The Winnipeg Jets finished off the 2016 – 17 season with a below average 40 – 35 – 7 finish, and it was only enough to get them to 5th in the Central Division and 9th in the Western Conference. Central is traditionally a hard division to be in, and the strong competition from teams like Chicago, St. Louis, and Minnesota can make it particularly challenging even for the best teams. Since Winnipeg Joined the Central Division, they’ve never made it past 5th place, and have been bottom of the table for two of the last four years.Could this be the breakout year that they need to make it into the top four, or even higher? Let’s take a look at what the team has been doing in the off season to strengthen their chances.

Momentum to Carry Forward into the 2017 – 18 Season

The Winnipeg Jets could hardly be described as a top tier team in 2016, but they did at least pick up their pace towards the very end of the regular season. They won seven straight games towards the end of the year, and managed to win eight of their final ten games. Their offense started to come together with some of the rookies in the team, and most would argue that it was the defense that let this team down. Seemingly knowing that they’re on to something with their current roster, the team hasn’t made headlines with new acquisitions. However, they have addressed areas where the team desperately needs talent, with two key players that should be able to make a difference early in the season.

New Goaltender Steve Mason Joins from the Flyers

In the previous season, the Winnipeg Jets conceded 256 goals for the 249 that were scored. With a better defense and a more competent goaltender, their season record would have looked much better. Connor Hellebuyck was their best goaltender last season, and he managed a .907 save percentage from the 55 games that he played. The team have dropped Ondrej Pavelec, one of their junior goaltenders, and have now signed Steve Mason for the 2017 – 18 season.  Mason will provide competition for Hellebuyck (who is on a one-year extension), and it will mean that the Jets now have two solid goaltending options to choose from. Mason had a save percentage of .908 last year, and his average save percentage from the past four years has been .917. If he can get back to the form that gave him a .928 save percentage in the 2014 – 15 season, then he will soon find himself as the regular starter in this year’s Jets team.

Dmitry Kulikov Will Add Strength to the Defense

Kulikov has extensive experience in the NHL and is a potential strong signing for the Winnipeg Jets. As a defender he has shown that he can disrupt opposition teams and can provide a respectable amount of assists throughout a season. 2016 – 17 was difficult for him with the Buffalo Sabres, and he hit a career low of just 5 points for the season. However, he had less time on the ice and it was clear that the environment and the coaching just wasn’t working for him.With his past results we’re not quite ready to say that Kulikov is past his best. If he can produce the results that he did with the Florida Panthers before joining the Sabres, then he’s going to be an important part of the Jets defense.

The Offense Looks Strong with Players like Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine

The biggest revelation of last season was the potency of the Jets offense. If they had the defense to back it up, then the 2016 – 17 record could have looked very different. Now that they’ve got fresh talent in the net and on defense, the standout young players from last year should have more of an impact in terms of bringing better results to the team.In 2016, rookie Mark Scheifele scored 32 goals and made 52 assists. In points he was 7th in NHL, proving that he’s a future superstar who will be a genuine asset to the Winnipeg Jets. Patrik Laine scored even more goals, with 36 and 28 assists. Laine was the 7th ranked goal scorer in the NHL and, just like Scheifele, he’s destined to be one of the best in the sport. These two young players are going to be essential to the offense of the Jets this year. Coach Paul Maurice will at least be happy that he doesn’t have to work too much on the scoring aspect of their game, and with a stronger goaltender in the net, they’ll be able to address their negative goals for / goals against ratio from last year.

How Will the Winnipeg Jets Perform in 2017 – 18?

Perhaps the big question should not be how well will the Jets perform, but how well will their opponents perform. Minnesota Wild, the Nashville Predators, and the Chicago Blackhawks, have all been much more impressive since the Jets joined this division. The St. Louis Blues should also have a strong team this year. Even if the Jets are better than the Dallas Stars and the Colorado Avalanche, that still leaves them in 5th position in the division.We think that the Jets have the right offense and an improved defense to challenge the top four teams in the Central Division, but we’ll need to wait until at least half way through the season to see if they’ve taken a big enough step to break into the top four, for the first time.

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