When the Winnipeg Jets traded captain Andrew Ladd to the Chicago Blackhawks late last month, Blake Wheeler quickly surfaced as the favorite to wear the “C” next in Winnipeg. The Minnesota native’s dominant display on the ice and experience as a member of the Thrashers-Jets franchise warrants team captaincy. The choice appears a no-brainer. However, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff may want to hold off on the decision.
With the Jets undergoing a youth movement in key positions, the best option might be to allow one of their young lions to develop into a leading player – something that has been a popular choice among other NHL clubs as of late.
The Colorado Avalanche, for example, shocked the league last season with a dominant entrance to the Stanley Cup playoffs led by captain Gabriel Landeskog. Just 19 years old at the time of his promotion, the Swede was given the “C” on his sweater after veteran Milan Hejduk relinquished the captaincy ahead of the 2012-13 season.
The best examples of success with a young leader are Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby – both Stanley Cup holders. To a lesser extent, the Islanders named franchise player John Tavares captain of their budding Brooklyn team three seasons ago.
Winnipeg’s line of young talent knows no bounds compared to the average depth chart of any NHL roster. Potential leaders such as Adam Lowry, Mark Scheifele, and Josh Morrissey are emerging. It is evident that one day, the honor of wearing the “A” or “C” will be bestowed onto them.
Lowry’s father, Dave, captained the Calgary Flames from 2000 until 2002. The current Jets winger plays a similar power-forward role as his father, suggesting that he could also one day emerge as a captain in Winnipeg. Although he does not play a dynamic offensive game as many of the contemporary captains do, Lowry is a natural leader. Realistically, he could be wearing the assistant’s “A” within the next few seasons.
Scheifele, a 2011 first-rounder, is expected to fulfil the role of franchise centre and could be a captain in the NHL one day – although it might take a few years for Winnipeg to first test Lowry and Scheifele as alternate captains.
Two players rivalling Wheeler for the “C” are Bryan Little and Tyler Myers. Little is one of the longest serving players in the franchise since his debut in 2007. Myers, on the other hand, leads by example, with one of his finest moments in a Jets jersey being a selfless shot block with his face to help Connor Hellebuyck to a shutout against Pittsburgh.
However there is a danger associated with this vision of leadership. The most dominant player on an NHL roster may not be suited for team captaincy. Problematic scenarios have occurred when a supposed “best” player on a non-playoff team is promoted to captaincy, with the highest profile example playing out with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2001. Vincent Lecavalier had his captaincy stripped that season, with the 1998 first overall pick demanding a trade as a result.
The most likely choice at this time for Winnipeg is Wheeler. With his promotion to captaincy, there is a high chance that either Dustin Byfuglien will regain his assistant status, or Myers will have a letter on his jersey for the upcoming season.
For the Jets, there is no way of figuring this out at the very moment, meaning Cheveldayoff will need to play the waiting game on his next skipper.