The first half of the 2014-2015 NHL season has mainly been positive for the Winnipeg Jets. Honestly, the team as a whole could be regarded as an early season stud. In terms of the individuals on the Jets roster, not everyone has been great.
Here are the Winnipeg Jets Studs and Duds at the halfway point of the NHL season.
The Winnipeg Jets top line, which is consisted of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler, has been everything and more for the Jets this season. Andrew Ladd leads the team in points with 34 and Bryan Little leads the team in goals with 16. Meanwhile right-winger Blake Wheeler is second in points, with 32.
While the trio's offensive contributions have been solid, these players bring more to the team than frequent appearances on the box score. The line plays well in all three zones of the ice. They aren't afraid to stand up for one another. They score goals, work hard and they are reliable on the power play. Overall, they set a tone for the entire team. It's been debated weather Little-Ladd-Wheeler is a legitimate NHL top line. This year, they have seemingly silenced those critics.
In a short span of a month or so, the Jets have seen a defenseman - that was moved to forward for poor defensive play - transform back to a Norris candidate defenseman. Dustin Byfuglien has been an absolute stud for the Winnipeg Jets. People outside of Winnipeg have certainly taken notice as Byfuglien was just selected for the upcoming NHL All-Star Game. Byfuglien started out as a Band-Aid to the Jets' defensive core while the team was struggling with substantial injuries to defensemen Jacob Trouba, Mark Stuart, Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian. Byfuglien was provided with an opportunity to show that he is ready to be a responsible and elite defenseman.
Coach Paul Maurice commented on the initial arrangement "It was a tryout...it really was." While thriving individually, Byfuglien's efforts have rubbed off on a particular player - specifically rookie defenseman Ben Chiarot. Chiarot was also called on to help stop the bleeding on the backend and thanks to some mentorship from his defense partner, but it looks like the 23 year old could find a permanent spot with the club for the remainder of the year. ‘Big Buff' has done it all this season; could he add a Norris Trophy to his impressive list of accomplishments?
It goes without saying that the Jets might not be where they are today if it weren't for the heroics of rookie goaltender Michael Hutchinson. Where they are today is at the top spot of the Western Conference Wild Card race. This is a position that few expected for the Jets. By the numbers, the 24 year old continues to rank as one of the best goalies in the league. Hutchinson currently sits second in the league in save % with a .931. This is accompanied by a third place ranking in GAA, with a 2.00. Hutchinson has slowly taken over as the new guy between the pipes for Winnipeg, and it really has been a tremendous story.
If the Jets do the make the playoffs, it would be foolish to suggest that Michael Hutchinson would not get some Calder Trophy consideration.
Honorable Mention: Matthieu Perreault
The Fourth Line
Whoever plays on the Winnipeg Jets fourth line should be prepared to see very limited ice time, because in reality they deserve to see very limited ice time. The reason for that is that - despite the many different combinations that have been used for the team's fourth line - they have proven to be unreliable. The problem with the line appears to be the wingers. Centre Jim Slater has been doing a fine job, but he isn't getting enough help from the other two wingers on the fourth line.
Chris Thorburn does not give the Jets energy; rather, he seems to be hurting the team whenever he is involved with the play. Thorburn should really be experiencing more trips to the press box than he has. I feel that TJ Galiardi could provide more of a spark to this team than Chris Thorburn has. Nevertheless, Paul Maurice does not agree and Thorburn sees far more ice.
Whatever the combination of grinders that the Jets mash together on the fourth line, Paul Maurice doesn't seem to trust them enough a regular shift. As a result of that, the Jets roll three lines most nights and it seems that fatigue becomes and issue from time to time. The Jets need more from their depth players moving forward.
When Ondrej Pavelec is granted a start between the pipes, many fans get nervous. At this point it's hard to feel confident with Pav in net. Hockey twitter seems to explode when he plays and they usually have good reason to do so. At the halfway point of the season, Pavelec has a 10-10-6 record, a below-average .909 save % (which actually remains above his norm) and a mediocre 2.52 GAA, and this is despite a hot start. Pavelec has displayed horrific rebound control, poor lateral movement and overall laziness at times. Pavelec doesn't have to be phenomenal but he certainly has to be more serviceable as a backup to help this team.
Who are your Studs and Duds through the first half of the season? Did I miss anyone? Am I crazy?