Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Punchless Jets need infusion of elite talent

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There will be no representative of the Winnipeg Jets at the NHL all-star game this weekend and while that's a result of injury, it is also indicative of the club's talent level today.

The Jets have no elite level players in their lineup and it's unknown whether any of their current prospects will grow into that status.

While GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has been getting to know his assets since taking stewardship of this club last June, none have identified themselves as top echelon players.

Take a look at NHL statistics and one has to go all the way to No. 76 in league scoring before Blake Wheeler and his 33 points appear. At this pace, Winnipeg's top scorer would be in the 60-point range. That's not so troubling if a team is scoring by committee but that's not the case in Winnipeg. The Jets rank 21st with a goals-for average of 2.51 per game. Not the worst in the league but not sturdy enough to make them contenders.

There are players in Winnipeg's employ such as Evander Kane, Wheeler, Bryan Little and Alexandre Burmistrov that have offensive upside. They are young and still improving and are a nice core to work around.

Could one of them step ahead of the rest and flower into a top-10 scorer? Perhaps.

But in a half season of watching the Jets there hasn't been much evidence to support such a position.

Kane is the only one in the bunch that has shown the ability to dominate games with his mix of power and finish but he's been spotty at best and hasn't scored a goal in his last 10 games.

Prospect Mark Scheifele has 17 goals and 25 assists through 26 games with the OHL's Barrie Colts and is a fine prospect. But until he makes his way to the NHL for regular duty his future contributions are difficult to gauge.

Cheveldayoff was given this roster and has had little opportunity to alter it. He's been at one draft for the Jets and gone through one off-season. His impact to this point has been minimal, but with a five-year deal Cheveldayoff will have the opportunity to reshape the on-ice product.

A big part of that job will be in finding a true offensive star. A player capable of producing points on a nightly basis and pulling his teammates along with him.

Cheveldayoff will determine whether it's through the draft, a trade or free agency. The former is most likely but don't rule out the Jets from going in a different direction if the right opportunity presents itself. They'll have cap room and money to spend this off-season and while it may be a long shot, a player like unrestricted free agent to be Zach Parise could be the peg to hold this tent in place.

Winnipeg's offensive struggles have been highlighted since Christmas as teams have intensified their focus on checking and the Jets have collected just three wins against nine losses in 2012. They've been shut out three times in that span and held to just one goal on three other occasions.

Is there a legitimate all-star with the Jets right now? One can make an argument for Dustin Byfuglien but it's certainly not ironclad. While Byfuglien is talented, to this point in his career he hasn't shown the commitment to take his game to the next level.

Winnipeg's core of young players hasn't been supported very well by their veteran teammates. Kyle Wellwood and Nik Antropov have good nights but neither has yet to hit the 10-goal mark. They're not offensive pillars around which wins can consistently be built.

There's no question about what this team needs and that's a heavyweight offensive punch.

How, when and if they can get it remains to be seen.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

jets report D3

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 25, 2012 D1

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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 www.winnipegfreepress.com
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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