The 2011-12 season saw many Jets players reach new career-highs. It featured Jets who stepped up and took initiative when needed, Jets who began a new chapter in their careers, and Jets who made an unexpected impact on the team.
This season also featured players who helped the Winnipeg Jets become a competitive team and players who are just beginning to make a name for themselves.
But who were those players who separated themselves from the rest of the team? Who will be remembered most when, a few years from now, people talk about the reborn Winnipeg Jets' first season?
I’m going to rank the top 10 players of the 2011-12 season along with the most valuable player for the Winnipeg Jets.
Let’s get underway… first up, No. 10.
Mark Stuart was one of the most hardworking players on the Jets' roster.
Stuart finished the season ninth among defensemen with 198 hits and also ninth among defensemen with 182 blocked shots.
He quickly became a fan favorite in Winnipeg with his outstanding checking abilities. His physicality and sheer willingness to put his body on the line night-in and night-out made him one of the most important members of the Jets defense.
He was also a mentor and should take some credit in helping youngster Zach Bogosian to redefine his game.
Fans appreciated Stuart’s work ethic, reliability and heart all season.
One of the unexpected yet pleasant surprises of the 2011-12 season was Kyle Wellwood’s play.
Wellwood was a free agent entering last year’s season, and it took him quite a while to find a home. The winger signed a one-year contract worth $700,000 with the Jets early in September and made the most of the opportunity that was given to him.
In fact, Wellwood played well enough to set new career-highs. He finished the season with a career high of 47 points and matched his career high for goals with 18. Wellwood fit in nicely as a secondary scorer.
Wellwood is an unrestricted free agent and someone the Jets will have to make a choice on. Regardless of where he ends up next year, his production this season will surely make him one of the more looked-upon free agents in the offseason.
I don’t think he’ll be waiting too long to find a home this year.
Everyone knows Zach Bogosian’s story by now. He was drafted third overall in 2008, showed signs that he would one day be a top defenseman, then didn’t show nearly as much in his second and third year in the NHL.
All of that changed this season, as Bogosian progressed tremendously.
The fourth-year defenseman finished the season with a career-high 30 points. But more importantly, his defensive game developed and his confidence grew.
Bogosian finished the season with a minus three, a huge improvement over his minus-27 season the previous year.
Bogosian has played in four seasons in the NHL and is still only 21 years of age. His rebound year certainly gave fans some much-needed reassurance.
Tobias Enstrom is widely known to be one of the most underrated defensemen in the NHL. He’s also one of the best all-around defensemen in the NHL, but his game usually goes unnoticed.
Prior to this season, Enstrom had back-to-back 50-point seasons. He didn’t have that same offensive impact this season, mainly due to the fact that he suffered an injury, which took him out of action for 20 games.
Enstrom finished the year with only 33 points, but he played in 62 games and still put up respectable offensive statistics. But it’s not just his offensive skills that make him one of the most valuable pieces to this organization—it’s his always-stellar defensive game that makes him a focal point.
And if he didn’t suffer an injury, he’d probably be in the top five of my ranking.
Enstrom’s consistent and outstanding play in all three zones is what makes him the Jets' best defenseman.
Bryan Little had an impressive season, as he continues to inch closer back to 30-goal status.
Little scored 31 goals in his second season in the NHL. However, he failed to reach even the 20-goal mark in his following two seasons. But this year, Little finished the season with 24 goals.
His offensive game got back on track, but he poses a defensively-styled mindset, which makes him one of the best back-checking centers in the game.
Little is the definition of hustle. He never gives up on a play, never quits back checking, and gives 100 percent effort each and every night.
Little was the Jets' top line center, with Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler as his line mates for just about every game this season. He continued to excel with his line, even though he didn’t put up top line numbers.
Although he may not be a true No. 1 center, Little is certainly one of the most underrated two-way forwards in the game.
Dustin Byfuglien's offensive skill set as a defenseman is unmatched. Byfuglien has everything a top offensive-defenseman needs, and he showed why he's extremely valuable to the Jets' organization.
