If you’ve been paying attention to Gone Puck Wild lately, and shame on you if you haven’t, then you know school has begun as Wild fans brush up on their knowledge of the new teams within Minnesota’s division. This week, that new team just so happens to be the newest addition to the Western Conference–the Winnipeg Jets. Going through Sunday, we’ll break down the Jets’ major additions and subtractions, strengths and weaknesses, prospect pool, 2013 draft class and team outlook.
Yesterday, we took a look at the Jets’ strengths–a solid top-6 forward corps and some seriously talented offensive defensemen. However, who’s got their back when Byfuglien or Bogosian pulls a “Burnsie” that leads to an odd-man rush in the Jets’ defensive zone? Enter Tobias Enstrom and Grant Clitsome. Drafted 239th overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Enstrom has been a welcome surprise for the Thrashers/Jets organization, scoring 36 goals and 183 assists for 219 points and a negative-8 rating in 402 career games. A solid top-4 defenseman for any d-corps, the Nordingra, Sweden native’s best season came in 2010-11 as he scored 10 goals, six on the power play, and 41 assists for 51 points and a negative-10 rating in 72 games. Since relocating to the ‘Peg, he’s put up 10 goals, three on the man advantage, and 38 assists for a solid 48 points and negative-2 rating in 84 games.
The problem is that Enstrom is injury prone. He’s missed 46 games in two seasons, and Winnipeg has seriously struggled because of it. After him, the next best defenseman on the left side is Clitsome, a 2004 9th round selection of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Coming off a solid year that saw him score four goals, half of them on the power play, and 12 assists for 16 points and a plus-10 rating in 44 games, the Jets brass will be expecting similar results from Clitsome this season if the team is to succeed. His best season was also 2010-11, a campaign that saw him notch four goals and 15 assists for 19 points and a plus-2 rating in 31 games. He’s not a defenseman that’s going to pile up the points, but he’s a solid blue liner that can log 20-25 minutes of ice time per game. The biggest question, however, is whether or not Clitsome is capable of stopping a guy like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Matt Duchene or Zach Parise consistently when Bogosian or Byfuglien go too far out of position for the big hit. If not, Ondrej Pavelec is in big trouble.
Speaking of Pavelec, he was the busiest goalie in the league last year, appearing in a league-high 44 games while posting a 21-20-3 record, 2.80 goals against average and .905 save percentage. With an okay forward and defensive corps in front of him, the franchise goalie has had to be the man the team relied upon to win them the game. The problem is, he’s just an above average goaltender being forced into a bad position because there is no legitimately suitable replacement behind him. There are some good young goalies in the pipeline, however, and another one or two undrafted individuals the team has their eyes on. In addition to snatching highly-touted goalie Eric Comrie at the 2013 draft, the Jets signed former University of Denver Finnish goalie Juho Olkinuora and have their eyes on incoming St. Cloud State freshman Charlie Lindgren. All three are goalies that have the potential to be solid NHL workhorse goaltenders for a long time to come.
Winnipeg enters the season with an improved offensive corps, but the team does need to address their depth on left defense and in goal. If they’re not careful, they could be in for a rough ride this season.