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The Afterburner

Smoky summer days are here, but will the Jets light it up this upcoming season?

NHL: NHL Draft David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a while. How’s your summer been treatin’ Ya?

Are you missing hockey like me?

It seems like an aeon ago that the Winnipeg Jets were forced from the playoffs and cast aside like yesterday’s recycling, while the 16 remaining teams battled it out for Lord Stanley’s very fancy mug of champions.

Lucky Pens!

I bet Kessel filled that thing with hot dogs...I know I would.

Sid likely had to fill it with Gatorade. Gatorade, if you’re reading this, that is my idea for a TV commercial.

Once the parade and party shenanigans were over in Pittsville, it was back to work for the NHL and the Winnipeg Jets.

Toby “for the greater good” Enstrom waived his no-move agreement and exposed himself to the expansion draft. (No, not literally. Geez, get your head out of the gutter!)

Marko “Hey guys, I’m over here!” Dano was resigned to a meager contract and was almost the obvious choice for the new kids on the NHL block to snag.

See ya, Mark Stuart! Here’s a bag of cash.

Then came the Vegas Golden Knights draft.

Enstrom and apparently Dano’s bacon was saved when Winnipeg Jets General Guru Kevin Cheveldayoff, waved his hand in a deftly done Jedi mind trick and traded 1st rounders in the 2017 expansion draft with da Vegas Golden Knights architect, George McPhee. Rumour has it that Enstrom might be signing a new “thank you” contract with the Jets in the new season.

G’ bye Chris Thorburn! With writing that, the Jet’s Corsi percentage just went up.

At the 2017 NHL Entry Draft held in Chicago a few days after the expansion draft, speculation ran rampant but consistent in message...The Jets needed to draft a left handed stud defenceman! But who would it be?

“...and with the 24th pick, the Winnipeg Jets are proud to select...from Frolunda in the SHL, LW/RW Kristian Vesalainen!”.

Okay, not a stud D-man, but a stud forward! I let it slide, and quickly turn on my computer to log onto the armchair GM and see where he can slot in. Another season overseas for K-Rap, you say? Alright.

The second day of the draft saw the Winnipeg Jets sign Defencemen Ben Chariot to a new deal. Okay, now I’m worried. Are we not going to get that stud rearguard the team so desperately needs?

At #43, the Jets pick a defenceman. “Mark Scheifele’s brother from another mother” LHD Dylan Samberg. A bit of a sleeper pick, but has the same type of workhorse mentality/ schoolboy charm/ fan of the game glow as the aforementioned Fefe. I’ll let that one slide too.

More D at #74 in Johnny Kovacevic, and another sneaky pick in C Santeri Virtanen at #105 round out the day.

After catching their collective breaths, the Winnipeg Jets hunker down in the boiler room at the True North offices, to stealthily put out feelers to possible free agents they can hypnotize into joining us in the ‘Peg.

Scott Kosmachuk and Quinton Howden were let loose to explore other hockey career options. Run wild, young bucks!

Andrew Copp, Brandon Tanev, and Connor Hellebuyck were qualified with shiny new offers.

(In my best Price is Right voice) Brian Elliot? Come on down! Wait, what? Philly wants him too? The nerve!

(Reset...Uh hum) Steve Mason? Come on down! Sign at the “X”. I’m actually more excited about a Mason/ Hellebuyck tandem than one that included Elliot.

St. Louis signs Thorburn. Cue the emotional “thank you” video when the Blues come to town.

Ditto Ondrej Pavelec and Paul Postma, who signed with the Rangers and the Bruins respectively.

Dmitry Kulikov, an LHD coming off an injury plagued season with the Buffalo Sabres, signs with the Jets on a 3-year deal. Alrighty. Decent. Let’s see what he can do. Wheeler was singing the praises to Kulikov of the best city in Canada? You don’t say. Okay then. So the short term and long term defensive needs have been met.

What else you got, Chevy?

Here’s where we turn from history lesson and channel our inner devil’s advocate, in order to delve deep into the abyss of questions and scenarios that hang over the team this coming season. Is it too early? Nah, it’s never too early to talk hockey...

Playoffs? You want to talk playoffs? Yup, and the season before that too.

Who will play LW on the Little & Wheeler line? Perreault the Perennial? He seemed to be the go to guy for that line, interchanging at times with Nikolaj Ehlers if the team needed a different look. What about Kyle Connor? Andrew Copp had some success with Scheifele and Wheeler in the LW position? What about him?

Okay, let’s say Kyle Connor wins over the coaching staff in training camp and secures a spot with Little and Wheeler on the second line, while Scheifele lines up with Ehlers and Laine. Where would Perreault slot in? Third line center? This seems like the logical choice of positioning to me, but what the hell do I know.

But then, what about Nic Petan? Oh yeah, that guy! Center is his natural position but has played wing with Wheeler (and did very well!) and he has been pushed out of the line up more often than not. Considering Petan has waivers, he’d be the easiest to move without losing him to another team.

Adding Copp and Dano (Who has a sniper of a shot playing on his off wing) round out a good 3rd line in my humble opinion. All three can move up and down the lineup if needs be too, with Perreault being most versatile of the three.

Personally, I would’ve liked to see Vesalainen get a shot at third line left wing this season, but apparently, he has a contract and needs more time to stew n’ simmer in Europe. That’s the plan for him. There’s always next next season, right?

Alright, who rounds out the final 3? Shawn Matthias is coming off a good first season with the club and enters his second season on the back end of a two-year deal.

Adam Lowry has proven his worth on the power play and such and has pretty much secured the fourth line center position, although Matthias and the previously mentioned Copp can handily take over center on the fourth line too.

Right winger and puck possession wizard Joel Armia rounds out the group.

Spark plug spare part Brandon Tanev shares the bench.

Don’t forget the following are waiting in the wings, eager to get their shot at a regular lineup spot too. Some have a better chance than others.

As for the defensive corps, I think it’s pretty much set.

Ben Chariot is a given to occupy the 7th Dman spot, but will Tucker Poolman see some big club ice time? In my eyes, only if the team is bitten by the injury bug.

Julian Melchiori and Nelson Nogier played well during their spells with the team last year.

Tyler Myers hopes to ward off the injury that kept him out of the lineup last year too.

Jacob Trouba will play the entire season, as the Jets missed his presence last year as the season started.

No jokes here, as this 6 is just as good as any in the league now.

Steve Mason will give up and comer Connor Hellebuyck a run for his money in the net. When one softens, it’ll be time to mix it up.

Stalwart pending UFA back up Micheal Hutchinson will likely be Moose bound but called up if one of the top two goes down. Waivers are an issue here, as the Jets could lose Hutch for nothing by moving him about and depending upon his play.

Don’t count out Eric Comrie, as he’s into his final year of his entry level deal and could move down the hall if the Jets need him.

In closing, a few questions remain in my mind. Are the Jets done tinkering with the UFA market? Tough to say, as there are a lot of spare parts out there right now.

Lastly, how many points are the Winnipeg Jets going to put up in the upcoming season? It’ll need to be around that 95 point mark to make the playoffs. A good start will help solidify that, but a stellar finish like last season, wouldn’t hurt. Anything less, and we’ll be asking further questions relating to the coaching staff.

The heat may be off the coaches for the time being, but the temperature will rise swiftly if the Jets stumble out of the starter gate.

Onwards to training camp...