Byfuglien finished the season with 53 points, ranking him second among all defensemen in the league, trailing only Erik Karlsson. But what makes this even more impressive is that Byfuglien missed 16 games due to injury.
A healthy Byfuglien would have easily reached over 60 points and possibly 20 goals.
We all know how good he is on the offensive side of things, but Byfuglien is usually criticized for his defensive play.
Byfuglien has the size, strength and reach to be a workload defensively. He just needs to be taught how to use his tools consistently.
After a slow start to the season, Byfuglien's play as a defenseman progressed over time. He'll continue to be one of the game-breakers for the Jets for years to come.
Andrew Ladd, or as I like to call him, Captain Clutch, had another productive season.
The captain finished the year with 50 points. It was the second time he's done that in his career, and both times were with the Winnipeg franchise. Ladd also finished the year with 28 goals, a one-goal drop-off from his previous season.
The captain came up clutch on more than a few occasions. Ladd finished the year with six game-winning goals.
Ladd's production may be surprising to some, but ever since he was traded to Atlanta two years ago, his career as an offensive threat took off. He's had his best years as a goal scorer and point producer with Winnipeg.
It doesn't end there with Ladd. He's the captain of the Winnipeg Jets because he's one of the true leaders of this league.
Ladd's presence is felt in the locker room, and he could be solely responsible for getting the Jets back on track when he spoke out about the team's lack of production.
Ladd's the type player that teams look for when they want to build a Cup contender. The Jets will be happy to have him around for a long time coming.
A superstar in the making and the Jets' most valuable piece to their organization saw a breakout season—the first of what should be many dominating seasons to come.
It was only Kane’s third season in the NHL, but he managed to score 30 goals. He also finished second on the team in points, with 57.
Throughout the year, Kane displayed flashes of brilliance and showed signs of things to come. If there is one word to describe Kane, it would be dominant. The kid does it all.
Kane is a power forward with a sniper’s shot and a playmaker’s hands to go along with top-notch speed and excellent vision.
Expectations for the 20-year-old budding superstar are extremely high. He’s still learning, still growing, and becoming stronger each year.
Brace yourselves; Kane is about to take off.
This was, by far, the best season that Blake Wheeler’s ever had at the NHL level.
Wheeler always had the potential to break out like he did, and, quite frankly, everyone is wondering why it took the former fifth-overall pick so long to do so.
Wheeler is truly a gifted athlete who just finally learned to use his size and strength to his advantage. Consistency used to be an issue, but that was far from a factor this year.
Ever since the Winnipeg franchise acquired him in a deal with Boston, Wheeler’s true potential started to show. The scary thing is, if Wheeler hadn’t started off slow, he probably would have been an 80-point player.
Wheeler put up 64 points in 80 games. But Wheeler isn’t just an all-out offensive forward. His overall game in all three zones makes him even more valuable. And his rapid breakout speed just adds to the list of tools this guy possesses.
Wheeler’s found a home in Winnipeg, and hopefully it will be his home for a very long time.
And last but certainly not least, the top player and most valuable player of the 2011-12 season, Ondrej Pavelec.
The Jets netminder was simply spectacular all year long. He’s the reason why the Jets won games they should have lost. He’s the reason why the Jets were bailed out of deadly situations.
He’s the type of goalie that could carry a team in the regular season and steal a playoff series in the playoffs.
It may not have been Pavelec’s best season statistically, but with all things taken into consideration, like the defense that was in front of him at times, this was Pavelec’s most impressive season in the NHL.
There were times where he would get tested early and often, which required him to make big save after big save. And Pavelec was up to the task each and every time.
Pavelec had a career-high 29 wins in the net, and he certainly earned each one of them.
Pavelec is probably the best, least talked-about goalie in the NHL. There’s never any mention of Pavelec in any type of goalie discussions. I’m not sure how much longer that’ll last, though.
They say it’s not a bad idea to build your team around a star goalie. The Jets have that type of goalie in Pavelec, and sooner or later the rest of the league will see it.