Since the Jets moved back to Winnipeg, fans have consistently been told about the future of the club. Analysts, reporters, and other general managers have marvelled at the stable of talent the Jets have been able to procure and develop over the past six years. However, it wasn’t until last year that we finally began to see the fruits of that labour.
Nikolaj Ehlers made the jump to the pros, seeming like he would light the rookie scoring race on fire alongside Connor McDavid, Artemi Panarin and Jack Eichel, but an eye injury cut that dream short. Likewise, a fantastic end to the season for Mark Scheifele began to confirm to Jets fans, and the hockey world at large, that he was going to be that cornerstone centre every team covets. This year continued that push as three new talents – and one familiar one – grabbed their spot in the lineup.
Last season: Tappara (SM-liiga) 46 games played, 17 goals, 16 assists, 33 points
Compared to Alex Ovechkin for his skill, size, and booming one-timer, Laine has begun to impress early in the season. This year’s second-overall draft selection was practically gifted to the Jets, as they were not supposed to draft that high at this year’s draft lottery. His first NHL goal was a perfect display of his shooting ability, when he rifled a shot past coverage and to the top corner, making the post sing. He followed this up a few days later with his first career hat-trick, including a laser of a shot for the overtime winner. Laine has already shown he can be that game-changing force, just like Ovechkin. With his physical maturity and elite finishing ability, the World Championship MVP seems to be fitting in just fine with the boys at the MTS Centre.
Last season: Manitoba Moose (AHL) 30 GP, 2.49 GAA, 0.922 Sv%
Comparable to Ben Bishop due to his size and skill, Hellebuyck is a known commodity to Jets fans. He’s been the heir apparent to Ondrej Pavelec since he was drafted, and after a short tour of duty last year with the Jets before being sent down, he has seemingly stolen his throne. Days before the season began, news broke that Pavelec would be sent to play with the Moose, opening the door for Hellebuyck to take the starter job. His numbers are less than stellar to start the year, but his great play last year for both the Moose and the Jets can give fans hope that it’s just the nerves and a little rust. In an interview with Hockey Central, Jets manager Kevin Cheveldayoff noted that he’s not closing the door on Pavelec’s return, but for the time being it’s Hellebuyck’s job to lose. He was also the winner of the inaugural Mike Richter award, given to the top NCAA goaltender, which doesn’t hurt his resume.
Last season: University of Michigan (NCAA) 38 GP, 35 G, 36 A, 71 Pts
While not as hyped up as Laine, Connor should still give Jets fans cause to be excited. He has great hands and a nose for the net, which is great for a Jets team looking for players to score in clutch situations. The Michigan-born winger is making his Jets debut in the shadow of Laine, but the 71 points he put up in 38 games for the University of Michigan Wolverines last year is an impressive feat. In his freshman (and only) season with the Wolverines he was held pointless in only three games all year, and received a nomination for the Hobey Baker Award. He has yet to hit his stride with the big club – only recording a single assist in his first four games – but if you’re looking for a sleeper pick for the Calder this season, Connor is it.
Last season: Manitoba Moose (AHL) 57 GP, 3 G, 22 A, 22 Pts
Morrissey is perhaps the biggest question mark when it comes to the Jets’ rookies. In his professional debut last season, Morrissey struggled to find his game early with the Moose. However, with Jacob Trouba still holding out on signing any type of a contract with the Jets, it is the young Alberta native’s turn to make his mark on the team. Point production has been slow for the young defenceman, but he is still a promising talent all the same. Once he gained a footing with the Moose, Morrissey was able to step up play in his end, taking on much larger opponents and showing his puck moving ability. Look for him to do the same as he transitions to the NHL, and to be on the top pairing in years to come.