The next cuts are the deepest
Jets poised to burst bubble for NHL hopefuls destined for minors, juniors, Europe as camp enters final week
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/09/2019 (1231 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
They’ve waited a lot longer than most NHL clubs, but the axe is finally about to fall at Winnipeg Jets training camp after nearly two weeks of workouts and five pre-season games.
Coach Paul Maurice is expected to trim his troops down to a single group Wednesday, likely consisting of about 26 healthy players. With 45 skaters still hanging around, that means as many as 19 cuts are imminent, depending on the status of a few minor injuries.
The Jets will have to get down to a maximum 23-man roster by early next week, so there will still be some nervous days ahead for those on the bubble with a few more moves to be made. Just two tune-up contests remain before the puck drops for real next Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
But why wait until then? I’m ready to declare the opening-night roster right now, based on my own observations, plus a helpful gaze into the crystal ball.
You’ll note my list doesn’t include Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor or Dustin Byfuglien, who remain out of sight but definitely not out of mind. Regardless of how those situations play out, the chances of having any of them ready for the team’s 2019-20 debut on Broadway are getting slimmer with each passing day.
With that in mind, here’s how I see things shaping up, barring any last-minute developments with the three absent players or any wheeling and dealing by general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, which certainly remains a possibility, given some of the obvious holes in this lineup.
GOALTENDER: (5 currently in camp)
This one is easy and without any kind of intrigue or drama: Connor Hellebuyck and Laurent Brossoit are your dynamic duo in the crease. Brossoit has been terrific in two pre-season starts, while Hellebuyck was rather ho-hum in his one outing so far. He’ll play Thursday night’s game at Bell MTS Place against Edmonton, and the pair may split the final game Sunday in St. Paul against the Minnesota Wild.
Eric Comrie will likely stick around through the weekend as a third goaltender before being put on waivers and reporting to the Manitoba Moose, assuming another team doesn’t put in a claim. He should pass through without any issues, considering a handful of other quality goalies have already been sent down to the AHL.
Expect Mikhail Berdin and Adam Carlson to be AHL-bound Wednesday. Comrie and Berdin will form a nice one-two punch on the farm, while Carlson will likely be pushed down to the ECHL.
ON THE ROSTER (2): Connor Hellebuyck, Laurent Brossoit
SENT PACKING (3): Eric Comrie, Mikhail Berdin, Adam Carlson
DEFENCE: (15 currently in camp, 1 suspended)
Josh Morrissey, Dmitry Kulikov, Neal Pionk and Nathan Beaulieu are set in stone. I expect the Jets to start the year with seven blue-liners, so that leaves three spots.
Tucker Poolman, Sami Niku and Anthony Bitetto grab those jobs. Niku is currently battling a groin injury that has limited him to just a couple of practices and one pre-season game, and he wasn’t even skating Tuesday. Coach Paul Maurice admitted there’s some concern over how much time he’s missed in terms of his readiness to start the season. If he can’t go off the hop, keeping an eighth defenceman around makes some sense.
Maybe that’s Ville Heinola, who has opened many eyes with his silky-smooth play. Sure, there’s a chance the 18-year-old first-rounder could stick around for the start of the regular season to get a bit more acclimatized to life in the NHL. Maybe he even gets a regular-season game or two. However, I expect the decision is ultimately made to return him to Finland to play in the top pro league there and also participate in the World Juniors.
Rushing a young prospect, especially on the blue line, is not a typical play by the organization. Patience and the “process” will ultimately prevail in this case.
Logan Stanley is close, but really struggled in Sunday’s pre-season game and would be better served by some more fine-tuning on the farm. He’ll be given all kinds of responsibility with the Moose this year and may ultimately get some games with the Jets. Nelson Nogier and Cam Schilling have had solid camps and remain legitimate recall options when the injury bug inevitably hits; both got some NHL time last season.
Luke Green (also battling a minor ailment) has also made some strides after missing most of last season in the AHL due to injury. He’ll be returned to the Moose, along with Jacob Cederholm, Leon Gawanke and Johnathan Kovacevic, who didn’t see any pre-season action.
ON THE ROSTER (7): Josh Morrissey, Dmitry Kulikov, Neal Pionk, Nathan Beaulieu, Tucker Poolman, Sami Niku, Anthony Bitetto
SENT PACKING (8): Ville Heinola, Logan Stanley, Nelson Nogier, Cam Schilling, Luke Green, Leon Gawanke, Jacob Cederholm, Johnathan Kovacevic
STILL WAITING ON (1): Dustin Byfuglien, who remains suspended from the team for not reporting to training camp as he mulls his future.
FORWARDS: (25 currently in camp, 2 without contracts)
You can write the names of Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Nikolaj Ehlers, Mathieu Perreault, Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp and Jack Roslovic in permanent ink. No doubt about any of them, although Lowry and Perreault both have minor hurts right now and haven’t participated in group sessions the past two days.
Assuming the Jets start with 13 forwards, that leaves five spots up for grabs.
I believe Mark Letestu and Gabriel Bourque have made it, and will likely form two-thirds of the fourth line. Maurice told me earlier this week he likes the chemistry he’s seen between them and believes they feed well off each other, as we saw on a nice pre-season goal last week against St. Louis. They’re also the kind of versatile players who can kill penalties and add some physicality that Maurice likes on a traditional fourth line, especially with the loss of Brandon Tanev.
Going into camp, it was assumed Mason Appleton and Kristian Vesalainen were virtual locks, especially with Laine and Connor not in the picture. But both players have been somewhat underwhelming so far. That said, I still expect them on the roster, although they shouldn’t get too comfortable.
The final position is a real toss-up, with several players in the mix. Ultimately, I give the edge to the imposing Andrei Chibisov, but there’s a whole crowd of competitors right there with him, including C.J. Suess, Joona Luoto, Michael Spacek, Logan Shaw and Seth Griffith.
I think Chibisov starts with the big club, while the others all go down to the Moose to play big roles, while also pushing for work and being viable call-up options.
David Gustafsson, the 2018 second-rounder, has had a nice camp but will go back to Sweden for another year, while Jansen Harkins, JC Lipon and Skyler McKenzie (still working his way back from off-season surgery) also get returned to the Moose. Kristian Reichel, Emile Poirier and Cole Maier, all here on tryouts, will have to try their luck in the AHL.
Laine and Connor will return at some point, so they will eventually push two players off the roster, barring injuries. That should create all kinds of internal competition from the likes of Roslovic, Appleton, Vesalainen, Bourque, Letestu and Chibisov.
ON THE ROSTER (13): Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Nikolaj Ehlers, Mathieu Perreault, Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp, Jack Roslovic, Mark Letestu, Gabriel Bourque, Mason Appleton, Kristian Vesalainen, Andrei Chibisov
SENT PACKING (12): David Gustafsson, C.J. Suess, Joona Luoto, Michael Spacek, Logan Shaw, Seth Griffith, Jansen Harkins, JC Lipon, Skyler McKenzie, Kristian Reichel, Emile Poirier, Cole Maier.
STILL WAITING ON (2): Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, who are restricted free agents needing to sign new contracts.
OPENING NIGHT LINEUP: (22)
Ehlers – Scheifele – Wheeler
Copp – Lowry – Perreault
Vesalainen – Little – Roslovic
Bourque – Letestu – Appleton
Morrissey – Pionk
Beaulieu – Kulikov
Niku – Poolman
EXTRAS: Chibisov, Bitetto
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.