NHL 2011-2012: 10 Questions That Will Decide the Winnipeg Jets' Fate This Season
The Winnipeg Jets would like nothing more than to make the playoffs in their first season back home. With a team loaded with young players that may be a stretch.
A stretch, but not an impossibility.
If some of their young players can step up and they can find scoring out of their forwards they might be able to sneak into the Eastern Conference top eight.
With training camp a few weeks away, excitement over their new sweaters and the logo now painted on the MTS Center's ice the Jets fans are ready.
Will the team be?
Can this team make a run this year or are they still a year or two away.
Here are ten questions that may just decide which one it is.
1. Can Alex Burmistrov Handle the Pressure of the Second Line?
19 Year old Alex Burmistrov already has one NHL season under his belt and looks like he will be the Jets second line centre. At a young age, will he be able to handle that role?
From a skill standpoint Burmistrov seems ready; he has a two-way game that is light years above most players his age and with his tremendous play making ability centering the second line makes sense.
Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff recently told the Winnipeg Sun that they didn’t want to overload the young Russian too much. He said they preferred to let him progress naturally.
With the lack of scoring out of their top six the Jets may need to have Burmistrov take the pressure and responsibility sooner than later. Right now it appears that he will centre a line with Evander Kane and Nick Antropov.
Both Kane and Antropov can score, so look for Burmistrov to see a jump in his numbers. Can he lead that line for a full 82 games?
If the Jets envision making the playoffs he will need to.
2. Will Evander Kane Make That Next Step This Year?
The Jets roster is littered with extremely young players and the guy with perhaps the brightest future of them all is Evander Kane. Kane seems like he is on the door step to NHL greatness.
The Jets hope he takes that next step this season.
A monster in juniors Kane has progressed nicely so far in his two NHL seasons. Last year he saw both his goals and points total rise.
If that progression continues Kane could find himself on the wing on Andrew Ladd’s line and rising among the league’s scoring leaders.
Kane has good speed, can handle the puck and has shown he knows how to bury it.
The Jets lack of scoring from their top six forwards has been a problem while in Atlanta and if Kane can get into the 60 point range he could help the team make a playoff push this season.
3. How Will Dustin Byfuglien's Arrest and Weight Affect the Team?
The Internet and twitter were buzzing last week when Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien was arrested for allegedly boating while intoxicated.
As concerning as the arrest is for the Jets, when weighed by the police Byfuglien came in at a whopping 285 pounds.
Should the Jets be concerned about this? Is the weight more concerning than the arrest?
Byfuglien’s playing weight last season was listed at 245 pounds and there is some speculation of that number being pretty generous.
If he is over-weight what does that say about someone who is being counted on to provide leadership to the young Jets?
One of the knocks against Byfuglien while in Chicago was his lack of effort during the regular season. He was often criticized for being lazy and only turning it on once the playoffs came around.
Is weighing 285 pounds a few weeks before training camp opens a sign of laziness and lack of commitment?
Playing under a microscope that he didn’t have to worry about in Atlanta, all eyes will be on Byfuglien this pre-season.
Byfuglien led the Jets defensemen in scoring last year with 20 goals and was an alternate captain. He has been through the playoff wars and will have to be a better leader for his young team.
The Jets hope this summer's indiscretions don't bleed onto the ice.
4. Are the Jets Done Making Moves?
Winnipeg was pretty quiet during the off season, other than that whole moving the team business, and with some holes still needing filled are there moves coming?
The list of remaining free agents out there is pretty thin right now so any move would most likely come via the trade route.
It’s worth noting that there are currently no legitimate rumors out there linked to the Jets, other than the usual Eklund nonsense.
That could change however as training camps get going and teams that are over the cap look to shed some payroll.
It’s worth keeping an eye on who might become available.
The Jets could use some veteran scoring and defensive help to work with their talented young players.
They could be in the market for a training camp trade.
5. Is Ondrej Pavelec Ready to Become an Elite Goaltender?
Pavelec is another cog in the Jets youth movement. The 24 year-old Czech goalie is most known league wide for his scary on ice collapse at the beginning of the season last year.
He recovered from that and seems to be on the verge of becoming an elite goalie.
The Jets will need him to if they wish to make a run for the playoffs this season.
Pavelec recovered from the collapse and played in 58 games last year improving both his save percentage and goals against average.
He achieved career highs with both and the Jets are hoping that he can take over as their work horse goaltender.
