What to do with a healthy Winnipeg Jets' defense?

Jacob Trouba celebrates his first NHL goal - Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Winnipeg Jets currently have seven defensemen on their roster -- not including Grant Clitsome -- who was placed on the Injured Reserve. So what should the Jets do when Clitsome comes off IR?

The Players

On defense, the Winnipeg Jets have three players who were invited to an Olympic orientation camp: Dustin Byfuglien, Zach Bogosian and Jacob Trouba. Additionally, although Tobias Enstrom was not invited to Sweden’s Olympic orientation camp, one could argue that he should have been and may possibly still make the team with a consistently strong performance throughout the season. Obviously, none of these players are a lock for a final Olympic roster spot and all four will have to prove that they deserve to go to Sochi with solid performances throughout the season. The bottom pairing and seventh defenseman are made up of Mark Stuart, Paul Postma, and Adam Pardy. Although their roles are not as prevalent as those in the top four, these three will also be counted on to contribute and not be a liability while on the ice.

What Happened

In the Jets' season opening win against the Edmonton Oilers, Enstrom, Byfuglien, Bogosian, and Trouba made up the top-four on the blue-line and all four played 22 minutes or more. Interestingly, rookie Jacob Trouba lead all Jets' skaters with 25 minutes. The top four played well as a whole, but Trouba was beyond impressive. Trouba played an instrumental part in the Jets come back win and was arguably their best player throughout the night. He was awarded his first NHL assist on the Jets’ third goal by Michael Frolik to put the Jets within one and then netted his first NHL goal to tie the game at four all. Trouba was trusted with key minutes throughout the game, playing on the penalty kill, power play, and was on the ice in the final minutes to help the Jets maintain their lead and win the game. Trouba was named the first star of the game and gave many people reason to believe that his Olympic orientation invite wasn’t just to help him gain experience; he deserved to be there.

As the season continues, Trouba, along with Bogosian, Byfuglien, and Enstrom, will being working towards the common goal of trying to help the Jets make the playoffs, while simultaneously trying to earn a spot on their respective countries’ Olympic teams. However, in order to do so, the players themselves and the Jets alike, will need them to stay healthy. Something Byfuglien, Bogosian, and Enstrom have struggled to do over the course of the past two seasons. Ironically, if it wasn’t for Clitsome’s injury to start the season, Trouba would have been paired with Mark Stuart to start the season instead of Zach Bogosian and we saw what playing with Stuart did for Paul Postma.

Stuart and Postma struggled as a pair throughout the season opener. Postma did some good things individually and made some good plays to get the puck out of his own end and send the Jets towards the offensive zone. Stuart on the other hand struggled mightily. He failed to clear the crease and prevent his man from scoring a garbage goal on two separate occasions and his foot speed was noticeably an issue against the speed of the Oilers.

What to do When Clitsome Returns

So what should the Jets do when Clitsome comes off IR? I think the obvious thing is sending Pardy down to St. John’s, but how do you decide which defensemen to pair together? Do they go back to pairing Clitsome within the top 4 with either Byfuglien or Bogosian and put Trouba on the third pair with Stuart, where he was projected to play to start the season; or does Trouba’s recent performance change things? Throughout his first 2 seasons as bench boss, Noel has always played a left handed shot on the left side and a right handed shot on the right. Furthermore, considering Clitsome’s recent raise, it’s hard to say whether or not this will factor into Noel’s decision making as to whether or not to play Clitsome within the top 4. Also factoring into his decision is who to sit out as the 7thdefenseman? Based on Noel’s history of being loyal to his veterans and Stuart being one of the leaders within the locker room, one would think Noel will choose to sit Postma.

Clitsome’s return to the lineup will lead to some difficult decisions for the coaching staff. But If I was Noel, the decision would be easy. Clitsome is a solid defensive defenseman that would compliment the skills of Postma. Clitsome replacing Stuart on the third pairing with Postma would allow Postma to continue his development into a legitimate NHLer while also providing Trouba with an opportunity to play more minutes and allow him to potentially develop into the future star the team hopes he can be. Trouba has shown he has the potential to be one of the Jets best defenseman in the coming years and as it stands right now, he belongs in the top four. So why not give him, along with Byfuglien, Bogosian, and Enstrom every opportunity to lead your team on the back end in pursuit of consistent wins, while simultaneously giving them every opportunity to prove they deserve to go to Sochi and represent their countries?

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