By Cole Parkinson
Sunny South News
Last season was not one that many Jets fans had fun with, and while coming into the new season saw some project the Jets to once again be a mediocre team, so far they’ve proven those people incorrect.
Despite that setback last season, the Winnipeg Jets have come out like a team looking to compete for the top of the Central Division. And so far, they’ve been the best team in that division — sure the season is still early enough that struggling teams can jump back into the race — but the Jets have put themselves in a great position.
No doubt the biggest reason the Jets are back on track is the play of Connor Hellebuyck, as the goalie has returned to a bonafide Vein candidate. His save percentage is right back to the .930 mark and he’s giving Winnipeg a chance to win each and every night he takes to the crease. While last season was not a great one for him, it’s no surprise he’s been able to bounce back. He’s been one of the better netminders in the league since he took over the starting job with the Jets.
He’s already accumulated three shutouts this season, in the last two seasons he had three, so I bet he smashes through that. Another huge thing for Hellebuyck this season is the fact his goals saved above average is through the roof. Currently, Hellebuyck sees his GSAA at 17.9, which is second in the league. If he can keep that pace up all season, look out.
Looking across the Jets roster, they have seen some pretty significant injuries, but that hasn’t slowed them down at all. Nik Ehlers and Mason Appleton are currently on the injured reserve. Ehlers had sports hernia surgery, but he is expected to return sometime this season. Make no mistake, this is a huge loss for the Jets as Ehlers is a top-six forward for the Jets and he was expected to be one the “the guys” for Winnipeg. Appleton meanwhile underwent wrist surgery and won’t return for another few months.
With those two forwards out, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Kyle Connor have been carrying the torch alongside the usual Jets’ leaders in Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele. All four of those forwards are right around a point a game and a big reason why Winnipeg is leading the Central. Adding Cole Perfetti to the mix has also paid some early dividends as the winger has put up 18 points in 27 games. While he got a small taste of the NHL last season, he looks to be a full-time player this season.
On the back end, Josh Morrissey has taken things to another level and he’s putting up points like no one’s business. He’s currently third in points by a defenceman and Jets fans have to be ecstatic at where his offensive game is at this season. His Corsi For is sitting at 54.3 per cent and his ice team has also seen a bump up this season. Of course, he was a first-round pick back in 2013 so expectations were always going to be high and playing defence in the NHL as a young player always takes some time to adjust. It certainly seems that’s the case now.
Health is obviously key for every team in the NHL and if the Jets can keep their key guys healthy, I think they can be a force in the Central. The Dallas Stars have been great early on too and those two will battle all season long — and don’t forget about the defending champion Colorado Avalanche. Sure, the Avs have struggled a bit out of the gate, but does anyone actually think they won’t regroup? I don’t. I think it comes down between the Jets, Stars, Avs, and Wild for the top three spots in the Central. The St. Louis Blues could be a sleeper pick as well, but I’m not sure I have a ton of faith in them.