Complete Guide to the 2015 Offseason for the Winnipeg Jets

Tom Urtz Jr.@@TomUrtzJrContributor IApril 28, 2015

Complete Guide to the 2015 Offseason for the Winnipeg Jets

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    The Winnipeg Jets ended the 2014-15 season with four consecutive losses against the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the playoffs, and they failed to make history after playoff hockey returned to Winnipeg.

    It was ultimately a disappointing season, but one that, upon reflection, is a learning moment. Had the Jets been able to retain the leads they took into the third periods of multiple games, there is a good chance that they would still be playing playoff hockey.

    The team has some moves to make this summer to better bolster the roster, and here’s an early look at the Jets’ upcoming offseason.

Season Wrap Up

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    Top Performers

    Andrew Ladd had a great season for the Jets, leading the team in scoring with 24 goals, 38 assists and 62 points. He was able to set the tone whenever the Jets took the ice, and the veteran leader certainly served the team well as its captain.

    Blake Wheeler is another forward who had an exemplary season, as the speedy power winger tallied 26 goals and 61 points for Winnipeg. The Jets’ winger really hit his stride this season and projects to be one of their top scorers again in 2015-16.

    Last but not least is Ondrej Pavelec, and the Jets’ netminder certainly deserves some praise for his play this season. He had a bumpy start to the season that led to Michael Hutchinson getting a long look in net, but Pavelec was clutch down the stretch for Winnipeg. He finished the season with a 22-16-8 record, 2.28 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage.

    Biggest Disappointments

    The biggest disappointment this season had to be the Evander Kane situation. In February, Kane was a healthy scratch, and he failed to appear for a contest against the Vancouver Canucks after an incident with Dustin Byfuglien.

    He then opted to undergo season ending surgery, even though he had been playing for the Jets, and was moved to the Buffalo Sabres. It was a very tumultuous situation for all those involved, and you never like to see homegrown talents traded before they reach their potential.

    Final Analysis

    The Jets had an excellent season, the playoff sweep aside, in which they should be proud. Making the playoffs was a big step forward, and the foundation is pretty solid. There are a number of young players such as Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba who should be even better next season, and you can be sure that the Jets aren’t a team that will slip back into obscurity.

Biggest Storylines to Follow

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    The biggest storylines to follow this summer all concern the makeup of the roster. There are a number of notable players set to hit free agency, and it remains to be seen who will be back. The Jets did make the playoffs for the first time since relocating from Atlanta to Winnipeg, but ultimately the roster wasn’t good enough to advance.

    Will the playoff rentals re-sign in Winnipeg? Players like Drew Stafford and Lee Stempniak joined the Jets as potential playoff rentals, and both played well during their stints in Winnipeg. Both are veteran players who could probably earn a role on another franchise, but the Jets may want to sign them to new contracts because of their value to the franchise. Both may have had some limited success in Winnipeg, but money could play a big role in whether or not they return to Winnipeg.

    Will Nikolaj Ehlers turn pro? Top prospect Nikolaj Ehlers could be ready to make the jump next year, because he showed that the QMJHL really isn't a challenge for him. The Jets' top prospect tallied 100 points and it makes more sense for him to turn pro instead of staying another year in the QMJHL before he is eligible for the AHL. He is a very promising prospect and his future plans could alter the Jets' direction. 

    Will the Jets attempt to sell high on Michael Hutchinson? 

    This season was truly the year of the backup goalie, and a number of unexpected netminders made a difference for their teams. Hutchinson was one of these goaltenders, and it could be interesting if he were made available in a deal that helps the Jets improve their overall depth.

    Ondrej Pavelec rebounded nicely for Winnipeg, and his run to the playoffs was some of his best hockey in years. Hutchinson finished the season with a record of 21-10-5, a 2.39 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage. The 25-year-old could draw some interest, and it may make sense if the team is confident that Pavelec has finally turned a corner.

Notable Players Hitting Free Agency

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    Michael Frolik: The former Chicago Blackhawk finished sixth in scoring for Winnipeg with 19 goals and 42 points in 82 games. He was a solid fit for Winnipeg, but will the Jets be able to give him the best possible offer in free agency?

    Drew Stafford: The scoring winger was acquired in the Evander Kane deal, and is set to become a free agent. He tallied 19 points in 26 games, and could be a key forward in a secondary role.

    Lee Stempniak: Stempniak was acquired from the New York Rangers at the trade deadline, and was one of the Jets' best players down the stretch. He tallied six goals and 10 points in 18 games, and the veteran scorer would be a good player to retain for a young team on the rise.

Top Free Agent Targets

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    The Jets have a good roster base, but could stand to make some key improvements in order to take the next step in 2015-16.

    1. Defense: Winnipeg could use more production from the blue line, and for that reason it should inquire about Cody Franson. Franson is a physical defender with offensive upside, and his point shot would allow him to take over some of the duties Dustin Byfuglien currently has on the man-advantage unit. Jacob Trouba could grow more into this role in 2015-16, but it wouldn't hurt to try and make a meaningful addition.

    2. Justin Williams: On the forward front, Winnipeg should make a big push for Justin Williams if he is available. Williams was Andrew Ladd's teammate when they won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes, and the current Los Angeles Kings winger could bolster the Jets’ offense. He still possesses production, and finished the 2014-15 season with 18 goals, 23 assists and 41 points while averaging 15:49 of ice time per game.

Best Options in the NHL Draft

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    The Jets are slated to pick at No. 17 and No. 27 overall in the first round of the NHL draft in June.

    No. 17: Paul Bittner, Portland Winterhawks

    The Jets should first target Paul Bittner, a 6'4" winger who plays with an edge and has some offensive skill. The Jets love playing physical hockey, and Bittner is a player who can bring that and some goal scoring to the lineup. He tallied 34 goals and 71 points this season with Portland, and he is a winger currently flying a bit under the radar in a first round that features a number of gifted centers.

    No. 27: Jacob Larsson, Frolunda 

    With the No. 27 pick, the Jets may target a defender, and they should take Jacob Larsson from Frolunda if he is available. The 6'2" defenseman is a smooth skater, and he finished with 19 points in 30 games. He is a bit of a project pick who won't see NHL action for the next few years, but it is always wise to pick up talented young defenders and stow them away for safekeeping.

Players Who Should Be on the Trade Block

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    Michael Hutchinson: Given the makeup of the team’s current roster, it makes sense to try and trade Hutchinson. The team has a number of players who will become free agents, and team brass can address those holes after July 1. It can otherwise try to get some assets in a trade.

    Hutchinson is a 25-year-old goalie with starting potential, and he may not take as many starts from Ondrej Pavelec next season, given how the Czech netminder bounced back down the stretch. The 2014-15 season was the year of the backup goalie, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the team try and capitalize on its young netminder’s value while it is extremely high.

    Grant Clitsome: The Winnipeg Jets have some decisions to make this summer, including which defenders should stay or go. Clitsome's roster spot is in jeopardy with the addition of Tyler Myers, and the team's defensive core seems to be set. He had back surgery in January, and Paul Maurice was optimistic about his future according to the Winnipeg Sun.

    Winnipeg may still look for upgrades on defense, but it will likely avoid carrying a seventh defender with a $2.067 million cap hit if possible.

Top Trade Targets

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    1.) Top-nine scoring winger: If Nikolaj Ehlers remains in the QMJHL, the Jets will need another offensive-minded forward for their roster. There aren't any particular players of note, but Winnipeg should look to a team with cap space problems in an effort to make a deal. The Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks are teams that come to mind, and both have a number of forwards who may become cap casualties.

    2.) Scoring defender: Toby Enstrom's offensive game has tailed off a bit, and the team should look into adding another defender with offensive proficiency. Tyler Myers or Jacob Trouba may step into the role next season, but you can never have enough defenders with the ability to push play and put points on the board.

Prospects Most Likely to Debut in 2015-16 Season

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    Nikolaj Ehlers: The Jets' 2014 first-round pick is a talented winger who had an amazing season with the Halifax Mooseheads. Ehlers is 19 years old, and he can either turn pro with the Jets or return for another season with the Mooseheads.

    He finished the 2014-15 season with 37 goals and 100 points in 51 games, and a total of 31 points in 14 playoff games. Ehlers is an explosive skater with amazing hands and a great shot, and has the talent to be a top-six forward for the Jets next season. He could essentially replace Evander Kane's lost offense in a few years, and he is certainly a prospect with a bright future.

    Joel Armia: Armia was the main prospect added in the Evander Kane trade, and the 6'3" winger has some serious potential. He had been playing primarily overseas in Finland, but he spent this season in the AHL. Armia tallied 25 points in 33 games with the Rochester Americans, and he tallied seven more points in his 20 games with the St. John's Ice Caps. He has the potential to be a special player, and is one to watch in 2015-16.

Projected 2015-16 Depth Chart

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    Forwards

    • Andrew Ladd- Mark Scheifele-Nikolaj Ehlers
    • Mathieu Perreault-Bryan Little-Blake Wheeler
    • Michael Frolik-Adam Lowry- Drew Stafford
    • Lee Stempniak-Jim Slater-Joel Armia

    Defense 

    • Mark Stuart-Dustin Byfuglien
    • Tobias Enstrom-Tyler Myers
    • Ben Chiarot-Jacob Trouba
    • Jay Harrison

    Goal 

    • Ondrej Pavelec
    • Michael Hutchinson

    Stats via NHL.com, Elite Prospects and Hockey-Reference. Contract information via NHL Numbers.

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