Although the majority of the headlines being generated around these parts are related to the excitement generated by the sudden availability of Manitoba product Barry Trotz for the Jets head coaching search, the other big question on the minds of fans when we opened up the mailbag for April and May is related to what is going to happen with Scheifele.
It’s a subject I began to tackle in my list of five questions the Jets need to answer this offseason and it’s going to be one that is the centrepiece of several more columns to come.
The element of intrigue is sure to reach a fever pitch during the weeks leading up to the 2022 NHL Draft in Montreal in July, which should serve as fertile ground for teams looking to make significant changes to their respective core groups.
With the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs wrapping up on Sunday night, there are several more disappointed teams that could be in the market for a consistent point producer after an early exit.
But as has been the case from the very beginning, missing the playoffs or getting bounced in the first round still requires a thorough investigation from many of the teams who are going to be in the market for Scheifele’s services, should the Jets reach the decision to move him.
There also could be teams who get bounced in the second, or even the third round, that had Stanley Cup aspirations and might consider putting an offer together for Scheifele. Which is all to say that a potential trade for Scheifele won’t be imminent and a move of this magnitude is going to require a lot more thought on a number of levels before it gets any closer to coming to fruition.
Even that won’t stop the speculation from swirling, but for the time being let’s move on to some of your other questions:
Any chance the Jets trade one of their D prospects plus their first to move up into the top-5 of the 2022 NHL Draft? Dale Guttman
The transformation of the Jets’ defence corps is another off-season project that is going to require a lot of attention and potentially some creativity on the part of general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. Which veterans are the Jets going to lean on beyond Josh Morrissey and how much room is going to be created for that next wave of prospects? That list includes Dylan Samberg, Ville Heinola, Johnny Kovacevic, Declan Chisholm and Leon Gawanke, all of whom competed in Game 5 of the Calder Cup playoff series for the Manitoba Moose against the Milwaukee Admirals on Sunday afternoon.
With the Jets finding out that they hold the 14th overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft after the NHL Draft Lottery was held last week, it would not be a surprise if they looked to move up into the top-10, provided there is a player they are really high on.
Most of the teams in the top-5 would be considered in the rebuilding category, with the Philadelphia Flyers being a notable exception as a club that expects to be back in contention next season.
The New Jersey Devils are making it clear they’re open to the possibility of moving the pick for present help, but they would be asking a high price and one that would be more likely to include someone like Scheifele than it would a D prospect, even one that could step right into the lineup for next season.
Another team to keep an eye on in Montreal is the Buffalo Sabres, who hold three 2022 first-rounders, including the ninth and 16th picks (the third first-rounder will be determined after the Florida Panthers complete their playoff run).
However, as the Jets contemplate an upgrade on the back end, it’s likely they won’t be able to make room for all of the prospects during the next two seasons, and given the need to make some upgrades up front, one would expect Cheveldayoff and company to consider including one of them as a sweetener for a possible deal or in a possible blockbuster.
Swapping draft positions and including one of those D prospects to get the Jets into the top-5 isn’t the most likely outcome, though it’s impossible to know for sure without getting a better handle on the asking prices.
Will Cole Perfetti be playing in the rescheduled 2022 World Junior Hockey Championship in Alberta in August? Craig Zamzow
The Jets 2020 first-rounder left the door open to participating in the event when he spoke to reporters at the end of April, making it clear he appreciates each and every opportunity he's had to wear the Maple Leaf.
Those include a gold medal at the 2021 IIHF World Men’s Hockey Championship last spring and two world juniors — though the 2022 edition came to an abrupt end and the 2021 tournament ended with a silver medal.
As much as it might be enjoyable for Perfetti to pursue another gold medal, he’s proven what he can do against his peers and it’s likely his focus — given the injuries he dealt with this season — will be on getting ready for Jets training camp in September.
“This is going to be a big summer for me,” Perfetti said in late April. “It's four months where I can get stronger, get faster, do what I need to do to make sure that when I come back next September I'm in the best shape and my health is in the best spot. There isn't a certain thing that I've had my mind on yet but it's kind of the whole summer in general and getting better every day.”
Perfetti showed good chemistry with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Kyle Connor prior to his shoulder injury in February and he’s expected to solidify himself in a full-time role with the Jets this fall. Not only did he showcase his offensive creativity, but Perfetti proved that his defensive game was probably ahead of where many expected it might be as well.
Of course, there’s room for further growth and he’s missed out on some valuable development time the past two seasons, but it’s a decision that’s going to require some further thought.
Playing in an intense environment in an international setting while holding a leadership role would not necessarily be an impediment to reaching his long-range goals, but it’s possible Perfetti uses that time in August to further prepare to ramp up for his NHL season instead.
Was it surprising that Chaz Lucius signed with the Jets last month, forgoing a longer NCAA career? @mb_bfj
I would say it was mildly surprising to me, but only because I was able to watch Lucius suit up for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers in Grand Forks against the North Dakota Fighting Hawks back in late November.
Lucius played an excellent game, but because he’d missed a lot of time due to injury during the past two seasons — and because his brother Cruz had committed to playing for the Golden Gophers, I thought he might return for his sophomore season.
The other thing about the Golden Gophers program is that players like regular linemate and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Matthew Knies had decided to return, the University of Minnesota was expected to contend for a Frozen Four title again next season.
Because Lucius had not played since mid-February due to an ankle injury that required surgery, chasing that championship probably had some appeal, but ultimately he decided he was ready to begin his journey in the professional ranks.
