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An In-Depth Look at the Jets Start To The Season - Part 1: Forwards

November 24, 2021, 11:23 AM ET [23 Comments]
Jacob Billington
Winnipeg Jets Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Now that the 2021-22 NHL season is closing in on the quarter-way mark, let's have a look at what the Jets have done now that we can officially say it is no longer the start. Through 18 games, the Jets have a record of 9-5-4, for 22 points. This is good enough for them to sit third in the Central Division, though spots one through four are within two points for the division lead.

In this three part series, I am going to be taking a (way too) deep dive into the Jets start to the season. Starting things off, today we will be looking at the regular forwards and how they are playing, and comparing to the past two seasons.

It is near impossible to compare any season to the season in the Scotiabank North Division, so we'll just be using per-game averages for stats.

The Jets forward group as a whole has been quite impressive. With some players having career-years, and others simply just doing their job, I don't see management making any notable changes coming up, but as we all know, that all changes with a phone call. So let's have a look, starting with the struggling superstar.

Mark Scheifele:

2019-20 - 71GP: G/GP: 0.41 A/GP: 0.62 P/PG: 1.03 PPP/G: 0.28 FO%: 46.9%
2020-21 - 56GP: G/GP: 0.38 A/GP: 0.75 P/PG: 1.13 PPP/G: 0.30 FO%: 49.8%
2021-22 - 12GP: G/GP: 0.17 A/GP: 0.42 P/PG: 0.59 PPP/G: 0.08 FO%: 47.0%

Mark Scheifele has had quite the unique start to the season. Sitting out of the first game of the season to finish serving his suspension for Charging Montreal Canadiens forward Jake Evans, he returned for two games and then missed the next five games after entering the NHL's COVID Protocol.

Scheifele's point totals have been disappointing so far, but he doesn't look like he is out of place. He has been generating offense, and with the Jets star center getting healthy and back into the lineup, I would imagine his point totals start looking a bit more like himself, especially on the powerplay. Scheifele has four points in his last four games, and is already starting to improve so I see no reason for concern here.

Pierre-Luc Dubois:

2019-20 - 70GP: G/GP: 0.26 A/GP: 0.44 P/PG: 0.70 PPP/G: 0.14 FO%: 44.6% (CBJ)
2020-21 - 46GP: G/GP: 0.20 A/GP: 0.26 P/PG: 0.46 PPP/G: 0.13 FO%: 43.2%
2021-22 - 18GP: G/GP: 0.56 A/GP: 0.33 P/PG: 0.89 PPP/G: 0.22 FO%: 41.6%

Pierre-Luc Dubois is having a fantastic start to the season. Dubois has grown into that elite power-center that the Jets traded for last season. Currently, Dubois sitting with 10 goals through 18 games is a very good start, considering already passing last seasons total of 9, in 28 less games. Dubois, along with Connor and Svechnikov (Wheeler takes that spot sometimes now, too) have earned themselves the right to be called the first line of this team with their great play and chemistry.

Dubois has been fantastic in both ends of the ice, and is doing exactly as he should. He is using his body to win puck battles, make room in front of the net, get in the dirty spots, and makes himself near impossible to battle off of the puck. If Dubois can lift that faceoff percentage, and continue his pace, which is far from unrealistic, he will be a fantastic center for this team for years to come.

Kyle Connor:

2019-20 - 71GP: G/GP: 0.54 A/GP: 0.49 P/PG: 1.03 PPP/G: 0.24
2020-21 - 56GP: G/GP: 0.46 A/GP: 0.43 P/PG: 0.89 PPP/G: 0.23
2021-22 - 18GP: G/GP: 0.67 A/GP: 0.56 P/PG: 1.23 PPP/G: 0.28

Kyle Connor has had the best start of all of the Jets players. Registering 12 goals and 10 assists through 18 games is enough to put him tied for fifth in the league in points and tied for fifth in goals. It seems Connor took that extra step this season, that we all knew he was capable of taking.

