Winnipeg Free Press


Jets defence could be greater than the sum of its parts

Good morning, folks.

I've been thinking about the Winnipeg Jets defence. The consensus seems to suggest they are terrible, and I got to questioning why we think that.

Is it because the corps lost a number of players following the 2018-19 season?

Is it because a tenacious group of Flames forwards seemed to manhandle the Jets defence in last summer's playoff play-in round?

Is it because the team has lousy players on the blue-line?

All of the above, Steve!

I hear ya.

But, I'm also open to one other possibility: this is a different type of group than the past and they will be better than we think. We just don't know it yet.

Yes, the Jets lost four significant pieces in the summer of 2019, but Tyler Myers and Dustin Byfuglien were often a disaster in their own zone; Ben Chiarot could hit, but was really just an average player otherwise; and, well, you all hated Jacob Trouba.

Interestingly, the Jets finished 14th in goal against in 2018-19 and 10th last season. Oh sure, Connor Hellebuyck won the Vezina so that helped, but they must have done one or two things right on defence, no?

I actually don't mind this current group of defenceman. They may not have the flash and crash of the previous group, but they might have the ability to make the defence greater than the sum of its parts and that might be a better recipe for team success. Less risk, more reward.

As a group, the starting six are all between the ages of 25 and 28 and you might suggest they all are in the prime of their careers. Whatever that looks like.

Here's what I see from the group that's projected to start the season:

Josh Morrissey (25): Coming off consecutive 31-point seasons, is +31 on his career and has never had a minus season. Had to adjust to the loss of Trouba last year, but first-round pick (13th overall) in 2013 should be ready for a career season, or two or three;

Josh Morrissey (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Josh Morrissey (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

• Neal Pionk (25): Aquired in the Trouba deal, smooth skater with great puck skills had a breakout season last year with six goals and 39 assists; also a +10. Entering his fourth season in the league and should also be trending upward;

• Dylan DeMelo (27): The fancy stats folks love this guy. Hasn't scored since 2018, but is more relied on to be shutdown in his own zone. Career +4 and also in his prime;

• Derek Forbort (28): First-round pick (15th overall) in 2010 played a lot of games and a lot of minutes for a bad Kings team from 2016-2019 and was +13 over those three seasons. Adds some size to the team that lost to the Flames. Career +7;

• Nathan Beaulieu (28): Another first-round pick, 17th overall in 2011, he needs to stay healthy. The last time he played a full season was in 2016-17 with the Habs, when he had four goals and 24 assists and was +8. Career +21;

Nathan Beaulieu

Nathan Beaulieu

• Tucker Poolman (27): Highly touted guy coming out of college, who played pretty well in his first full pro season last year. Should also be trending upward. Career +1.

And then there is the potential inclusion of 2019 first-round pick Ville Heinola, who will likely start the season on the taxi squad.

Colour me crazy, but the player I think the Jets have missed most on defence the last two seasons, has been Toby Enstrom.

Say what?!

Yeah, the undersized Swede got over-matched at times in his own zone, but nobody on the Jets closed the gap and kept the puck in the opposition zone better than Enstrom did. Heinola draws comparisons to Enstrom. They say the Finn's hockey IQ is also sky-high, he is incredibly poised and rarely makes poor decisions on the puck. 

Time will tell on him, and the rest of this group.

But, could be things are trending up.

Now, don't say I never say anything nice about your team.

As always folks, you can reach me by replying to this mailing or by sending me an email here.

Our coverage

The Jets held their first post-training camp practice on Tuesday at Bell MTS PLace. Jeff Hamilton was in attendance and files two reports:

Biding his time: Cole Perfetti has come up woth different ways to stay sane as he patiently waits to chase his dream of one day playing in the National Hockey League. The Jets top pick in the 2020 NHL Draft has been holed up in his hotel room since Sunday as part of the league's COVID-19 protocols and Jeff has a story on how Perfetti's had four negative tests for coronavirus, but won't be able to join his teammates on the ice until Monday;

Cole Perfetti

Cole Perfetti

What you see is what you get: Jeff has details on the team trimming down to a league-mandated 23-man roster and taxi squad Tuesday afternoon.

 In other news

• Practice ice: With all curling clubs closed the last two months, Jason Bell reports that Kerri Einarson’s dad and a neighbour built a sheet of ice on Lake Winnipeg near Hnausa, just north of Gimli, for his daughter to practice on, in preparation for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts;

Taking one for the team: Willie Jefferson is the latest Blue Bomber to take a pay cut and Taylor Allen has a story on the star defensive end telling reporters on Tuesday that he understands that it needed to be done;

Willie Jefferson (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Willie Jefferson (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Still the same: Mike Sawatzky has a story on identical twins Morgan and Taylor Wabick, who are in the midst of their senior seasons playing hockey at the University of Connecticut but still have their teammates and coaches befuddled: How do you tell them apart?;

Back on the ice: Mike also has a yarn on former Winnipeg South Blues players Mitchell Joss and Mikol Sartor, who have landed with the NAHL’s Minnesota Wilderness and are hoping to recreate some of their old magic when the club restarts its season Friday after a six-week pandemic break.

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