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2022-23 Fantasy Hockey Outlook: Winnipeg Jets

If Kyle Connor is Maverick, then rest of the roster is... Bob? Somewhat effective but definitely unexciting, the Jets face questions in fantasy hockey, too.
Kyle Connor

The fantasy season is upon us. Another year of tears of joy and heartbreak.

To help you along, here’s your fantasy outlook for all 32 teams.

2022-23 FANTASY HOCKEY OUTLOOK: Winnipeg Jets

Last season: 39-32-11, 6th Central, 19th overall. GF: 16th, GA: 20th, PP: 17th, PK: 29th

I’m not quite sure what the Jets expected. Under GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, the Jets were always very patient and deliberate, or otherwise too slow and cautious. Did their window just open and shut before anyone – even themselves – had really noticed? It was the first time in five seasons the Jets had missed the playoffs, but perhaps it had been preordained since losing to the Knights in the 2017-18 conference final. They won five fewer games the next season and were bounced in the first round by the Blues, bounced by the Flames in the qualifying round of the bubble playoffs in the following year and most recently were swept in the second round by the underdog Habs. Underachieving is certainly one way to put it. 

Stories about locker room strife had been floating around for a few seasons now, and despite having a talented roster on paper, the Jets never looked very cohesive last season. Injuries played a big role – only Pierre-Luc Dubois played more than 79 games – but only a handful of players exceeded expectations. When Paul Maurice, a coach known for his longevity, held up his arms and resigned, it was a signal that something really wasn’t right with this team, and Dave Lowry couldn’t squeeze much out of them after taking over.

With Dubois’ apparent desire to play in Montreal, the hiring of the defense-first Rick Bowness on a roster without an elite defenseman, and then stripping Blake Wheeler of the captaincy before the season, you wonder if the Jets can remain focused on winning games. It would help if Connor Hellebuyck’s play improved, but he has also played a ton of games – 293 starts over the past five seasons, the most in the league – and that workload is unlikely to get lighter with Dave Rittich as his backup.

Best fantasy option: Kyle Connor, LW

Imagine if the Jets' power play wasn’t so mediocre. Connor’s a perennial Rocket Richard threat, and he scored 36 of his 47 goals last season at even strength, second-best in the league and trailing only Auston Matthews. Today’s game is more about speed and skill, but a 40-goal, 300-shot season is still very rare – it’s happened only 40 times in the cap era, and Connor became just the 25th different player to accomplish the feat. The one thing about Connor that really stands out is how incredibly efficient he is, ranking 18th since 2017-18 with a 15.4 shooting percentage among those who have scored at least 100 goals. It’s one of the big reasons why Connor is much more desirable to Nikolaj Ehlers, who may grade out as their best player analytically, but can’t score goals like Connor. BetMGM has Connor’s over/under points set at 95, and no other roster player is set higher than 78.

Those of you looking for a bit more in banger leagues should consider reaching for  Dubois. He has 30-goal potential with well over 200 shots and roughly 500 faceoff wins and 110 hits. It's a bummer he lost his LW eligibility, but at least he can win a lot of draws. It is also a contract year. 

Hidden gem: Cole Perfetti, C/RW

Perfetti split last season with the Jets (two goals, seven points in 18 games) and the Moose (six goals, 15 points in 17 games), but he’s primed for a full-time NHL role. If there’s a bright spot in the Jets’ immediate future, it’s Perfetti’s potential. Even though he was drafted as a center, Perfetti will likely play as a winger in the NHL, and it’s a good situation to be in because the Jets lack scoring depth on the wings. The sample size is tiny, but according to naturalstattrick.com, Perfetti’s on-ice impact was very good: 53.79 5-on-5 Corsi For percentage and one shot attempt per minute despite a very unlucky on-ice shooting percentage. Perfetti’s a reach in most standard leagues, but he offers the most intriguing upside on an otherwise unexciting roster (aside from Connor).

Goalies:

Hellebuyck’s going to be a workhorse again, and moving from Eric Comrie to Rittich as the backup might end up being a costly move. The Jets certainly have a chance to make the playoffs, and Hellebuyck’s play will be the most vital to their success. But, as noted before, Hellebuyck’s played a ton of games over the past few seasons, and they are in danger of really tiring him out in an era when playing goalies 65 games a season is a big ask, not to mention the additional physical and mental challenges of a world rocked by COVID-19. If Rittich falters, the Jets will have to lean even more heavily on Hellebuyck, and No. 3 Mikhail Berdin – as talented and fun to watch as he is – has zero experience at the NHL level. Based on volume alone, Hellebuyck could be a top-five goalie, but the team in front of him doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, dropping him into the lower tier of the top 10.

Perhaps Bowness’ insistence on playing a tighter, more grinding style will help limit the shots the Jets face (and in turn make Hellebuyck’s job easier), but that could also mean more high-pressure situations when the Jets are protecting leads. The Stars clamped up immediately when they got a lead under Bowness, and the same likely will happen here. The Stars barely made the playoffs last season, and they were also the only team to have a negative goal differential. They’re built somewhat similarly, too, with only one elite goal scorer (Connor and Jason Robertson), two veterans whom they don’t quite know what to do with (Mark Scheifele/Wheeler and Tyler Seguin/Jamie Benn) and a goalie who’s asked to do a lot (Hellebuyck and Jake Oettinger).

Outlook:

The Jets enter the season on a seesaw, seemingly unsure of which direction to go. Clearly, the status quo with Maurice behind the bench and Wheeler wearing the ‘C’ didn’t work out, and the Jets must decide if they want to rebuild/retool/re-whatever or really contend. Cheveldayoff has been incredibly disciplined in building his team, but at some point, you might want to swing for the fences. Other than Connor, this presents a conundrum for fantasy managers. In a worst-case scenario, the Jets remain discombobulated and, under Bowness, favour greater defensive responsibility over offensive opportunities. At best, the Jets are still several pieces away from really contending, and that’s after they get everybody on the same page. There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of upside, making the Jets an attractive fade in fantasy this season. 

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