Along with his offensive dominance, his defensive game has improved as well. He has been back-checking a lot harder this season, and has been able to provide coverage when stuck in the Jets end. Connor is certainly going to be looking at participating in the Olympics come February, and I am sure that his efforts will earn him a spot in the top-six of the American team. While Connor may slow down, I expect he will be able to stay above the point-per-game mark for the majority of the season, let's just see if he ends up slowing down.

Nikolaj Ehlers:

2019-20 - 71GP: G/GP: 0.35 A/GP: 0.46 P/PG: 0.82 PPP/G: 0.07
2020-21 - 47GP: G/GP: 0.45 A/GP: 0.53 P/PG: 0.98 PPP/G: 0.28
2021-22 - 18GP: G/GP: 0.33 A/GP: 0.39 P/PG: 0.72 PPP/G: 0.05

Nikolaj Ehlers had a slow start to the season, but has picked up the pace as of late. After a great season in the North Division, the expectations were high for Ehlers coming into the year. After going without a point in the first four games, Ehlers finally got his first point in the fifth game and hasn't slowed down since. Registering 6 goals and 13 points in his last 14 games to meet his season totals, if his linemate Mark Scheifele can start getting some more points, Ehlers could end the season around the point-per-game mark as well.

One of the most interesting parts of Ehlers' game, especially as of late, is his ability to...score I guess? The way he is able to find an empty spot to cross the blueline and wind up and take a huge slapshot, and beat the goalie almost every time is quite impressive. It seems like taking those shots are bound to be a relatively easy save, but he always makes it look so easy. His shot and ability to make plays make him a great all-around player the Jets will have in their top-six for a long time to come.

Blake Wheeler:

2019-20 - 71GP: G/GP: 0.31 A/GP: 0.61 P/PG: 0.92 PPP/G: 0.31
2020-21 - 50GP: G/GP: 0.29 A/GP: 0.61 P/PG: 1.00 PPP/G: 0.30
2021-22 - 13GP: G/GP: 0.17 A/GP: 0.42 P/PG: 0.59 PPP/G: 0.08

Captain of the Jets, Blake Wheeler, is in a pretty unstable position right now. While his play hasn't drastically changed, being 35 years old catches up to you. Starting the season on the top line, Wheeler was slow coming out of training camp. Entering the NHL's COVID Protocol allowed Paul Maurice to jumble the lines a bit, and when he came back his place was on the third line. Personally, I think the third line, as well as some powerplay time, puts Wheeler in the best position possible to contribute without being a liability. He is fully capable of moving up the lineup, whether it be injuries, COVID, or even a mixup.

The versatility that Wheeler has as a strong offensive game, while playing with grit. Being one of the most consistent scorers over the past 5 years or so, the Jets know they have someone they can call upon when they need it. Giving him the limited ice time will be best for the team and Wheeler.

Paul Stastny:

2019-20 - 71GP: G/GP: 0.24 A/GP: 0.29 P/PG: 0.53 PPP/G: 0.14 FO%: 54.8% (VGK)
2020-21 - 56GP: G/GP: 0.23 A/GP: 0.29 P/PG: 0.52 PPP/G: 0.14 FO%: 54.7%
2021-22 - 11GP: G/GP: 0.36 A/GP: 0.36 P/PG: 0.72 PPP/G: 0.18 FO%: 48.6%

Paul Stastny had a strong start to this season. Registering 8 points in his first 11 games, before taking a shot off the foot and hasn't returned since. Taking an in-depth look at these players' stats, nothing surprised me more than Stastny's consistency. This season, in a small sample size, has been a better season than the past few, but the way those stats line up almost perfectly is remarkable. I wouldn't expect Stastny to be out much longer, and I would expect his production to take a small step back, and hover right around where his past two seasons were. Hopefully, for my satisfaction, the numbers stay nearly identical.

Stastny is like Wheeler, in the sense that Paul Maurice is more than comfortable playing him anywhere in the lineup. The third line is where he will be when the team is fully healthy, but he and Wheeler will be the two to be moved up and down.

Andrew Copp:

2019-20 - 63GP: G/GP: 0.16 A/GP: 0.25 P/PG: 0.41 PPP/G: 0.02 FO%: 52.99%
2020-21 - 55GP: G/GP: 0.27 A/GP: 0.44 P/PG: 0.71 PPP/G: 0.22 FO%: 53.02%
2021-22 - 18GP: G/GP: 0.28 A/GP: 0.61 P/PG: 0.89 PPP/G: 0.11 FO%: 53.05%

What a fantastic start to the season for Andrew Copp. After the North Division season gave a bit of a boost in numbers, it was kind of like playing roulette trying to predict what kind of season Copp would have. He has shown he is a top-six forward in the NHL, and even though it took him a little longer to get here, he is here to stay.

Registering 5 goals, and 16 points through 18 games, Copp has slowed down a bit from the start of the season, but I have no doubt he will be able to hit close to the 50 or 60 point mark, if not higher. Like Stastny, it is so interesting to look at this. I put Copp's faceoff percentage as a more accurate number than anybody else on this list, just to show how consistent he is with the. 2 full seasons and the start of this season all within 0.06% is incredible. Copp being a strong two-way player already, and registering the points to go along, I would expect the Jets to do a lot in an attempt to keep the pending UFA.

Evgeny Svechnikov:

2020-21 - 21GP: G/GP: 0.14 A/GP: 0.24 P/PG: 0.38 PPP/G: 0.05 (DET)
2021-22 - 17GP: G/GP: 0.06 A/GP: 0.29 P/PG: 0.35 PPP/G: 0.00

Evgeny Svechnikov has been quite a pleasant surprise. Entering the season on a PTO with the Jets, Svechnikov not only earned himself an NHL contract, but also has earned a spot on a line with Kyle Connor and Pierre-Luc Dubois. With just a goal and 6 points, Svechnikov isn't putting up top-tier numbers, I don't think anybody expected him to, but his fit on that line just works so well.

After struggling in Detroit, if Evgeny can out-battle Blake Wheeler for that winger spot, his season should stay relatively on pace, if not putting up more points. I think that Svechnikov is definitely going to be talked to about an extension come the end of the season.

Adam Lowry:

2019-20 - 49GP: G/GP: 0.08 A/GP: 0.12 P/PG: 0.20 PPP/G: 0.00 FO%: 53.8%
2020-21 - 52GP: G/GP: 0.19 A/GP: 0.27 P/PG: 0.46 PPP/G: 0.04 FO%: 50.5%
2021-22 - 18GP: G/GP: 0.11 A/GP: 0.11 P/PG: 0.22 PPP/G: 0.00 FO%: 52.6%

Adam Lowry has been a staple in the Jets bottom-six for a while now. Paul Maurice loves him as the third line center, and I think he is fully capable of this being his permanent position. Lowry is not an offensive producer, as you can expect anywhere from 20-30 points from him. His defensive game is where he shines. He is very dependable in his own end and on the penalty kill.

Every team needs their "Lowry" and the Jets are more than happy with him. His faceoff stats are consistent, and he has proven that he can jump up and play with the right linemates if need be. Under contract until he turns 33, Lowry will be a part of this team's bottom-six for a while, and at a pretty fair price of $3.25m/season.

Riley Nash:

2019-20 - 64GP: G/GP: 0.08 A/GP: 0.14 P/PG: 0.22 PPP/G: 0.00 FO%: 47.9% (CBJ)
2020-21 - 37GP: G/GP: 0.05 A/GP: 0.14 P/PG: 0.19 PPP/G: 0.00 FO%: 49.7% (CBJ)
2021-22 - 14GP: G/GP: 0.00 A/GP: 0.00 P/PG: 0.00 PPP/G: 0.00 FO%: 51.5%

Riley Nash, who is still looking for his first point as a Jet, and signed a $750k contract in the summer, has been solid in the short time he plays per game. Averaging just 8:31 TOI through his first 14 games. The Jets could benefit from having a traditional fourth line, taking some of the pressure off of the rest of the players, and we haven't really seen if Nash can be that guy for the team.

