By Micheal Garcea
When it comes to the forward ranks, the Winnipeg Jets come into the 2017-2018 season on the wings of high expectations.
Boasting the already star studded lineup of Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler, Mark Schiefele, Nic Ehlers and Mathieu Perreault they now look to promising youngster, Kyle Connor, to fill in as the next big offensive piece.
Finishing 7th in goals for last year, the Jets will look to join the leagues offensive elite with another top 10 finish this season.
On paper this is the most talented group of individuals we have seen since the return of the club in 2011. However success isn’t measured solely on how talented your team is; success is determined by your results.
So, how can the 2017-2018 iteration of the Jets find success? Simple: Play to your Strengths.
Let’s see what that could look like for the Jets:
Petan – Schiefele – Laine
(The top line would have scoring, good possession and really nice zone entries. I know a big portion of the fan base is down on Petan and think he isn’t progressing at the speed at which he should be, I would argue he hasn’t been placed in a position to succeed yet. Having him play with Schiefele and Laine would allow him to play the creative, set-up man role he was groomed for. He doesn’t have to be the catalyst on this line and he wouldn’t be expected to carry anyone.)
Copp – Little – Wheeler
(This is your shutdown line. These three can play D really effectively and still score. Little and Wheeler have shown they both raise their games when they play together and Andrew Copp acquitted himself quite well when given top 6 minutes last year. His strong two-way game and willingness to go to the dirty areas of the ice would be a real nice compliment to this line.)
Connor – Perreault – Ehlers
(Now this line is my favorite and it’s because it would be an absolute matchup nightmare for opposing teams. Getting the two speedy kids and Perreault out against other teams second and third pairing D would tip the ice in the Jets favor. This is where the real benefits start to show for spreading out the offense. Mathieu Perreault is an analytics darling and can easily hide the defensive holes in Ehlers or Connors’ game.)
Matthias – Lowry – Armia
(These three would be an almost elite 4th line by today’s NHL standards. Strong puck possession, a bit of scoring touch and great defensively; everything you want in a 4th line that can play 10+ minutes a night. Gives your top 9 lots of rest and keeps them fresh late into games.)
Without a doubt, most fans can see that the biggest advantage the Jets have is their offensive firepower. Kevin Cheveldayoff has collected a strong cast of players who, if utilized properly, could give any defensive unit in the league a run for their money. Having the lines set up in this manner allows for positive matchups in the Jets favor and it prevents opposing coaches from zoning in on one line and choking out the offense. Size, Speed, Power and Control; the Jets have it all upfront and since today’s NHL is predicated on speed and puck movement it’s time the team reflected that.
Paul Maurice needs to enter the 21st century and spread out the scoring in the lineup. The days of loading up your top 6 are in the past. The back-to-back championship seasons of the Pittsburgh Penguins is all the evidence you need to see that 3, strong, scoring lines are needed to be successful in today’s NHL. The Pens played with Crosby, Malkin and Kessel on three separate lines, and they are arguably their 3 best players upfront.
Line combinations can change in a month, a week, a day or even mid game (Jets fans know “the blender” all too well) and that is true about any team, however, our team needs to start to be more creative with their approach. I’m not saying that you’ll never load up Schiefele with Wheeler and Laine, for example, especially if you’re down a goal late in a game but the hope is that by rolling out a strong top 9 that has offensive skill all throughout, the team will be in those dire situations less and less.
Can Paul Maurice and the coaching staff put this all together into a winning formation? Only Time will tell.