The Winnipeg Jets aren’t the perfect hockey team. They have a lot of players that need to step up their game and take it to the next level.
If the Jets are going to make the playoffs in 2013-14, they’ll need a lot of players performing at a high level. However, the Jets will be more reliant on some than others.
Here are three key players that have to pick up their performance for the Jets to make the playoffs this season.
I could have picked a few players for this spot. There are a lot of Jets expected to have good seasons, but there’s one player that a lot of people forget about.
Olli Jokinen could be playing in his final season as an NHL player. The 34-year-old center will turn 35 in December. He’s also playing on the final year of his contract with the Jets.
How much more does he truly have to offer?
At this point, probably not much, but he can do a lot more than what he did last year. And if he wants to continue playing in the NHL for a few more seasons, he’ll have to put up some solid numbers.
Jokinen is most likely the Jets' No. 2 center unless Mark Scheifele plays his way into that role. The Jets are going to need the aging veteran to produce on the second line.
The Jets can probably make the playoffs even if Jokinen underperforms again. In fact, if that happens, expect Jokinen to get shopped around near the trade deadline. But if Jokinen has a strong season, the Jets are much likelier to make the playoffs.
The Jets desperately need a bounce-back season from Olli.
There’s been a trend in Jokinen’s career. He has one good season followed by a bad one. Last year, he had a very bad one. Hopefully, the trend continues and he’s set for a very productive season. It would truly boost the Jets' chances of making the playoffs.
When Dustin Byfuglien is on his game, it usually means the Jets are winning games. Byfuglien is a key part of this organization, and the Jets need his experience and skill if they want to make the playoffs this season.
More importantly, the Jets need the good Byfuglien rather than the bad one.
Last year, the Jets got bad Byfuglien for the majority of the season. For a stretch of over 25 games, Byfuglien looked lost, confused, tired and slow. He constantly got beaten by forwards because he was out of position more often than not.
At one point, head coach Claude Noel even tried moving him to forward, but that didn’t work out either.
Byfuglien is a defenseman. He’s an offensive one first. He’ll join the rush a lot and probably go to areas he shouldn’t. As a fan, GM or coach, you have to accept that. His offensive mind isn’t going to change.
However, Byfuglien has to take more responsibility and consider the team.
Byfuglien is poised to have a great season. He’s spent a lot of his time working out and getting into shape during the offseason. He’s motivated to get back into the playoffs and understands that he has to bring his best to get there.
Like the old adage goes, you have to take the good with the bad when dealing with a player like Byfuglien. Hopefully for our sake, he found his defensive game this offseason.
The most important player on the Jets roster that has to perform well in order for them to make the playoffs is Ondrej Pavelec.
If Pavelec has a career year, the Jets will make the playoffs. If he fails to put up solid numbers or replicates those of the last two seasons, the Jets will miss the playoffs.
Pavelec is capable of carrying the Jets into the postseason—he just has to be consistent. One night, you might get the Pavelec who is making save after save. The next night, though, you’ll get the Pavelec who gets chased midway through the first period.
There’s no denying that Pavelec is a battler when he’s on his game. He never gives up on a play or loses concentration. Plus, he’s one of the better lateral-moving goalies in the league. When you think he’s down and out, he somehow makes a save—and he's made some of the greatest saves you’ll ever see.
Unfortunately, a lot of nights you’ll get the flawed Pavelec. His glove side can be weak at times and teams often expose it. Pavelec also has a tendency of letting in bad goals, which can cost the Jets a game. These are concerns that he has to address.
The Jets' season could solely ride on Pavelec’s performance.