Before the season began, it was debated numerous times on the Illegal Curve Hockey Show whether or not the Jets could make the playoffs. Most of the reasons were contingent on each other, and included many big “if’s”. One of those big “if’s” was that a number of the Jets players, would have to improve upon last season. Mainly the young core of Wheeler, Kane, Ladd, Little, Byfuglien, Burmistrov, Bogosian and Pavelec.
With fifteen games remaining, the Jets have put themselves in a position to make a run at a playoff spot. Coming into the season Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said one of the goals was for the players to show progress and development. If the Jets do end up falling short of a playoff spot, they can say they have had a small victory by way of the improvement of the following players:
Blake Wheeler has emerged as the star of the Jets since the beginning of the long December home stand, averaging a point per game post December 1 (41 points in 41 games). His previous high of 24 assists and 45 points has been shattered as he is up to 39 and 54 respectively. The 25-year-old has become one of the league’s premier passers; ranking 14th in assists and has become a force in the shootout leading the team with four goals on six attempts.
In his third season, Evander Kane has taken another step forward. His 26 goals and 46 points are already an improvement over last season’s 19 goals and 46 points. Kane has been shooting more frequently this season as well, increasing his average shots per game to 3.88 from 3.21 last season. His 3.88 shots per game rank 4th in the league only behind superstars Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, and Ilya Kovalchuk. The future is bright for Evander Kane, and the Jets will have to make some important decisions regarding his next contract. Illegal Curve’s Richard Pollock gave his analysis on what that contract might look like (part 1, part 2).
Dustin Byfuglien is following up his breakout 2010-11 season in Atlanta, with an even more impressive one in Winnipeg. Last season he set career highs in goals, assists, and points and it looks like he will eclipse his assist and point totals this season. The 26-year-old is one of the league’s elite offensive defensemen ranking third in points among rearguards with 42, as well as third in points-per-game with 0.82. With “Big Buff” being under contract for four more seasons, Winnipeg fans can look forward to seeing the defenseman during his prime NHL years.
Alex Burmistrov is only in his second season, but has already improved over his rookie campaign. The Russian has seen increased ice-time this year averaging 16:46 minutes per game, compared to 13:13 last season. The twenty-year-old has six more points than last season’s total and his thirteen goals more than double his rookie year total of six.
Zach Bogosian has been a steady presence on the Jets defense this season. At 19 assists and 0.41 points per game this season, he has improved on previous career highs of 13 and 0.40. In his fourth season, the 21-year-old has logged major minutes on the back end with 23:29 per game (a career high).
These five players have an average age of 22.4 and along with Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and goaltender Ondrej Pavelec form a very young core for the Winnipeg Jets hockey club.
While there is no guarantee the Jets will make playoffs this season, fans can take solace in the positive developments of individual players in the team’s first season in the Manitoba capital.
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