The Winnipeg Jets looked to be turning a corner in 2014-15 when they made the playoffs for the first time since moving from Atlanta. However, their goaltending fell apart and injuries piled up last season causing the Jets to struggle mightily, consequently trade their captain and bottom out. Luckily for them, they moved up in the lottery to the second pick to give them an absolutely loaded top 6. The Central Division will be a bloodbath but I expect the Jets to bounce back and fight to return to the playoffs. They have a handful of players I’m extremely high on so let’s take a look at what they’re working with:
I’m not sure what their plan is here. Their future in net is one of the best goaltending prospects around, Connor Hellebuyck. He played very well for most of his time in the NHL last season, had a horrible two week stretch and was sent to the AHL. Why a team out of contention would send down a rookie goalie who could use the work is beyond me. Now, they compounded things by starting him in the AHL again. The Jets resigned Michael Hutchinson to a 2 year deal for God knows what reason; he was dreadful last season with a 2.84 GAA and .907 sv%. He’ll be backing up Ondrej Pavelec who had a great 2014-15 but regressed to his normal horrible numbers last season. So what do we make about this situation?
In standard redrafts, I don’t want to touch any of these guys. Pavelec can’t be trusted and Hutchinson is even worse. That being said, the second Hellebuyck is called up, he’s a must-own in all leagues. If you have the room on your roster, stashing Hellebuyck is a nice option. I have to think that the Jets front office will realize how he’s the best option by far. For deep leagues, then Pavelec becomes slightly appealing since he will get the majority of the starts to begin the season; Hutchinson is undraftable. Obviously in dynasties Hellebuyck is an elite option.
While the Jets have 4 defensemen who people will consider drafting, the only lock of the group is Dustin Byfuglien. Big Buff is extremely consistent and should be a top 5 fantasy defensemen once again. Last season, he had 19+34, over 3 shots per game and a whopping 119 PIM. He’s a plus in all categories and he’s elite in 2 categories, 3 if you look at goals from a defensemen. In my ranks, I have Byfuglien 31st overall but I think in my next update I’m going to move him past the string of goalies. He’s an excellent building block for all teams at the end of the second round or in the third.
Early indications are that Jacob Trouba will finally get to play on the first pair with Byfuglien. The former top ten pick took a step back last season with 21 points; all he provided was solid PIM and a good plus-minus. Could it get better this year? There’s talk he could be on the first power play unit and if that happens, Trouba could be a must-own in 12’ers. He’s 22 and entering his 4th season, a point where a lot of defensemen take a big step forward offensively. He’s worth taking a flier on at the end of standard leagues acknowledging that you might be cutting him early in the year.
Once upon a time, Tobias Enstrom was an excellent player in fantasy. That time is not now. Enstrom had 2 goals and 14 assists last season. That’s already enough to cross him off the list but he had the worst shot rate in the entire league with 50 shots in 72 games playing 21 minutes. Don’t take him in any league.
Tyler Myers has failed to come close to his amazing rookie season. He was decent last season with 9+18 in 27 games with 72 PIM and a solid shot rate. That has value in even 14 man leagues but it’s not going to cut it in 12’ers. He’s 26 years old at this point so I don’t see him reaching that level again, especially with Big Buff preventing him from being in an offensive role.
Blake Wheeler doesn’t get enough credit for how good of a player he is. After four straight years in Winnipeg scoring 60+ points (prorating the lockout season), Wheeler had a career season with 26 goals, 72 assists, +8, 49 PIM, 21 STP and 256 shots. That’s above average or elite in every single category. Now he has a elite center to play with, a young winger with elite potential on the other side and a power play destined to improve so he can improve his 17 PPP. I have Wheeler ranked 22nd being worthy of a second round pick.
Wheeler’s center is going to be Mark Scheifele; my love for him is well known in these parts. Scheifele took a massive jump in his third full season with 29+32 in 71 games. His possession stats were terrific leading him to be +16, the PIM took a big jump to 48 and the shot rate jumped quite a bit to almost 3 per game. With only 11 PPP last year, there’s additional upside on top of simply natural improvement at 23 years old. Scheifele is #33 in my rankings and I’m tempted to move him up even more.
There is some uncertainly on who will be the LW with Wheeler and Scheifele but it looks like it will be Nikolaj Ehlers. Ehlers’ rookie season showed lots of potential tallying 15 goals and 23 assists in 72 games. The most encouraging thing to me is that he took almost 2.5 shots per game; most rookies struggle in terms of shots on goals. The minutes are bound to increase whether he’s on the first or second line and at 20 years old, he’s naturally progress. Ehlers is one of my favorite breakouts this season; a 25+35 season wouldn’t surprise me at all. I’ll have him right around the 100 overall mark in redrafts and he’s arguably a top 25 forward in dynasties.
Patrik Laine is the other option for the first line in Winnipeg. The number two overall pick is incredibly gifted offensively; he has the potential to be Ovechkin-lite. His shot is absolutely incredible and while I don’t think we see him take the league by storm this year, he’s not going to be pushed around at 6’4 and over 200 lbs. If your league has a rookie draft, I think Laine has to go #1 over Auston Matthews; Laine’s potential is far greater offensively. In standard leagues, he has the potential to have a stat line like Jack Eichel did last year; 24+32 with great shots. Laine could even surpass that if he gets the second spot on the point on the first power play unit or if he gets to play with Scheifele and Wheeler. Those numbers put him on the fringe of the top 100 in redrafts; I’ll probably have him slightly lower than that. Laine won’t get penalty minutes based on his time in the Finnish league but it won’t matter long term with his 50 goal potential.
As far as underrated players in hockey go, Bryan Little is always near the top of my list. Injuries cut his season short but Little scored 17 goals and 25 assists in 57 games last year. While he will be replaced by Scheifele on the first line, Little is still going to play massive minutes on the second line. The penalty minutes have disappeared and the shot rate is only average but a 60 point player holds plenty of value. Little is a nice pick in the middle to late rounds if you’re a little short on points.
Drew Stafford looks to be the right winger on the second line. Stafford scored 21 goals and added 17 assists last season with a decent shot rate. At this point in his career, it’s very clear who Stafford is. To steal a baseball term that’s regularly used on this website, Stafford becomes a hot schmotato a couple times a season while also having prolonged cold streaks multiple times a year. That makes things easy; don’t draft Stafford, stream him in the right spots, hold him when he starts a hot streak and then dump him when he cools down.
If Mathieu Perreault could stay healthy, I have little doubt he would be on the bottom of rosters in 12 man leagues. The problem is that he’s a virtual lock to miss 10+ games. Add in that he’s going to be centering the third line now and his spot on the first power play unit is in jeopardy and Perreault should not be drafted. He’s a nice source of assists so look to stream him, especially in head to head leagues, at the end of the week when you need them.
Going into last season, Marko Dano was probably my favorite sleeper in the entire league. He was arguably the main piece going to Chicago in the Brandon Saad trade after a great second half of 2014-15 scoring 8 goals and 13 assists in 35 games. Instead of using him in the top 6 where he was an easy fit, the Blackhawks started him in the AHL and played him in the bottom 6 when he was up in the NHL. Then, they traded him for Andrew Ladd at the deadline. With the pile of guys Winnipeg has to fill out the bottom 6, I’m not sure if Dano makes the team here or not which is disgusting to me considering what he showed at 19 years old. I’m not drafting him outside of the deepest of leagues but this is a reminder that I love him in dynasties and have faith that eventually, he’ll be in the Jets top six with plenty of fantasy value. In fact, at the latest I think it’s after this season since Stafford is a free agent and unlikely to return. There’s a chance that if Dano plays well enough, he’ll slide right into the second line with Stafford dropping to the third and if that happens, Dano’s must own everywhere.
TOP 7 PROSPECTS (doing more than 5 because their system is loaded)
1) Patrik Laine
2) Connor Hellebuyck
3) Marko Dano
4) Kyle Connor (should make team this year)
5) Josh Morrissey
6) Nic Petan
7) Eric Comrie
That’s all for now guys. I’ll be back tomorrow with my top 75; the next season preview will be the Avalanche on Wednesday. There will also be a post on Tuesday afternoon from our new contributor Reid so be sure to check that out! As always, feel free to ask any questions or leave any comments below. Take care!