Can Patrik Laine rebound from an off year?
After a successful sophomore season, the Jets sniper had a junior slump. Though he finished with at least 30 goals for the third consecutive year, he scored 18 of those tallies in November and battled through a few lengthy scoring droughts, including stretches where he went 12 and 15 games without finding twine. Laine’s frustration was evident at times, and he was awfully hard on himself, but he can be the most lethal sharpshooter in the game when he’s at his very best. If he rebounds early, Winnipeg’s offense could border on unstoppable. If he doesn’t, the Jets will have to juggle their lines in an attempt to find a way to spark the goal-scoring winger. Of course, this is all contingent on him signing a contract as an RFA.
Will the thinner blueline sink the jets?
Dustin Byfuglien is still the anchor on defense, and Josh Morrissey is one of the best kept secrets in the entire NHL, but there are questions beyond the Jets’ top two rearguards following the departures of Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba. Neal Pionk, acquired in the Trouba swap with the New York Rangers, will have sizeable skates to fill, while sophomore Sami Niku, 22 is going to have his mettle tested with an increase in minutes. Most worrisome about the lack of a true replacement for Trouba is that it doesn’t bode well for the Jets’ ability to better insulate their crease. Winnipeg ranked fifth last in the NHL in shots against per game and was middle of the pack in goals against.
Is the contention window closing faster than expected?
After an incredible 2017-18 that ended in the Western Conference final, the Jets took a 15-point step backward in 2018-19, nearly coughed up home-ice advantage late in the season and were ousted from the playoffs in the first round. The salary-cap crunch is beginning to impact Winnipeg, and the contract situation isn’t getting any easier, either. If the Jets don’t assert themselves as a top team in the Central early, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will have to consider a minor roster shakeup or even a change behind the bench in order to light a fire under the group.
Stanley Cup Odds: 17/1
Kristian Vesalainen exercised a clause in his contract and spent last season in the KHL, but the 2017 first-round pick is set to fight for a roster spot at left wing. He has tremendous offensive upside, making him a potentially exciting addition to the bottom six and another weapon in the Jets’ arsenal.