong performances from these three individuals:
C Olli Jokinen
The 32-year-old, with 1,042 NHL games on his resume, brings a needed veteran element to the Top 6 forward group. Jokinen registered 61 points in 82 games with Calgary last season. If he can find some chemistry with Evander Kane, there's no reason he shouldn't produce at a similar clip in Winnipeg.
LW Evander Kane
Listed as a winger but always the centre of attention, everyone has an opinion on the 30-goal scorer and his off-ice persona. Not many can argue his skill set, though. If he matures as a player and keeps his head in the game, he could be the NHL's next big shooting star.
D Dustin Byfuglien
One thing that absolutely can't happen this season: Byfuglien getting banged up. Despite missing 16 games, the 6-5, 265-pound blue-liner scored 12 goals and added 41 assists last season -- an offensive impact the club simply can't live without. With the defensive depth a question mark, head coach Claude Noel needs Byfuglien to play at least 25 minutes a night.
This weekend, when the puck drops to open the truncated 2013 NHL season, hockey fans will finally get an idea of what the latest edition of the Winnipeg Jets looks like.
The players should get some answers, too.
With only a six-day training camp to get up to speed, the Jets (plus the other 29 teams) are boldly going where no one really wants to go: starting a regular season -- this one trimmed down to a 48-game schedule thanks to the 3 ½ month lockout -- without any preseason play to build a foundation or construct opinions on.
How much rust has collected over the break? We shall see.
"Honestly, I have no idea, I'll tell you after the season is over," Jets centre Bryan Little joked during training camp earlier this week. "I haven't played a game since (last) April and I have no idea how it's going to be the first few games."
The Jets host the Ottawa Senators at MTS Centre Saturday afternoon (2 p.m., CBC).
It's been 286 days since the Jets last played in downtown Winnipeg. A handful of players skated for other clubs in other leagues in other countries at various times during the NHL work stoppage, but by and large the team is going into the season with a roster that's been on stand by, waiting for the season to start.
"It's going to take a little bit," said centre Jim Slater. "I'm sure that first period is going to be so fast... you just have to make sure you stay with it. (Every other club) is in the same boat as us."
Under normal circumstances, a mid-January tilt would typically see NHL players on top of their games. This time around, though, hiccups are anticipated, so look for clubs to put an increased attention on the defensive assignments to help reduce unnecessary risks as players find their way early on.
Last season, Winnipeg earned three wins in its first 10 games (3-6-1). Teams have just 48 games to play with this time around, so they can't afford any stumbles out of the gate. With that in mind, consider these areas of concern heading into the 2013 season: