What’s the makeup of an ideal team? You’ll have a couple ageing vets still capable of producing. They’ll be character guys, capable of passing on the best of “team culture” onto the young up-and-coming stars. Or maybe they’ll play smaller roles but still contributing and able to set a good example for everyone on and off the ice.
You’ll have young stars just coming into their prime ready to take the league by storm. There will be a few of them… after all the next wave of success isn’t buoyed by one superstar but a team of them. And they can’t all be at one half of the ice (remember the Oilers with all F and no D?)
And you’ll have young prospects knocking on the door. They’re destroying the junior leagues. They’re fitting in well and maybe dominating the minor leagues. They’ll be ready soon.
This volatile mixture needs to include finesse and grit, size and speed, veteran savvy and youthful exuberance. You need to have a style that suits your players. You need to have buy in. You need a tremendous amount of luck. You need to avoid injuries to key players. You need to have depth in case injuries or slumps occur. You also need a healthy level of competition in your club to keep players motivated to improve.
Where do the Jets fit on this mythical scale of team building? We have savvy vets at forward with Wheeler, Stastny in offensive roles and Lews, Thompson in defensive ones. Perreault does a bit of everything; I didn’t know where to put him but I think he deserves mention here.
The Jets have guys in their prime now like Scheifele & Lowry. Ehlers, Connor, Copp are definitely almost there with Ehlers especially showing superstar potential this season.
The next ones up would be Perfetti and Vesalainen. Maybe Jansen Harkins belongs here too as it feels like he’s just barely starting his NHL career. The jury is still out on all three but it feels like a lot of potential is here; especially with Vesalainen and his quick release and Perfetti getting AHL rookie of the month.
On defence the picture is murky. The vets should have been Buff and Myers. The current stars should have been Morrisey, Trouba and maybe Chiarot. The up-and-comers would have been Niku and Heinola. If Cheveldayoff has a failing grade for any part of his tenure with the Jets it’s the sudden unexpected collapse of the defence after the 2018-19 season and the lack of a backup plan to fix it.
Pionk has been a welcome addition in exchange for Trouba. He brings a fantastic offensive game. His defensive game relies more on smarts, positioning and exceptional skating rather than physicality. Yes I know he leads all Jets D men in hits but I honestly think the majority of those hits hurt him more than his opponent given his size compared to the average NHL forward.
Josh Morrisey seems to have regressed since the departure of Byfuglien. Maybe he wasn’t ready to handle the top role. Maybe he put too much pressure on himself and tried to do too much.
I have always liked Ben Chiarot but I underestimated the size of the hole he left behind. His physical presence, big shot from the point, skating ability and improving defensive play are all sorely missed on the current Jets roster.
We’ve seen so little of the Jets defensive prospects it is hard to gauge how excited or scared we should be. Stanley has seen some game action. Now we know he’s big and can shoot. We know he’s got to work on his skating agility and defensive positioning. Heinola and Niku are complete mysteries to me. Perhaps some of you can chime in down in the comments section, but to me, they are almost ghost-like apparitions that get a few minutes of ice time every couple of months and then disappear.
As individuals, there’s a lot to like about each player. But as a group, they don’t seem to be working. The best players on D are their least physical ones. The more physical players all have liabilities in their game from either skating, positioning, or game sense. A lot of this has been obscured by excellent goaltending. I swear we must lead the league in giving up odd-man rushes and breakaways.
In goal, we have Hellebuyck in his prime. Mikhail Berdin and Eric Comrie are on the Moose. Berdin seems to have supplanted Comrie as the goalie of the future. Goaltending is hard to scout and hard to predict. But neither seems to have the same ceiling as Hellebuyck.
So where does that leave us? The forward corps feels fine. Connor Hellebuyck is signed for a few more years.
The holes on D feel too big to be fixed by one blockbuster trade – perhaps that is what kept Chevy from overpaying at the deadline – we’re close but not close enough to make that huge purchase worth it yet. I’ll be interested to see how Cheveldayoff manages in the coming months through trades, free-agent signings, and the draft.