Who Will Make Opening Night Jets Roster?

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There was plenty of buzz around the Winnipeg Jets this preseason. None of that buzz, however, came from the razor of Patrik Laine. Yes, folks, the 19-year-old has started growing a beard. Whether or not he’s just growing his playoff beard a little early remains to be seen, but the teenager’s five-point game against the Flames this preseason surely expresses his desire to get the regular season underway. 

It shouldn’t be difficult for Jets fans to get used to seeing Laine with a beard, but adjusting to the new names and faces in the bottom half of the roster could be.

Heading into the preseason, many questions surrounded Canada’s most central team about who would play with whom, who can force their way onto the roster, and who could lose their spot.

With the preseason in the rear-view mirror, it’s safe to say that few of those questions have been answered. What we do know is that Paul Maurice will have to make tough decisions when rounding up the bottom half of his lineup.

Wheeler, Scheifele, and Laine will play the first line. The second line belongs to Perreault, Little, and Ehlers. So what about the third line? Lowry and Armia are shoe-ins, but who will join them? And what about that fourth line? It could go many ways.

Fighting for the final five spots is a cluster of nine forwards: Kyle Connor, Brandon Tanev, Marko Dano, Andrew Copp, Matt Hendricks, Jack Roslovic, Nic Petan, Shawn Matthias, and JC Lipon. One could make compelling arguments for each of these guys, but the fact of the matter is that they can’t all get spots.

So who has the best chance at sticking with the squad?

The names of Nic Petan and Marko Dano should sound familiar to Jets fans, and if not, they will be very soon. The pair of 22-year-old forwards had great showings throughout training camp. They played excellent together against the Senators, combining for three points. They’ll bring offensive depth and speed to the bottom half of the Jets lineup.

The last three spots in the lineup should belong to role players Andrew Copp, Matt Hendricks, and Shawn Matthias.

But it’s hard not to give one of these spots to a guy like Kyle Connor, who had a great offensive showing against the Sens as well. The main reason Connor cannot claim one of these spots is that he doesn’t kill penalties, meaning he’ll be on the outside looking in.

Along with Connor, JC Lipon and Jack Roslovic should also find themselves in the AHL to start the season. While they all had great camps, the fact is that they have two-way contracts, making it easier to avoid the hassle of waiving a guy like Shawn Matthias or Andrew Copp. 

Brandon Tanev is the only guy with a one-way contract who shouldn’t crack the lineup. Horrendous possession numbers, combined with a lack of scoring, make him a black hole during five-on-five play. However, don’t be surprised if he does find his way into the lineup, as Maurice loves to use him on the penalty kill.

On the defensive end, life becomes a little less stressful for Maurice. First you’ve got Enstrom and Byfuglien. The second line goes to Morrissey and Trouba, and third belongs to Kulikov and Myers. While these pairings will likely change game by game, shift by shift, Maurice will have the benefit of putting six quality defensemen in his lineup every night, should they stay healthy.

In the event of injuries, however, things could get interesting. The duties should belong to 26-year-old Ben Chiarot, but 24-year-old University of North Dakota graduate Tucker Poolman has also made a compelling case. He has played in all situations, on both sides of the ice, and slid up and down the lineup. But starting the season may be best for his development, rather than sitting in the press box night after night.

Between the pipes, expect to see Connor Hellybuyck get the start on opening night. The 24-year-old played three solid outings, going 1–1–1, while posting a .922 save percentage. Healthy competition will be key to his success between the pipes in Winnipeg this season. Should Hellybuyck drop the ball, expect to see newcomer Steve Mason make his case to be number one.

There should be no doubt in anyone’s minds when looking at Winnipeg’s prospect depth. With such depth, the team could explore plenty of options should they want to add any big pieces around the trade deadline.

In just a few days, it’s off to the races for a Winnipeg team eager to push for the playoffs.

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