The Winnipeg Jets will nearly be at full strength and ready to start chasing their ambitions Wednesday when they open their NHL season on the road against the Anaheim Ducks.
The Jets will be without forward Mark Scheifele in the opener, their first game in the United States since March 2020, as he works off the last of a four-game suspension for a brutal hit on the Montreal Canadiens’ Jake Evans in the second round of the playoffs.
Without Scheifele in the final three games of that playoff series, Winnipeg was sent into the offseason by a four-game Canadiens sweep. The reversal came after the Jets had swept the Edmonton Oilers in the first round.
The top line of Scheifele, Kyle Connor and captain Blake Wheeler will have an altered look in the opener. Moving forward, the expected second line of Pierre-Luc Dubois, Nikolaj Ehlers and Andrew Copp does not represent much of a fall off.
Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck returns after continuing to show that he is more than capable of taking on a challenge. He saw the most shot attempts of goalie in the NHL (1,335) for the third consecutive season and finished fourth in Vezina Trophy voting.
The Jets added Nate Schmidt (Vancouver Canucks) and Brenden Dillon (Washington Capitals) to what is expected to be a cohesive defensive unit.
“Our team is built a different way now,” Wheeler said. “Just trying to get accommodated to some new faces and some new ways we can play the game, a little more up tempo and use some of our strengths. I think there is a lot to be excited about.”
Also expected to be more up tempo are the Ducks, who have shown a quicker pace in the preseason. The Ducks were an abysmal 17-30-9 (43 points) last season, the second-worst record in the NHL, better only than the Buffalo Sabres (37).
After three seasons of struggles, it is tough to pin a label on the Ducks’ plan moving forward. It is not exactly a complete rebuild with the return of center Ryan Getzlaf, as well as Jakob Silfverberg, Cam Fowler and Rickard Rakell.
But a new era most certainly has dawned with the team ready to revolve around forward Trevor Zegras and defenseman Jamie Drysdale. Zegras played 24 games in his rookie season a year ago, with 13 points (three goals, 10 assists). Drysdale also played in 24 games as a rookie and had eight points (three goals, five assists).
The 36-year-old Getzlaf is expected to be moved off the team’s top line while he chases Teemu Selanne’s franchise-best points total of 988. He is six points away from tying Selanne’s mark and is in sight of becoming just the ninth active NHL player with 1,000 career points.
“We have guys who have been here for three or four years now and it’s time for them to step up,” said veteran goalie John Gibson, according to the Orange County Register. “We have some core guys who have been together for years and then we have some young guys who aren’t so young anymore, and it’s kind of time for them to take things to the next level.
“If they do, I think we’ll be a good hockey team.”
–Field Level Media