The Jets have so many young players with fantastic upside that if they aren’t perennial playoff — and potential Stanley Cup — contenders by 2019-20, something has gone awfully wrong.
Welcome to 2020 Vision, our new feature taking a look at how the roster of each NHL team may look three seasons from now when the 2019-2020 season begins.
Over the next month we’ll profile one team, in alphabetical order, each day and project what their roster (12 forwards, six defensemen, two goalies) will look like.
There were some ground rules for this exercise. We didn’t allow any blockbuster trades or free agent signings, but we did make assumptions about teams re-signing their own UFAs and RFAs.
Therefore, this isn’t intended to be a fantasy-like look at the league in 2019-20. Instead, since this is part of the THN Future Watch family, it’s meant to be a realistic, best-case-scenario projection for each team based on players already under contract, and prospects in their system.
t’s going to get brought up by someone, so we may as well mention it: in Future Watch 2015, we selected the Winnipeg Jets to be Stanley Cup champions in 2018-19. It was a bold choice then and it’s a bold choice now, but it may not actually be too far off.
Name the teams who, without the luxury of a first-overall pick, have been able to build a roster quite as strong, and as young, as the Jets’ is on paper. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to do so. Yes, Winnipeg landed a second overall selection by way of the draft lottery and were able to nab Patrik Laine because of that, but look at the rest of the offense. Nikolaj Ehlers, a projected first-line winger if he’s not there already, was a ninth-overall pick in 2014. Kyle Connor was taken 17th overall in 2015. Adam Lowry was a third-rounder, Andrew Copp was a fourth-rounder and clever scouting has allowed for trade acquisitions of Joel Armia and Marko Dano. By 2019-20, the oldest of that bunch will be Lowry, who will only be 26 by the time the season begins.
The Jets have drafted equally as well on the blueline, which stands to give Winnipeg a bright young defensive core. Josh Morrissey established himself as a steady rearguard last season and is only going to get better over the next few years on his way to top-pairing duty. Logan Stanley and Tucker Poolman project to be in the NHL in three years’ time. Meanwhile, Dustin Byfuglien and Dmitry Kulikov offer some veteran presence on the back end. The only real question on the blueline pertains to Jacob Trouba. Not his play, mind you, but whether he’ll remain in town.
Contract negotiations ahead of the 2016-17 campaign were contentious and he’s a restricted free agent again in 2018-19, but this time he has arbitration rights. In our projection, time heals those wounds and Trouba, who is listed on the second unit only because he’s talented enough to carry a pairing without Byfuglien, will get his payday from the Jets after another strong season in 2017-18.
The goaltending remains a puzzle, though. Steve Mason has been brought in ahead of the upcoming season to help the Jets iron out their issues in goal, but his contract will be up by 2019-20 and the Jets, with other cap commitments, may choose to let him go. The reins then fall back into the hands of Connor Hellebuyck, and Winnipeg is hoping some tutelage under Mason and some extra time to mature can turn him into a capable No. 1.
GOT IT: The number of high-end scoring weapons in Winnipeg is mind-boggling. Scheifele has grown into one of the most underrated scoring centers in the league and he’s only getting better, Wheeler has transformed into an outstanding power forward and Ehlers’ speed is almost unmatched in the league. Pair it with his scoring ability and he could be the next big breakout star for the Jets. Oh, and then there’s Patrik Laine. As he progresses, he could be a top goal scoring threat year in and year out. The Jets already had the seventh-best goals-for total in 2016-17, but they could be flirting with the top spot in no time.
NEED IT: The Jets need a long-term solution in goal. The hope, of course, is that Hellebuyck is the No. 1 netminder the franchise has been searching for since its days in Atlanta, but there’s no guarantee that’s the case. If he can’t handle the workload, he could very well be challenged for the starting job by Eric Comrie in three seasons’ time. And if Comrie doesn’t work out, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff made it clear this summer that he’s not afraid to spend in order to acquire goaltending help.
CAP WATCH: Winnipeg has four players from its projected 2017-18 roster — Scheifele, Perreault, Byfuglien and Kulikov — under contract come the 2019-20 season. That means there’s going to be a lot of money handed out by the Jets over the next several seasons, but the good news is the number of RFAs mixed in with the unrestricted free agents should make it easier for Winnipeg to retain many of their top talents.
Up front, Laine and Ehlers are going to be the big-money RFAs, but retaining the rest of the bottom six should be relatively pain free barring any unexpectedly explosive seasons, and that’s important if the Jets want to keep Wheeler in town. His recent performances are going to make him a hot commodity when free agency is around the corner and re-signing him will cost a pretty penny. Thankfully, other young talents can come in to fill the bottom six and keep the rest of the costs down.
On the back end, the Jets face a similar situation, but re-signing Trouba likely means free agents-to-be Toby Enstrom, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot are let walk, along with goaltender Mason. That’s OK, though, because Stanley and Poolman should be far enough along in their development to take on and be productive in third-pairing roles. Money might be tight, but the Jets should be able to make this work with some careful maneuvering.
BOTTOM LINE: If the Jets aren’t perennial playoff — and potential Stanley Cup — contenders by 2019-20, something has gone awfully wrong. This team has so many young players with fantastic upside that there are few reasons to expect otherwise, and if Hellebuyck comes around and finds his form, Winnipeg should be one of the West’s best by 2019-20.
Previously: Anaheim Ducks | Arizona Coyotes | Boston Bruins | Buffalo Sabres | Calgary Flames | Carolina Hurricanes | Chicago Blackhawks | Colorado Avalanche | Columbus Blue Jackets | Dallas Stars | Detroit Red Wings | Edmonton Oilers | Florida Panthers | Los Angeles Kings | Minnesota Wild | Montreal Canadiens | Nashville Predators | New Jersey Devils | New York Islanders | New York Rangers | Ottawa Senators | Philadelphia Flyers | Pittsburgh Penguins | St. Louis Blues | San Jose Sharks | Tampa Bay Lightning | Toronto Maple Leafs | Vancouver Canucks | Vegas Golden Knights | Washington Capitals