We’re less than two weeks away from the Winnipeg Jets playing a meaningful game (fingers crossed)! Due to the chaos of 2020, NHL teams abruptly ended their seasons four months ago, and are now thrust into an abbreviated elimination series. What’s going to happen? Who knows? Pandemonium, upsets, COVID diagnoses, bubble violations … it’s all on the table.
With that in mind, here are some random predictions that I have zero to low confidence in that you can roast me on in September or hopefully later, if the Jets continue to advance.
The Jets will win the play-in series against Calgary
Most experts have the odds for this series as even, or Calgary slightly favoured. Most also agree that the key to this series will be goaltending, and that the Jets have a distinct advantage there. I’m going to ride that theory and say that the Jets are going to win the series in five games, and that Vezina trophy nominee Connor Hellebuyck will be the primary reason for at least two of those wins.
Matthew Tkachuk will fight a Jet
COVID be damned! While most players may be a bit wary of getting too close to opponents, I predict Tkachuk will laugh in the face of a virus and exchange punches and spit with a Jet. I’m going with Luca Sbisa, Nathan Beaulieu or … (see below).
Patrik Laine will get into his first NHL fight! Against Tkachuk!
I remarked earlier this season when I attended a game in person sitting in excellent seats that Laine is big. Seeing him up close lining up on face offs, or standing beside players, you realize that he’s bigger than even some of the big guys in the NHL, if that makes sense. Also, in person you really see the post whistle shoving and the skating back to the bench stuff happening. Based on this, Mr. Laine can and does chirp other players quite frequently. The interesting observation to me is that opposing players are not super quick to go back at him. One reason – he’s big. Second, I think they sense that underneath that affable demeanour lurks a player with a bit of an edge. If that edge ever gets unleashed (maybe 25% of what Cam Neely had; or whatever percentage of grit Alexander Ovechkin has), Laine might develop into the most dominant winger in the NHL. Duking it out with a fired up Tkachuk might be a step towards that.
Nikolaj Ehlers will break out of his playoff scoring slump
The drought is over for Nik. He’s going to be flying early in the series and will be tied with Kyle Connor will lead the Jets in goals.
Cody Eakin will be better than expected
Eakin’s games after joining the Jets were solid, but a bit meh. I predict that the intensity of the playoffs (play-in games are playoffs), will bring out the best in Eakin, which will lead to off much season speculation about whether to sign him or not, whether he’s a true second line center, etc.
Sami Niku will not play a game for the Jets in the series
Sorry Team Niku, I just can’t see him getting into the line up against the Flames. Realistically, there’s only one available spot on the roster for a bottom pairing defenceman, as I think Tucker Poolman is a lock. So, it’s between Niku, Sbisa and Beaulieu, and given the nature of the opponent, I predict Niku is the third option.
Fans will question Paul Maurice’s line up decisions
Because that’s part of the fun of being a fan. Best you prepare now for Nick Shore (“Shoresy”) or Gabriel Bourque in the line up (at least initially) over Jansen Harkins. I really like Harkins, and he has a future as a regular bottom six NHL player. However, I also understand an NHL coach going with veteran bottom six players for the playoffs. Bourque and Shoresy have played 700 NHL games between them, compared to 29 for Harkins. I’m not saying I necessarily agree, but I understand going with veterans.
Johnny Gaudreau will struggle in the series
Whenever I read two credible sources raising questions about a player, followed by a GM responding with all is well reactions - “Johnny Gaudreau has never looked better,” “I’m totally ecstatic with where Johnny Gaudreau is right now.” – I’d worry if I were a Flames fan. Kind of reminds me of the Dustin Byfuglien “nothing sinister going on here” comments we heard before his disappearance, surprise surgery and eventual retirement. I don’t know what’s going on with Gaudreau, and he had a decent regular season. I just think he’s going to be in tough against whoever he lines up across for the Jets, and I suspect there’s some fire to the smoke we’re seeing out of Cowtown.
Please share your thoughts, comments, predictions in the comments below.