Nash has been given some powerplay time, which is a questionable decision, but even though he has yet to produce, he doesn't look out of place. I think with the right linemates, and proper deployment, Nash could be a valuable asset to the team, but at this point, especially while the team ran 11F-7D for a while, he just isn't getting to play more than some shut-down roles. I think Nash will be shipped at the deadline, or walk as a UFA with players like Perfetti and Gustafsson looking to make their way into the lineup.

Kristian Vesalainen:

2020-21 - 12GP: G/GP: 0.00 A/GP: 0.08 P/PG: 0.08 PPP/G: 0.00
2021-22 - 15GP: G/GP: 0.07 A/GP: 0.00 P/PG: 0.07 PPP/G: 0.00

At just 22 years old, Kristian Vesalainen has struggled to produce at the NHL level. Getting third line minutes, he has been put in more of a defensive role, which has been working. After putting up a 0.54 points-per-game average in Manitoba, Vesalainen looks like he will be in the NHL from here on out. I would expect the point totals to be a lot higher than the stats above depict, and though he has taken a step back after being drafted, he still has a lot of room to grow.

Lined up with Lowry and Harkins most nights, he isn't in a position to be tallying points, which is fine. As long as he continues being a defensive asset, I am sure the team won't be complaining much. If he can commit to the defensive game-style, and develop into a strong two-way winger, I could see Vesalainen being a really under-rated, valuable piece to this team moving forward.

Jansen Harkins:

2019-20 - 29GP: G/GP: 0.07 A/GP: 0.17 P/PG: 0.24 PPP/G: 0.00
2020-21 - 26GP: G/GP: 0.04 A/GP: 0.04 P/PG: 0.08 PPP/G: 0.00
2021-22 - 18GP: G/GP: 0.11 A/GP: 0.06 P/PG: 0.17 PPP/G: 0.00

Jansen Harkins, another defense-first bottom-six player for the Jets, has had a pretty good start to this season as well. with two goals and an assist, Harkins is producing about what you could expect from him. Being on that shut-down third line, he also isn't in a position to be making the offensive plays. The whole line has been satisfactory when it comes to being responsible with the puck, as well as away from it.

Harkins isn't a franchise corner-stone piece or anything, but he is able to add so much stability to the bottom six, as he follows suit with Lowry on the third line, giving him a fantastic mentor to learn from. I don't see the Jets being too eager to move on from Harkins, and will likely re-sign for a million or less this coming summer.

Dominic Toninato:

2019-20 - 46GP: G/GP: 0.09 A/GP: 0.15 P/PG: 0.24 PPP/G: 0.00 (FLA)
2020-21 - 02GP: G/GP: 0.00 A/GP: 0.50 P/PG: 0.50 PPP/G: 0.00
2021-22 - 15GP: G/GP: 0.13 A/GP: 0.07 P/PG: 0.20 PPP/G: 0.00

Toninato and Nash are in very similar situations. Toninato is able to be effective in a shut-down role, but has been playing less than Nash. With just an average of 7:52 TOI/game, I am sure he would like some more playing time, but he is playing pretty well in that role, and I think coaches like him there too.

Similar to Nash as well, he may be one of the ones moved out for a spot for Perfetti or Gustafsson if they look like they belong in Winnipeg, but for the time being, Toninato is working on the fourth line, and making himself look pretty good considering the small sample size.

Now, that was a lot. If you made it this far, thank you for reading, and let me know how you are feeling about all of these forwards in the comment section below. "Part 2: Defense" will be released Friday at noon CST. Thanks again, and have a great day!

By Jacob Billington
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