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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Questions remain, but Jets team of 2013-14 is coming together

Posted: 09/25/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 09/25/2013 6:50 AM | Updates

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Head coach Claude Noel's squad is shaping up, with improvements in some areas, questions in others.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Head coach Claude Noel's squad is shaping up, with improvements in some areas, questions in others. Photo Store

A couple of weeks ago the Winnipeg Jets christened training camp with some riveting subplots and a handful of questions screaming out for answers.

And what can we say of the Jets today, what with two exhibition games remaining and the regular-season opener less than a week away?

How about this: They remain a club with some riveting subplots and a handful of questions screaming out for answers.

Yes, six exhibition games and a number of on-ice sessions into a camp that began with 58 players has essentially revealed little we didn't already know. All that said, some of the subplots have certainly been percolating.

And so, with the Jets pulling in for a pit stop on Tuesday before the final two pre-season laps, the timing is perfect for a training-camp recap...

 

WHAT WE ALREADY KNEW THAT HAS BEEN CONFIRMED AGAIN

  • The Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Blake Wheeler trio will, once again, be counted on to provide a good chunk of the offence. Last season, the line emerged as a bona fide No. 1 combo, scoring 44 of the team's 126 goals, or 34.9 per cent. That percentage, up from 31.2 in 2011-12, will likely need to hold or even decrease because it would signify the emergence of a consistent second- and third-line scoring threat.
  • Ondrej Pavelec is, without question, the No. 1 goaltender. And, further to the above, if he's not the team's MVP -- courtesy of improvements in his own game and a real commitment to team defence -- then the Jets will be watching the playoffs again this spring.

WHAT WE'VE LEARNED

  • An old dog can learn new tricks. OK, so the Dustin Byfuglien commitment-to-fitness issue has been pummelled into a pulp over the last few days/months/years. But a leaner Byfuglien, like the version that reported to training camp, has the potential to be more durable, less prone to mistakes late in games and the kind of positive difference-maker for a franchise trying to morph from also-ran to contender.
  • Evander Kane and Devin Setoguchi's games blend well together. Sure, the sample size has been tiny in the pre-season, but these two wingers bring a lot of speed, skill and finish to the second line. And the chemistry between the two has come quickly.
  • As he gets more comfortable with his role, Jacob Trouba has a real shot at becoming a franchise defenceman. He's going to make mistakes and have off nights, but there will be way more good than bad and the 19-year-old American is NHL-ready right now.
  • Michael Frolik and Matt Halischuk, while not splashy pickups during the off-season, are two versatile players who should give the Jets' third line some experience, skill and scoring punch.
  • Joshua Morrissey, the Jets' No. 1 draft choice this season, is a slick-skating sponge of a prospect who should put up huge numbers in Prince Albert and be a key cog for Canada at this year's world junior.
  • Adam Lowry, the team's big centre, might have had a real shot at regular work on the big club if he hadn't been injured in camp. He was solid Monday night in Edmonton and, even though he was assigned to St. John's on Tuesday, might not be in Newfoundland for long.

WHAT'S STILL UNDECIDED

  • Who lands the No. 2 centre gig between Kane and Setoguchi, to be held by either Olli Jokinen or Mark Scheifele, might not be finalized in the final two pre-season games and, regardless, will hardly be carved into stone come opening night on. Oct. 1.
  • Scheifele remains a work in progress. The reassignment of Eric O'Dell and Lowry, both centres, to St. John's means Scheifele is convincing management he can shorten his shifts and play the 200-foot, defensively responsible game necessary to stay in the bigs. He's stronger on his skates but, through camp at least, also seems to have lost some of that unbridled enthusiasm to his game that was so infectious two years ago.

He'll likely see some time on the second power-play unit and needs to find his offensive mojo, especially if he's centering two snipers such as Kane and Setoguchi.

  • Moving four players to St. John's on Tuesday -- O'Dell, Lowry, Ivan Telegin and Andrew Gordon (providing he clears waivers), along with Morrissey being sent back to Prince Albert -- means the Jets still have some roster numbers to crunch.

Winnipeg now has 27 players in town, including nine defencemen, 15 forwards and three goalies and must whittle that down to 23 players by early next week. Assuming Eddie Pasquale is reassigned, that leaves some players still on the bubble: forwards Chris Thorburn, Anthony Peluso, Eric Tangradi (who is injured) and Patrice Cormier, defencemen Zach Redmond, Paul Postma and Adam Pardy.

  • The Jets have a lot of work to do in a short period of time to be ready by Oct. 1 in Edmonton. Said head coach Claude Noel after Monday night's pre-season loss to the Oilers:

"We have to get more of our regulars in... a lot of our guys haven't even played together. We're trying to make sure that guys are healthy and there's a lot of objectives from our standpoint. We'll have played eight games in 14 days (when the pre-season is complete) and we want to make sure we get through the exhibition season and open the season fairly healthy.

"There's a lot of things we need to manage, and one of them is getting our team together and practising a bit and playing together as well. That's coming here this week."

 

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 25, 2013 D1

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Updated on Wednesday, September 25, 2013 at 6:50 AM CDT: Replaces photo, changes headline

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