Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets not punchline material just yet

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Winnipeg's hockey fans inherited the Atlanta Thrashers this summer, but we really didn't know what we were getting.

While it's still pretty early -- the Winnipeg Jets 2.0 are 1-4-1 -- the hockey world is telling us we don't have much of a team. Maybe, maybe not. Waiting a bit before tossing in the hat on the Jets is likely a good idea.

There are a few things we know for sure -- they're young and inexpensive and learning on the job, which makes them unpredictable.

Here are some questions, trends and early thoughts on the men wearing Jets jerseys.

BIG ON BURMISTROV: A first-round pick two summers ago, he spent last season in the NHL playing a defensive role with the Thrashers and mostly flying under the radar. No longer. The 19-year-old leads the Jets in scoring with one goal and four assists and is the team's most dangerous forward. Move over Bryan Little -- Burmistrov is poised to become the club's No. 1 centre.

THE PATIENCE PLAN: GM Kevin Cheveldayoff keeps his thoughts to himself for the most part and doesn't engage in fireside chats about his long-range plan. But Cheveldayoff spent little money this summer in free agency, tipping his hand in terms of how he's going to build, and that's through the draft. Development will take time and the Jets won't buy a winner. But if Cheveldayoff can prove to be astute at the draft table and some of the previous regime's picks pan out -- the Jets could be a contender down the line.

WILD HORSES: Coach Claude Noel likes to call his better players stallions and it's an apt description. This group is undisciplined and a little wild. Defenceman Dustin Byfuglien knows no boundaries and the Jets end up playing river hockey for long stretches each night. Fun to watch in brief glimpses but when it comes apart -- as it has frequently to date -- the puck ends up in Winnipeg's net.

THE SHALLOW END: The Jets aren't flush in scoring or defence. The big line of Little, Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler has been a bust and only the trio of Burmistrov, Nik Antropov and Kyle Wellwood has consistently threatened. The blue-line is a puzzle with Zach Bogosian and Mark Stuart the only players living up to their end of the deal right now. Tobias Enstrom has been spotty, Byfuglien has too often been a defensive liability and Johnny Oduya gets burned way too often.

THE KID: Rookie Mark Scheifele was a star in the pre-season but just OK since the real games started. He's likely headed back to junior for some seasoning and that will leave a hole at centre the Jets will struggle to fill.

NOEL'S NIGHTS: Coach Noel can't be sleeping very well right as his team offers up mistake-prone hockey and hasn't shown the ability to learn from its mistakes. This is going to be a challenge for Noel and he's looking for answers; you can see it on his face.

Noel, however, is a smart and creative coach and it's far too early to be getting down on him.

PAVELEC'S PADS: The goaltending has been OK but it certainly hasn't been the strength the Jets need it to be. It's fine to say, "you can't fault the goalie on that goal," but the bottom line is the puck is going in the net at a rapid rate -- 22 goals against through six games. Pavelec has to be the Jets best player on a nightly basis and he's done that just once in his five starts. He hasn't been bad but he hasn't been great. The club needs him to step up and be consistently elite or this season will quickly get away.

POSTING FOR POSTMA: The Jets blue-line hasn't impressed to this point and Paul Postma was excellent in the pre-season and is certainly worth a look. Even if it's just to shake up the rest of the residents on the back end -- getting Postma up for a look is worthwhile. Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 22, 2011 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.


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