5 things to watch heading into Jets camp this weekend
It's September in Winnipeg and that means Jets fans are getting ready to gear up for the fifth season of NHL hockey — and hopefully another playoff run.
Here are the things to look for from this weekend's training camp:
1. Biggest opportunity for prospects
It was a relatively quiet summer for Jets brass on the free agent front. Versatile and productive forward Michael Frolik signed a five-year deal with the Calgary Flames on July 1.
Fourth-line centre and a consistent force in the faceoff circle, Jim Slater wasn't re-signed. Wingers Jiri Tlusty and Lee Stempniak, who were added late in the season to help bolster the squad on their way to the playoffs, were also not given new contracts.
The holes left from those four departures have left what is arguably the biggest opportunity for prospects to make the team since this management team has taken over.
Junior players and young guns from the AHL affiliate Manitoba Moose — or Junior Jets, as I think they will affectionately be called — will be itching to earn a spot as camp gets underway this weekend.
The prospects include:
- Andrew Copp, the former Michigan college centre who got his first NHL assist in his first NHL outing.
- Creative centre Nicolas Petan, who has great hands and competes aggressively for his smaller size.
- Brendan Lemieux, the son of former NHL agitator Claude Lemieux, has been said to be a key piece coming back in the Evander Kane trade with Buffalo.
- Nikolaj Ehlers, 2014's first-round draft pick.
2. Jets or go home
Ehlers, the 19-year-old left winger from Denmark, is one of the most skilled prospects in the Jets' cupboard. He's fast, creative, skilled and can start and finish plays. Ehlers tallied 101 points in 51 games in Halifax last year.
But there is an agreement between the NHL and the junior leagues that if a player isn't playing at the NHL level, while they are junior aged, they go back to their junior club.
If Ehlers doesn't stick with the Jets, they will either need an exemption to allow him to play on the Moose or he could very well end up heading over to an elite league in Europe.
3. From Russia with love
Another of the roster holes will likely get filled with speedy forward Alexander Burmistrov. The 23-year-old Russian native left the Jets organization to play in the KHL.
Burmistrov is fast and creative but also plays smart defensively and can play at any forward position. If things go well, he could be a great asset after the team lost Michael Frolik in the off-season.
4. To Pav or not to Pav
It's perfect timing to start Winnipeg's favourite debate — should Ondrej Pavelec be the starting goaltender?
Pavelec is coming off arguably, the best season of his career. Playing in 50 games earning his highest ever save percentage of .920, lowest goals against average with 2.28 and his most shutouts in a season with five. His impressive play down the stretch was a big reason the Jets were able to eke into the playoffs last year.
The issue for Pavelec seems to be consistency. While his goals against average was better than the league average, 26th on that list was Michael Hutchinson, who had 21 wins while playing 12 fewer games than Pavelec.
Muddying the frozen water even more is that the Jets boast one of the best goalie prospect pools in the league — Eric Comrie, 20, and Connor Hellebuyck, 22.
5. Abundance of defencemen
General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff is entering camp with an abundance of defencemen.
This league punishes defencemen. Dustin Byfuglien missed nine games last March. Jacob Trouba missed just over a month of action and 16 games. Grant Clitsome went down in early December, needed back surgery and missed the rest of the season and playoffs. In two different stretches, Toby Enstrom missed 22 games. Even workhorse Mark Stuart missed 11 games.
Teams know you need depth or injuries like that could cripple post-season aspirations. The Jets, though, are entering this camp with so much depth it could lead to some interesting choices at some point.
It all points to what should be an interesting camp and another great season of hockey for fans in Winnipeg.