They need to get some better play in front of him though as all goalies are only as good as the guys skating in front of him. Last season only four teams gave up more shots on goal than Atlanta did.
If the Jets can cut that number down it appears they have a guy in net who is capable of taking them to the playoffs.
6. Can Eric Fehr Score 20 Goals?
The Jets picked up the former Washington first rounder in July via a trade and are hoping he can find a scoring touch in the NHL.
Fehr was a goal machine in juniors once potting 59 goals for the Brandon Wheat Kings in 2004-2005. So far his NHL career has not quite lived up to that standard.
Fehr was up and down with the Capitals but did show some promise in 2009-2010 when he scored 21 goals in 69 games for Washington. Those 21 goals would have been second best amongst Jets forwards last season.
By picking up Fehr the Jets are taking a chance that he can start to find his way in the NHL. To start the season he most likely will be on the third line, but if he shows he can find the back of the net he could push for a promotion.
Either way, the Jets need him to pick it up to improve the scoring from their forwards. If he can net 20 goals they will be in the thick of things this spring.
7. Is Carl Klingberg Ready for the Nhl?
Swedish youngster Carl Klingberg appeared in one game for the Thrashers last year. It just happened to be the last Thrashers game ever.
He is now trying to win a spot on the Jets opening day roster.
Klingberg is an interesting prospect.
He has good size and loves to crash the net and create scoring chances. As a high energy guy he will be someone to watch this preseason to see if he can crack the lineup.
He has been pretty open with the press so far this offseason about his intentions of making the roster.
While on paper it seems unlikely, if the 20 year old does make the roster his energy and size could help a Jets team that is desperate for scoring from its forwards.
He most likely is a guy to watch for the future but he could be a big NHL surprise that helps the Jets right now.
8. Which Way Is Zach Bogosian Going?
Bogosian is yet another young Jets player that needs to take the next step in the NHL. The young defenseman could become the key blue liner for the Jets for years to come.
Or, he could be flaming out.
Bogosian is under the microscope this year as he is a player that seems to have a tremendous upside but slid a bit last year. That slide has people wondering if perhaps he isn’t the prospect everyone assumed he was.
Bogosian showed in juniors that he could be a two-way defenseman scoring 61 points in 2007-2008. His first NHL year in Atlanta looked promising as he scored 10 goals and 23 points as a rookie in 2009-2010.
Last year however he took a step back.
His hitting was down as he regressed to 17 points and ended the season with a horrible minus 27. The Jets will need him to improve in all areas if they wish to move forward this year.
With Dustin Byfugilien and Tobias Enstrom set to man the points on the top power play unit, Bogosian should concentrate on playing in his own end and moving the puck. His time to score will come but he can’t force it.
This is a big year for Bogosian and if he can get back in the right direction the Jets may have found their stud blue liner of the future.
9. How Many Wins Is the Home Crowd Worth?
One of the big stories concerning the Jets this season is the fever pitch in Winnipeg. The fans are pumped to have the NHL back and the season at MTS will be sold out.
This is something that is new for the players on the Jets roster. Last year, as the Thrashers, they played in front of a building that was 30 percent empty every night.
Hardly the type of crowd that is going to get your motor running.
The Thrashers were an even 17-17-7 at home last season. How much of a difference can a rabid, sold out home crowd make this year?
Winnipeg’s roster is young and with youth comes emotion. A loud and proud crowd can raise that emotion to players who are in their early twenties. Can get them to play over their head.
If the Jets want to be serious playoff contenders they will need to hope that they can improve at home and make the MTS Centre a huge home ice advantage.
It could make the difference between making the playoffs and just missing them.
10. Is Head Coach Claude Noel Ready for the Nhl?
After moving the team back to Canada the Jets then made a change behind the bench. They brought in Manitoba Moose head coach Claude Noel to become the first head coach of the new Jets.
How will Noel handle an NHL bench?
Noel has been a tremendously successful AHL coach. In five seasons with the Milwaukee Admirals and Manitoba he averaged 100 points a season. Not too shabby.
He also has spent three years as an assistant in Columbus taking over for the last 24 games in 2009-2010.
Noel appears ready to take the next step in the NHL.
The Jets are a perfect fit for Noel.
As a successful coach in the AHL, he knows how to handle young players. He has experience motivating them, keeping their head’s up.
With the youth on the Jets roster he will need to use those skills this year.