“What made me really make the decision was, from a schedule standpoint, the games that I could get and then obviously, from a development standpoint, getting into the Winnipeg Jets system,” Lucius told reporters. “(Those) were the two big main reasons I decided to sign.”
Lucius is expected to begin that journey with the Moose in the AHL next fall and it’s too early to tell whether he will be used at his natural position of centre or right wing, where he was used primarily for the 24 games with the Golden Gophers last season.
As he continues to recover from the right ankle injury, Lucius is planning to train with Gary Roberts in Toronto this summer, where he’ll be working on his strength and speed. Lucius is also hoping to play for Team USA at the world junior tournament in Alberta.
"For sure, definitely, if I have the opportunity to play in the world juniors in August and the Jets want me playing and everything works out there, I'd love to play for them,” said Lucius. “It was crazy just to play the one exhibition game and then one regular game and having it shut down like that, it was really unfortunate. It was sad. But at the same time, not really much we could do about it so you just move on and try to learn from it and be better."
During the past season, Eric Comrie didn’t get nearly enough starts, with Connor Hellebuyck playing down the stretch to try to make the playoffs. Did the coaching staff not have enough confidence to play him more often? With Comrie’s limited number of starts, has he proven to the Jets management that he can be a solid backup and fill in if Hellebuyck were to have a longer-term injury? If so, what do you think they sign him for? Mike Pitura
This was an incredibly important season for both Comrie and the Jets in terms of establishing whether or not he could handle the backup job — and he did an excellent job in his limited opportunities (19 appearances and 16 starts).
The Jets aren’t going to be moving toward a job share situation anytime soon, but Comrie needs to start north of 20 games next season and has shown he can handle the increased workload — which would also help to keep Hellebuyck fresher for the stretch drive and beyond, should Winnipeg get back into the playoffs next season.
As mentioned in my previous column, the wrinkle to this situation is that those limited appearances mean Comrie is going to be a Group 6 unrestricted free agent instead of a restricted free agent.
In short, the Jets could have competition for Comrie’s services but you can expect both sides to look for a way to extend the relationship.
Does that mean the Jets offer a multi-year contract instead of a one-year deal? That’s a possibility, but the AAV is still likely going to be in the $1 million range.
What do you think the Jets will do with Kristian Vesalainen this summer? Do you think they’ll move him or do you think he wants to move to get that “fresh start” that happens with players his age sometimes? Michael Dodich
Vesalainen is coming to the end of his entry-level contract, which means he’s a restricted free agent without arbitration rights but he’s no longer exempt from waivers.
All the Jets need to do in order to retain Vesalainen’s services is to offer him a qualifying offer and that seems like a logical thing to do, even after a disappointing season for the 2017 first-rounder.
Offence was incredibly tough to come by this season for Vesalainen, despite starting the campaign on the Jets' third line with Adam Lowry and receiving an extended opportunity to solidify himself in that role.
Vesalainen eventually found himself bumped to the fourth line and managed to collect only two goals and three points in 53 NHL games this season, adding three goals and six points in 17 games with the Moose.
His offensive confidence dropped dramatically and Vesalainen struggled to make much of a contribution at either the NHL or AHL level.
Having said all of that, Vesalainen turns 23 later this month, so it’s likely he’ll receive a bit more runway before the organization is ready to turn the page on him.
Could Vesalainen be part of a larger trade this summer? That’s possible, but the Jets would not be extracting much value in return at this stage of the proceedings.
Although I don’t think it was a great idea for Vesalainen to return to play in Finland back in 2018-19 after playing five games for the Jets, don’t rule out a return to Europe as an option next season.
That method worked out well for fellow Finn Jesse Puljujarvi when he spent the 2020-21 campaign with Karpat in Liiga before returning to the Edmonton Oilers in 2021 for the pandemic-shortened season.
Vesalainen has not lived up to expectations to date, but there might still be a way to turn those glimpses of potential into a player that can contribute at the NHL level consistently.
With hopefully the full-time addition of Cole Perfetti, David Gustafsson and Morgan Barron, what additional bottom-6 players should the Jets target to become a four-line team for the 2022-23 season? Frank Di Gioia
Barring something unforeseen, it’s a good bet that all of Perfetti, Gustafsson and Barron will be full-time Jets this fall.
Perfetti is the best bet to play on one of the top two lines, while Gustafsson should anchor the fourth line.
Barron could compete for the vacancy on the third-line left-wing with Lowry, though he’s been playing on a line with Gustafsson during the Calder Cup playoffs and those two could forge a longer-lasting partnership as well, depending on what other alterations are made to the Jets forward group.
When it comes to the pursuit of personnel changes, that’s a subject we’ll dig deeper into as the NHL Draft and free agency approaches in July. However, one of the players who could be on the Jets' wish list for the fourth line is Nicolas Deslauriers.
Deslauriers, 31, has 506 NHL games on his resume and wrapped up this season with the Minnesota Wild after he was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks.
He would bring size (6-foot-1, 220 pounds) and a physical component, can kill penalties and he’s chipped in some secondary scoring in most of his NHL stops.
No matter what options the Jets consider, finding a fourth line the new head coach can lean on is an important item on the off-season to-do list.
If you look at the teams that are enjoying success in the Stanley Cup playoffs, rolling four lines is an important element and it’s something the Jets haven’t done well enough for most of the 11 seasons since relocation.
That needs to change in 2022-23, whether that means giving more responsibility to internal candidates or upgrading the personnel.