Youthful Jets could be even younger next season if management decides to overhaul its bottom six

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There are any number of promising moments that must have Winnipeg Jets brass both beaming with pride and scratching their collective heads at the same time.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/03/2016 (2448 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There are any number of promising moments that must have Winnipeg Jets brass both beaming with pride and scratching their collective heads at the same time.

It’s Alex Burmistrov dangling and, finally, shooting in Monday’s win over the Vancouver Canucks. It’s Marko Dano driving to the net for his two goals in the same game. It’s Joel Armia stickhandling through the Dallas Stars or Andrew Copp or Adam Lowry finding the back of the net.

And all of it must have Jets management occasionally looking ahead to the start of the 2016-17 season at the collection of pieces they may have up front, particularly for their third and fourth lines. That’s long been one of the common complaints/refrains/observations of the Jets over the past five seasons: the revolving door of placeholders on the third and fourth lines and their inconsistent production.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files Newcomer Marko Dano has shown good scoring touch and may have a future in Winnipeg.

But that bottom six could also be undergoing a massive overhaul by next fall through an injection of youth, especially based on the evidence that has been served up over the last few weeks.

Now with the playoff picture long ago having faded to black it still seems as good a time as any to examine the club’s potential bottom-six pieces — excluding the unknown that is a potential lottery pick — which could be pencilled into the starting lineup next fall.

First, let’s begin with the assumption the Jets’ top line next season would be Mark Scheifele centring Nikolaj Ehlers and Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little would be the No. 2 pivot, possibly flanked by Mathieu Perreault and Drew Stafford (although both would also be candidates for the third line, depending on the draft, trades and free agency).

Here, then, is where things get blurry for Jets management — and that’s a potentially promising development — when considering the candidates to fill out the spots on the third and fourth lines:

Alex Burmistrov, C/W

Currently: centred the Jets’ second line in Vancouver with Perreault on the left and Dano on the right.

Projected: He can be frustrating to watch in the offensive zone because he’s got lots of skill but the finish hasn’t been there. But he’s solid defensively and an excellent penalty killer. That makes him a versatile piece capable of moving into a top-six role due to injury.

Chris Thorburn, LW/RW

Currently: worked on the Jets’ third line against the Canucks with Adam Lowry and Scott Kosmachuk.

Projected: He’s got another year left on his contract (US$1.2 million). He’s a popular glue guy and a veteran piece coaches like to have in the room as a positive influence, but there are younger and cheaper options with more offensive upside.

Adam Lowry, LW/C

Currently: Third-line centre

Projected: His size and versatility to play in the middle or the wing make him an important bottom-six component. Had 11 goals last year and has five this year. If he can consistently hit double-digits in that department he’ll be in this league for years.

Scott Kosmachuk, RW

Currently: Third-line right-winger

Projected: He’s shown some flash in the last couple of games, but while he’s here with the big club now, there are others ahead of him on the depth chart with more layers to their games.

Joel Armia, RW

Currently: Injured (lower-body). Former Buffalo Sabres first-rounder had shown some offensive flair, especially when paired with skilled linemates, before the injury.

Projected: Jets coach Paul Maurice has raved about his “defensive stick” and if he can find some consistency in his offence, that’s the kind of well-rounded game that keeps a guy in the bigs.

Mark Dano, RW

Currently: Worked on the right side with Burmistrov and Perreault against the Canucks, scoring twice and adding an assist.

Projected: He’s been traded twice, but for good talent in Brandon Saad and Andrew Ladd. If the scoring touch many predicted when analyzing his game materializes, he could possibly earn minutes as a second-line winger but is likely a top-nine candidate.

Andrew Copp, C

Currently: Fourth-line centre all season

Projected: The influx of new talent could impact Copp next year. He’s a good penalty killer and it’s hard to be critical of his offensive production given his minutes. But if the third line gets upgraded, that could push Lowry or Burmistrov into this spot.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files Jets head coach Paul Maurice has been experimenting with young forwards in bigger roles lately, including Alex Burmistrov (from right), Andrew Copp and Scott Kosmachuk.

Anthony Peluso

Currently: Injured shoulder (gone for season)

Projected: Tough guy. Banger. Can skate fairly well, but is prone to the bad penalty at bad times. He’s got another year left on his deal and, even though the game is moving away from the enforcer-type, he might still stick in a 13th-man role.

Brendan Lemieux, LW

Currently: Playing with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires after being traded this winter from the Barrie Colts. Has 32 goals and 62 points in 45 games.

Projected: Made a big-time impression at camp last fall. He’s got scoring touch and an edge to his game that coaches love. Will push for work with the Jets this September.

Kyle Connor, C

Currently: Lighting up the NCAA with the University of Michigan Wolverines. Big Ten Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year, Hobey Baker candidate.

Projected: If he turns pro — many are predicting he’ll be one and done — his skill and speed could upgrade the Jets up front. He could get somewhat sheltered minutes on the third line while growing into a bigger role, but it’s a big leap physically and mentally from the USHL to one year of the NCAA to the NHL.

Nic Petan, C

Currently: Has 32 points in 47 games with the Manitoba Moose after making the Jets’ opening-day roster last October.

Projected: He’s got top-six skill — his on-ice vision and passing abilities are exceptional — but will always have to fight the stigma about his size. He has consistently put up points at all levels until now, but where does he fit with the Jets?

Chase DeLeo, C/W

Currently: Leads the Moose in scoring with 16 goals and 17 assists in 62 games. Has been impressive in his first full year as a pro.

Projected: Those who watch the Moose closely have raved about his game and his consistency. Another guy who will need to have a big camp next fall to stick with the big club.

J.C. Lipon, RW

Currently: Fourth-liner with Andrew Copp and Matt Halischuk.

Projected: What you see is what you get: energy guy who finishes checks and can play the agitator role. There’s room for this type of player on any roster, but he’ll be fighting for that work next training camp.

Matt Halischuk, LW/RW

Currently: Veteran fourth-liner

Projected: He’s an older version of Lipon in terms of the work ethic, but minus the agitator element. He’s not a scorer, but his minutes are always reliable. Still, with the influx of all the youngsters coming in, if he’s on the opening day roster next year it means a number of prospects have stagnated.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

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