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2021-22 Winnipeg Jets Preview: Jets add depth, defense in off-season

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The Jets are taking an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach.

Jun 7, 2021; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens forward Cole Caufield (22) and Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler (26) shake hands after game four of the second round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Bell Centre. The Montreal Canadiens swept the series. Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The Winnipeg Jets are always a fun matchup for the San Jose Sharks, if only because we get to hear a few West Side Story puns along with our hockey.

The NHL and Canada’s COVID rules meant the two teams never met last season, but they’ll see each other this season if all goes well.

Of course, for Sharks fans, this may not be the game to circle on your calendar. The Jets are a much better-built team than the Sharks and are expected to be in the playoffs when the 82-game season ends.

Where they left off

Things were looking good for the Jets as they headed into the 2021 postseason. After finishing with a 30-23-3 record, they secured third place in the North Division and a first-round match-up with the Edmonton Oilers.

The Jets quickly dispatched an Oilers team that lacked depth, winning the best-of-seven series 4-0. It seemed like the Jets would keep rolling through the second round, but Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens had other ideas. The Jets couldn’t get enough pucks past Price and lost the series in four straight.

It was a tough way to enter the off-season for Jets fans. Things didn’t look any better when they lost depth forward Mason Appleton in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft a month later.

2021 Entry Draft

On the first night of the draft, the Jets got a possible steal, snagging forward Chaz Lucius at 18th overall. Sportsnet says the 18-year-old American center is “one of the most offensively gifted forwards in the 2021 NHL draft.” He likely dropped out of favor with other teams because of his recent knee surgery. Medical issues aside, our friends at Arctic Ice Hockey are happy to see the Jets add Lucius to the team’s prospect pool. Lucius is expected to play next season at the University of Minnesota.

After the first round, Winnipeg had a limited number of picks in the draft, so they had to make them count.

The Jets picked up right winger Nikita Chibrikov with the 50th pick in the draft. The Russian teen played in the KHL last season. He also registered 13 points in seven games at the World Under-18 Men’s Championship.

With pick 82, the Jets drafted Belarusian defenseman Dmitri Kuzmin. The team used the 146th pick in the draft to select another Russian forward, Dmitri Rashevsky.

Roster

The good news for Jets fans is that a good portion of that team is returning for next season, and they’ve added key pieces in the off-season.

The team resigned top-line center Paul Stastny to a one-year, $3.75 million deal on the first day of free agency. They also let forward Mathieu Perreault walk. He signed a one-year deal worth $950,000 with the Montreal Canadiens.

The team traded two second-round picks to the Washington Capitals for former Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon. They added another defenseman, Nate Schmidt, via trade with the Vancouver Canucks a few hours later. All the Jets gave up was a third-round pick in 2022. They also locked up young defenseman Logan Stanley for two years at $900,000 AAV. The moves have left Winnipeg with a formidable defensive corps.

The Jets extended Eric Comrie on a one-year, $750,000 deal, signaling that the young goaltending prospect will likely be tasked with backing up Connor Hellebuyck this season.

Following the Stanley extension, the Jets extended Neal Pionk in the off-season, signing him for $5.875 million for the next four years. They also signed Andrew Copp to a one-year, $3.64 million contract. Copp will add depth to the Jets’ forward corps.

Connor Hellebuyck, who finished fourth in last season’s Vezina Trophy voting, is expected to start in net for the Jets this season.

According to CapFriendly, the Jets’ roster will look like this:

Forwards
Kyle Connor — Mark Scheifele — Blake Wheeler
Pierre-Luc Dubois — Paul Stastny — Nikolaj Ehlers
Andrew Copp — Adam Lowry — Jansen Harkins
Dominic Toninato — David Gustafsson — Riley Nash

Defenders
Brenden Dillon — Neal Pionk
Joshua Morrissey — Nate Schmidt
Logan Stanley — Dylan DeMelo

Goaltenders
Connor Hellebuyck
Eric Comrie

The only question mark for the Jets’ roster is Bryan Little. He was injured early in the 2019-2020 season and hasn’t stepped onto the ice for the Jets since. While he’s still on the roster, there’s no word on if or when the veteran forward will return to the team.

What can we expect in 2021-22?

With a return to the normal divisions, the Jets don’t have the Ottawa Senators, Vancouver Canucks, or the Calgary Flames to beat up on.

Now, the Jets will have to go through the Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche and the much improved Chicago Blackhawks if they want to make it to the playoffs. Of course, with how weak the Pacific Division is, the Jets have a little less pressure. Five teams from the Central Division may make the playoffs this season thanks to a return of the Wild Card system.

The Sharks open the 2021-22 season at home against the Jets. The first of three meetings between the two teams takes place on Oct. 16 at SAP Center. The teams also play on Oct. 30 in San Jose and Nov. 11 in Winnipeg.