4 Jets Storylines Headed Into Training Camp
The Winnipeg Jets announced their NHL Training Camp Roster, and with that, there are a lot of storylines to be following.
There are not many surprised with the roster announced. The Jets will bring in 28 Forwards, 16 Defensemen, and 6 Goalies. Obviously, some of these players are here for the experience, and many are not expected to be contending for the NHL roster. One of the most notable things, is that the Jets are officially headed into camp with no PTO's.
So, looking at this group of players, what are some of the standout stories to be following?
Brad Lambert's Destination Rides Heavily on Camp
Brad Lambert, the Jets 30th overall selection in the 2022 NHL Draft, has some uncertainty headed into this season. Nobody knows where he will play yet. The Seattle Thunderbirds are hoping they can bring him in, in the WHL, as he has the skill to be one of the best players in that league, while Lambert is likely hoping for a stint with Manitoba or Winnipeg.
Nobody is expecting Lambert to make the NHL right out of camp, but the opportunity to get some games under his belt would be great for him. It would give him a good chance to understand the compete level needed to thrive in the NHL. Lambert has enough talent to be in the NHL, but up until now, even as recently as the World Juniors last month, he isn't able to keep his game together.
So what is the issue with Lambert?
Well, I am not sure. I am not sure anybody knows. It seems to be the work ethic, which is the first thing everybody points to, but, whether this was the intention, need, or whatever it may be, I think he has been humbled a bit over the past few months. A year ago, he was battling Shane Wright for the 1st overall position, but ultimately falling to 30th, with it being a "risky pick" in some people's eyes.
Brad Lambert is coming into camp with something to prove, and should be given lots of opportunity to do so. I am excited to see how Lambert's camp goes, and where he ends up playing. My bet would be on Lambert starting the season with the Manitoba Moose.
Why the Moose? Well, he is used to playing against men. He needs to get his game elevated at that level. The counter-argument for him starting the year in Seattle, would be that it obviously isn't working against men, and playing Junior and lighting the league up would be a huge boost for his confidence, which would be helpful.
Either way you spin it, there are positives and negatives. Let's just wait and see.
Shaping Out the Defensive Group
The worst kept secret in Winnipeg is that they have too many defenseman. The easy solution is to just trade one, right? Here is why that is so hard, to sum things up.
Morrissey is your best defenseman, a strong leader, and the most stable part of your back-end. DeMelo is probably your best right-handed defenseman right now, and is an excellent partner for Morrissey, while coming in at a very reasonable price. Dillon was just acquired for two 2nd round picks, and though that is roughly is worth, the Jets couldn't get anything close to that back in today's market. Pionk has so much potential to be great in Winnipeg, and he is on a pretty fair deal, and trading him would leave a massive gap in the right side's depth. Schmidt would cost assets to move, or require salary retention, and while he is a capable defenseman, teams know when they have leverage.
The rest of the defensemen I haven't listed are looking for a spot, but could also be traded for good value, though injecting the lineup with some youth should be the priority.
So who is fighting for a spot in camp? Well, unless we see a move, there are only one, maybe two spots available, if Nate Schmidt gets scratched at some point. As of now, the only spot open is on the left side.
Logan Stanley is the most likely to get that spot, as it was his last year, but with a new coach, anything is possible.
Ville Heinola is waiting on his opportunity to secure himself a spot in the Jets lineup. Being a smaller, offensive defenseman, it is always tough to earn your spot. He should be able to make a good impression on the Jets coaching staff, and earn his spot.
Dylan Samberg might be the best defenseman for this spot. He played in some games last year, and looked really good for a young defenseman. He fit in well, his transition skills were something the Jets really needed, and he was reliable in both ends of the ice.
Declan Chisholm is likely one of the last cut's for this year. He is close, but not at the top of the totem pole right now. He can certainly have a good camp and show that he deserves it the most, but another year in the AHL can benefit him, and let the Jets make a few moves.
Johnathan Kovacevic is a tough one. He is a right-handed defenseman, but Schmidt can play the left side to let Kovacevic in if he earns it. Kovacevic is not waiver eligible, and I am not convinced he would clear if waived. Teams like Vancouver, Ottawa and Edmonton have been said to be in the market for a cheap right handed defenseman, while other teams are always looking to add depth. This may be the most interesting part of camp, in my opinion.
Leon Gawanke, another right-handed defender, is likely not going to take this spot. Nobody is going to have issue with another year in the AHL, probably including him, too. Though he is close to breaking through, I think he has another season of waiting for the Jets, again, to make some moves.
In my 23 questions post, you all commented and the consensus vote was that Logan Stanley will get that spot.
How About the Jets' Top Players?
Pierre-Luc Dubois, while ignoring all of the trade chatter, is headed into a contract year, which will be his last as an RFA. I would expect that he comes into camp and plays some of his best hockey, giving him leverage on negotiations. If Dubois can have a big year, then if the trade chatter comes back up, we can see where that goes, and where the Jets are at in the standings.
Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler are in the same boat. Both players have something to prove. Wheeler wants to show that he is a strong leader in the dressing room, but still close to that $8.25m price tag he has. His production is still elite, but he is slowing down. I expect a big year from Wheeler as he may have a chip on his shoulder after being stripped of the captaincy. Scheifele has said multiple times that his statements at the end of last season, which sounded almost trade request-like, were all said in frustration, and he does want to be a Jet, and succeed. Scheifele can have a huge year, playing with Ehlers and likely Perfetti, and earn back some faith from the Jets fanbase.
Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers just have to keep doing their thing. They have been consistent, if not improving, over the past few years.
Josh Morrissey has to show exactly why he is the #1 defenseman on the Jets. He took a great step last year, but taking another step would really cement his place. Not that I think anybody internally will challenge him for the spot, but if he isn't at least as good as last year, the Jets may look externally for an upgrade.
Connor Hellebuyck has to keep up his great play. He wasn't a world-class goalie last year, which is fine, you can't expect that every season, especially when the whole team struggles, but he certainly has the opportunity to get back into that conversation.
Depth Jobs Up For Grabs
The Jets bottom-six have a lot of locks already. The configuration isn't quite set, but Adam Lowry, Morgan Barron, Mason Appleton, Sam Gagner, Dominic Toninato, Jansen Harkins, and David Gustafsson are likely going to be the bottom-six players, with one or two rotating as scratches.
What does that leave room for? Not much. So what happens when Brad Lambert earns a look to start the year? Or Chaz Lucius does?
It's tough. Some of these rookies are being blocked out of the lineup by role players. That is to no fault of, anybody really. GM Cheveldayoff filled the bottom-six with some gritty, defensive forwards. Cheveldayoff also drafted quite a few players who have a legitimate shot at making the lineup.
I think we see the 7 players I listed above as the regulars, while Lucuis, Torgersson, Reichel, and Lambert, if he is in the AHL, are all competing for that first call-up position with injuries, which are bound to happen.