Ten games into this season, the Winnipeg Jets are a team transformed.
Patrik Laine is crushing it on the top line alongside Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. But their team defence started slow and allowed a ton of high quality chances against. That slow start was due mostly to a couple reasons — the absence of Bryan Little impacted Adam Lowry’s minutes and effectiveness, and the blue line itself lost so many good options that they haven’t been as hard to play against yet.
It is worth noting that Winnipeg’s defence performed much better the past two games against the Islanders and Oilers, so perhaps they’re figuring it out. Not even a quarter of the way into the season, there’s a lot of hockey ahead and reason to believe the best Jets are still to come. Little is back, which should improve the second and third lines, snakebitten Kyle Connor will start having bounces fall his way, and while there were the makings of a goalie controversy in the first week, Connor Hellebuyck has been great ever since by posting a .929 save percentage.
And maybe it’s not unreasonable to expect it to take some time for this year’s Jets to settle in again. Still with the core of a contender, they did lose a number of quality players to trades and free agency over the summer. Meantime, top defenceman Dustin Byfuglien is still in limbo, figuring out if he wants to retire or suit up for the Jets again.
It’s fair to say all this has lowered expectations for the 2019-20 Jets, but also that we don’t really know what they are yet.
We do know, however, how the players who were traded or signed elsewhere over the summer are contributing to their new teams this season. After doing the same for the Maple Leafs’ ex-players last week, let’s check in on some former Jets.
All “advanced” stats from Natural Stat Trick
Jacob Trouba, New York Rangers
After putting up three points against the Jets in the season opener, Trouba has totalled three points in the five games since and has been leaned upon heavily by Rangers coach Dan Quinn.
Trouba’s average of 25 minutes per game is the eighth-most in the NHL and more than two minutes up from his 2018-19 average. He leads all Rangers defence in time at even strength, on the penalty kill and power play. On special teams specifically, Trouba is 13th among all NHL defencemen in penalty kill time and trails only Kris Letang, John Carlson and Rasmus Dahlin in power play exposure.
He’s a horse that looks to be taking another step with more responsibility that likely would have also happened had he stayed in Winnipeg.
Tyler Myers, Vancouver Canucks
While the five-year, $31 million contract he signed to join the Canucks in the summer raised some eyebrows and received some criticism for the cost of acquiring a blueliner who’ll turn 30 midway through the season, Myers has been a great addition to this year’s team.
Sometimes a rebuilding roster just needs experienced players to log minutes rather than thrusting too much, too fast on young players — and as long as those vets aren’t giveaway machines or well past their prime, it’s a recipe for success.
That’s been Myers, who is mostly leaned upon for his even strength play, where he averages the second-most ice time among Canucks blue liners (17:50). While Myers is on the ice at 5-on-5, the Canucks are getting 56.94 per cent of the scoring chances — a team high. He’s got three points in eight games — all assists at 5-on-5 — and his placement on the top pair with Alexander Edler has allowed coach Travis Green to go with a second pair of Quinn Hughes and security blanket Chris Tanev, which has worked splendidly together.
Brandon Tanev, Pittsburgh Penguins
We’ll start by saying that paying a third-line player for six years, with a $3.5 million cap hit, isn’t ever ideal. That doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate what Tanev brings to a team, it’s just perhaps not the best long-term salary cap management.
With that in mind, Tanev is doing well at what the Penguins acquired him to do. He leads the team’s forwards in hits and blocked shots by a wide margin. He’s got a Corsi For percentage over 50, has been on the ice for more Penguins goals than opponents’ and plays a notable role on their 14th-ranked penalty kill. He’s not a plodder, but brings some speed to the game — but if there’s a knock it’s that the third line doesn’t create much in the way of scoring at even strength.
Tanev does have a respectable four points in nine games, though all three of his 5-on-5 helpers were secondary assists. He scored the overtime winner against Colorado, though, and the early returns are overall positive. We’ll see if it remains that way over the life of the contract.
Kevin Hayes, Philadelphia Flyers
It was always a bit of a long shot that Hayes was going to stay in Winnipeg after they acquired him at the trade deadline. He served an short-term purpose for the team and while it didn’t really pan out, paying him north of $7 million for seven years was never something Winnipeg could afford to do.
Known as a playmaker, Hayes hasn’t recorded a single assist yet this season and has two goals — both of which came in blowout wins. But there’s lots of reason to believe he’ll start to turn a corner here.
When Hayes is on the ice, the Flyers have controlled the flow of play and outshot opponents by 16 at 5-on-5 — and yet, Philadelphia has been outscored when Hayes is out there. His teammates’ shooting percentage is just over three at this point when he’s on the ice, which is higher than only Claude Giroux. As that naturally comes back up, and if Hayes can get promoted back to the second line when Nolan Patrick returns, he could easily return to a 50-point pace.
Ben Chiarot, Montreal Canadiens
The most obvious ingredient missing from the Jets this season is the size and strength their defence has been blessed with through the years. And though the six-foot-three, 225-pound Chiarot has a career-high of just 20 points (recorded last year) there is value in the physical tools he does bring at a depth level. But again, the three-year, $3.5 million AAV contract he signed with Montreal was always going to be a challenge for the cap-strapped Jets to manage.
Chiarot leads the Habs in hits and is near the top in blocked shots, while averaging the second-most ice time at even strength and on the penalty kill among Montreal blue liners. He’s been a great fit so far.