5 things to watch in Evander Kane's return to Winnipeg
On Sunday, it’s the first of two meetings this season for the Winnipeg Jets and the Buffalo Sabres
The Winnipeg Jets are back at the MTS Centre on Sunday for their first home game of 2016, and it will be a doozy — it's the first of two meetings this season for the Winnipeg Jets and the Buffalo Sabres.
It's also the first time the two clubs have met since their blockbuster trade last February that saw the Jets ship out Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian and prospect Jason Kasdorf for Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Joel Armia, prospect Brendan Lemieux and a 2015 first-round pick.
Buffalo is in the midst of a three-game road trip through the Central Division. They played Chicago on Friday night and will face Minnesota on Tuesday before heading back to New York state.
The Jets have officially finished half of their season with 41 games in the books and the club currently sits last in the Central Division with a 19-19-3 record.
Winnipeg will need to capitalize on the energy in the MTS Centre on Sunday afternoon to make sure they walk away from the whole affair with the win and the two points in the standings.
It was almost a full year ago, Jan. 31, 2015 when Evander Kane last played at the MTS Centre. The Jets suffered a 5-2 loss to the Dallas Stars. Kane played almost 21 minutes that night, had two shots and was a minus one.
Two nights later, the Jets gave up five goals in another 5-2 loss in Calgary. It was the team's fourth consecutive game that saw them give up five goals. It was also the last time Evander Kane would don a Winnipeg Jets jersey.
Reportedly, Kane had his clothes thrown into the shower at the team's morning skate and after that, Kane realized he needed to have season-ending surgery. The rest is now history.
Kevin Cheveldayoff pulled off a pretty miraculous trade with the Sabres and the team went on a decent run to end the season and squeaked into the playoffs.
The Jets likely bested the Sabres in that trade, both short-term and long-term.
Left festering in the minds of many Jets fans was the way things unfolded and Kane's apparent dislike for having to have played in Winnipeg, which was somewhat confirmed by Kane himself earlier this season when he said that he didn't feel like his former team and teammates had his back or appreciated him.
Shortly after that in an episode of "The Life" from Barstool Sports, Kane told the host that if he could fight anyone in the NHL, Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler would be near the top of his list.
All sets up for a big Sunday afternoon showdown.
Not lost in the biggest trade the Jets have made since their return to the NHL was the fact that fan favourite defenceman Zach Bogosian also got dealt to Buffalo.
While Bogosian is a big man at six foot three and 225 lbs, he is a great skater, moves the puck up well and has pretty good blast from the blue line.
At 25 though, his early career has been plagued with injuries. Broken leg, wrist surgery, strained groin — it might be shorter to list the body parts that he hasn't hurt.
He had a lower body injury to start this season and missed the first 17 games. He seems to be getting his feet back under himself now though and he will likely be looking to make an impact against his former club on Sunday.
If you are keeping an eye on the old Jets as they make their return to Winnipeg you might as well keep an eye on the new Jets as they face off against their former club for the first time.
Tyler Myers has more than filled the role of Zach Bogosian.
For starters, Myers has only missed two games since coming over to Winnipeg. In 65 games since last February, he has eight goals and 25 assists and leads all Jets defencemen in that period with 33 points. He's also second in average ice time, only Dustin Byfuglien has more ice time than Myers but Myers has played 11 more games than Byfuglien.
In 67 games as a Winnipeg Jet, Drew Stafford has 23 goals and 41 points. He's been a great addition to the team.
He also came over as a pending unrestricted free agent but liked the fit here with True North and signed a two-year extension this past summer. If he keeps this level of play up he'll earn an even longer contract next time.
The last currently playing piece that came over, that we've also had a chance to watch for a the last few games now is 22-year-old Joel Armia.
The Finnish native is big and talented, and still growing into his game and learning at the NHL level. He could be a great depth forward in the years to come. He's played 10 games up with the Jets this season and even scored the game winner in San Jose last Saturday. That win against the Sharks on the road was the Jets' first road victory since Nov. 27. Armia for the Jets now is just a bonus.
Bonus, injury extra thing to watch — Scheifele line
Mark Scheifele was having a pretty good December. In nine games before the Christmas break he had four goals and five assists. After Christmas he suffered a concussion at practice and missed four games. He's been back for three games now and has one assist, and although he looked a little rusty getting back into the lineup, he has gotten back to his game.
He's third on the team with seven shots, behind only Byfuglien and Mathieu Perreault.
He's 50 per cent in the faceoff circle and has won just as many draws as number one centre, Bryan Little.
He took a pretty awkward fall into the end boards near the end of the overtime period against Dallas on Thursday night.
Paul Maurice said they didn't think it was anything structural so hopefully Scheifele will be able to get right back out there. Since he's been back from his concussion, Maurice has reunited him with Perreault and Nikolaj Ehlers. That trio had great success at the beginning of the season and if Scheifele isn't injured again hopefully that combination can spark Ehlers and become a force again.
There is a lot on the line on Sunday. Expect a high-tempo, energetic battle.