Hitting their stride

After starting the season in less-than-spectacular fashion, the Winnipeg Jets have started playing some good hockey and have put together some wins. As of Nov. 7, the Jets have a 5-7-2 record.

The Jets early power-play struggles were well documented at the start of the season, but they’ve started to light the lamp on the man advantage. Six of their seven power-play goals of the season have been scored by different players. Continued success will likely require “scoring by committee”, as the team lacks an elite forward. Evander Kane — drafted fourth overall in 2009 — is in the midst of a breakout season; he’s scored five goals in the last seven games, including a Gordie Howe hat trick (a goal, an assist and a fight) against the New York Islanders.

Jets fans should be pleased with the play of Nik Antropov, Alexander Burmistrov and Kyle Wellwood, who are collectively the top-scorers amongst the team’s forwards. Burmistrov, in particular, has given fans plenty of reasons to be excited; only 20 years old, the eighth overall selection at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft has already shown glimpses of his superstar potential. It could be argued that Wellwood has been the biggest surprise of the three. Signed as a free agent in the off-season, he has shown his versatility to pitch in on any line and in any situation.

I must admit that when Wellwood was signed I was sceptical of his ability to contribute in a meaningful way, but he has proven himself to be an asset up the middle. As of Nov. 7 he remained tied for the team lead in goals (five) with Kane and has been used by the Jets coaching staff to provide a spark for struggling lines. Meanwhile, veteran forwards Blake Wheeler and Brian Little have yet to score a goal.

Tanner Glass has so far proven to be another great off-season acquisition. Playing on a checking line with Chris Thorburn and Jim Slater, the former Vancouver Canuck has shown an ability to play a solid defensive game, chip-in offensively and drop the gloves when needed.

The team’s most glaring weakness so far has been the lack of defensive defencemen. Tobias Enstrom has been solid at both ends of the rink, but he is on the IR with a broken collarbone. Combined with a group of young forwards who have yet to develop into dependable two-way players, the surplus of offensive-minded defencemen has become an overwhelming problem. It is perhaps one of the reasons why the Jets find themselves ranked 28th in goals against per game.
One solution would be to trade for a defensive defenceman, though it is doubtful Jets management will make any significant moves this early into the season. However, if injuries on the backend continue to mount it might not leave GM Kevin Cheveldayoff with much of a choice. Meanwhile, the Jets have already started calling up players from the IceCaps, their AHL affiliate in St. John’s, Nfld.. Both Mark Flood and Brett Festerling were called up for the game against the Islanders, and both played a solid defensive game.

The Jets are made up of an exciting group of young forwards and feature a talented crop of prospects. If the team can continue to progress defensively, Jets fans will have plenty to cheer about this season and even more to look forward to in the future.