Josh on the Jets: Early season storylines

Kyle Connor, Cole Perfetti and the dominant third line

Upon publication, the Winnipeg Jets boast a record of 10-5-2, which most Jets fans would have taken had it been offered to them before the season began.

Moreover, if the team continues to play as well as it has thus far, it will finish the season with 106 points — easily enough for it to nestle into a playoff spot with comfort. It would also be only the second time in the Jets’ history that the team cracks the 100-point plateau.

Things seem sunny in Winnipeg at the moment and it’s all because a choice few are shining bright.

Kyle Connor’s torrid pace

Former University of Michigan Wolverine-turned-professional-goal-scorer Kyle Connor is currently firing home pucks at an almost unbelievable clip — almost.

Through 17 games thus far, Connor has scored 14 times, which puts him on pace for a whopping 68 goals for the season.

As he terrifies NHL netminders with his lethal release, rocks the Tom Petty hairdo with a bulbous orange caterpillar of a mustache luxuriating above his upper lip, Connor seems the very image of an Old West, cattle-rustling gunslinger. But in all seriousness, Connor has elevated his game to new heights in the burgeoning 2023-24 season.

Connor’s shooting percentage is at a career high — just a notch above 20 — which, granted, will likely come down, regressing to his career norm of about 15 per cent. However, the Clinton Township, Mich. native is also shooting more this season than he typically does, so it stands to reason that even though his shooting percentage may dip, the goals will keep coming due to the sheer volume of shots he’s taking.

And while goals help the Jets win games, they also help win individual awards. With the season Connor has strung together thus far, the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy — awarded to the NHL’s top regular season goal scorer — is certainly something he could rustle.

No Jet has ever won the award, and only one player in the franchise’s history has — Ilya Kovalchuk, back in the 2003-04 season when the team still played under the scorching Georgia heat as the Atlanta Thrashers.

The emergence of Cole Perfetti

With the trade of Pierre-Luc Dubois to the Los Angeles Kings this summer, the Jets needed either someone within the organization to step up and help carry the offensive load, or needed the three players they received from the Kings to fill the offensive void.

Unfortunately, both Rasmus Kupari and Gabriel Vilardi — two of the three players acquired in the trade — are currently on the injured list, pressing internal contribution to the forefront.

Nevertheless, the 10th overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, Cole Perfetti, is making up for the loss of Dubois’s scoring and then some.

Always a high scoring offensive player, registering 111 points in his last year of junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League as a member of the Saginaw Spirit, Perfetti’s first two years in the NHL were something of a learning curve.

Up until this season, the Whitby, Ont. native had scored a respectable 37 points in 69 games. However, something in his play always left one wanting more.

But this season it seems the deft forward has put it all together, amassing 14 points in 17 games, which puts him on pace for 68 points on the season.

Perfetti’s most welcome statistic may be his plus/minus. Currently, he is plus seven, meaning that more often than not when he’s on the ice, good things will happen for the Jets.

A thunderous third line

Arguably the best storyline of this young season might be the dominance of the Jets’ hulking third line.

Each member of the line — Adam Lowry, Mason Appleton and Nino Niederreiter — stands at least six-foot-two-inches tall and each member is over 190 pounds.

And of all four Jets lines, it is the third line that boasts the highest expected goals while frequently playing a shutdown role against the NHL’s best. In other words, the trio is a coach’s dream.

What’s more, each member of the line is on pace to set new career highs in points, and Appleton has already scored more times this season than he did the entire 2022-23 season.