The Jets’ hopes for a smooth flight rest upon some proven pieces of machinery.
As tough competition is wont to do, the Jets’ pre-season opponents have exposed the mediocrity in the lineup. This mediocrity is prevalent, but there are bright spots heading into the regular season.
First and most obvious on the list of players that will shine like veins of gold is captain Andrew Ladd. The captain led the team in assists and points last season. Ladd’s line mates, the team’s top scorer Blake Wheeler and positionally brilliant Brian Little, play no small role in the Jets’ captain’s success. The line is a classic example of a machine being more than the sum of its parts. Their pre-season has evidenced a continuance of the consistency coach Claude Noel relies upon.
Ladd’s magic manifests in his ability to connect Wheeler, Little, and himself with the perfect lines of stunning passing plays. Fans can expect these three to produce consistently through capitalizing upon opponents’ imperfect defensive positioning. Ladd’s touch delivered in both games against the Wild. Little’s score in the first game came off a calm, quick pass and the captain caught Eric O’Dell’s check napping in Minnesota.
Evander Kane and Dustin Byfuglien are two obvious but historically less predictable stars of the coming season. Kane’s temper—he led the team and was 17th in the league in penalty minutes last season—has not cooled over the summer. His behaviour in the Sept. 19 game was bipolar: he was slow on the puck and dogging it getting off the ice in the first period, didn’t get onto the rink until halfway through the second, and was stirring up trouble in the third. The young forward drew a series of Wild penalties, alternately grabbing position with strength and speed and simply riling up his opponents with aggressive play. Kane gave the Jets an opportunity to come back that they could not capitalize upon.
It will be a shame if Kane does not end up on a line with centre Mark Schiefele in the coming season. Their styles of play are complementary: Kane is a dynamo, Scheifele a two-way technical adept. Kane’s two-goal pre-season opener indicated that the right line mates are just as key to his optimization as Ladd’s, despite Kane’s reputation as a power forward, his high shot totals, and his unquestionable ability to make things happen on his own.
From the first wind of the franchise coming to Winnipeg, Byfuglien has been a favourite of mine. I’m from Vancouver originally. I know quite well, from the Canuck’s 2010 defeat at the hands of the Blackhawks in the NHL’s Western Conference semifinals, that Byfuglien is an elemental force when he’s at the top of his game. Make no mistake – this year the big man is in shape and has matured into his blue line role.
Tobias Enstrom, Byfuglien’s defensive partner, deserves credit here as well. His reliability enables Byfuglien’s creativity and mitigates the downside of the big man’s offensive style. In tandem, look for the two to effectively cover and smother breakout after breakout all year long while reigniting the Jets’ stagnant power play.
With these key engines functioning at their best, the Jets may just be able to maintain an upward trajectory in the 2013-14 season.