The Kids are Alright: A Changing of the Guard for Winnipeg Jets 2.0

Big Changes in Roles and Responsibilities are afoot, and the Jets need a Head Coach who is up to the task

As has been stated many times in several different places, injuries to roster players have done more to advance the careers of Winnipeg Jets draftees then Paul Maurice, Dave Lowry and the Jets coaching staff ever have.

The recent injection of Cole Perfetti and Dylan Samberg into the Jets’ line-up is just another in a long-ish list of examples of roster-ready prospects getting their chance only when the Jets were left with no other options.

Their subsequent positive play has a two-fold effect – it creates optimism and expectations amongst the fanbase, and challenges what seems to be an extremely conservative approach from the coaching staff to consider these moves as something more than temporary and stop-gap.

This had been a long-standing approach under Paul Maurice, pushing off the future as long as possible and trying to manage the present with veteran mediocrity as if a Stanley Cup was mere inches from the grasp of the current roster. And maybe it was in 2017/18, but those days are long gone.

The reality of 2021/22 is that the Jets’ roster is in need of a major roster re-tooling. Now, much of what we need, we have. But I am thinking far more about the roles and responsibilities of those on the current roster, as opposed to shipping a bunch of players out and bringing new ones in.

Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers have each played a supporting role under the Maurice paradigm – Connor serving the needs of Wheeler and Scheifele on then top line, with Ehlers playing second fiddle on the 2nd line with a variety of characters. However, the current form of Connor and Ehlers suggests (demands?) a change in role is needed. These players are elite play drivers and their roles should be modified to reflect this.

In parallel, Wheeler cannot drive play like he once could. He has been an elite player for the Jets over the last decade, and truly deserves to be considered amongst the NHL’s top 10 forwards during that period. But Father Time is undefeated and he has finally begun to catch-up to the Prince of Plymouth, Minnesota. He is our captain, and can and will probably remain the alpha male in the dressing room for some time. But the decline in play can no longer be explained away or ignored.

The case of Mark Scheifele is an interesting one. He remains a dynamic offensive player. But the emergence of Pierre-Luc Dubois as a power forward at Centre has called many to question who should be considered the top line: the Scheifele-Wheeler line (as it has been considered for the past half decade) or the Connor-Dubois line? The steady decline in the performance of the Scheifele-Wheeler combo, coupled with the dynamism and rapid ascendancy of the Connor-Dubois combination, would undoubtedly cause a significant upheaval in the dressing room pecking order. This would have to be carefully managed.

Hence, Paul Maurice exit stage left. He worked to delay the inevitable for as long as he could, hoping that his “get the band back together” approach would produce the playoff success all of Jets’ fandom was hoping for / expecting. Well, the music finally stopped and Paul Maurice was left without a chair.

We need a coaching staff that wants more from a defender than to be tall, and absorber of pucks and punches (I’m looking at you Logan Stanley). We need a coaching staff that is willing to undertake the risk of actually working to incorporate young and talented athletes into prominent, driving roles on this team.

The Jets do have young talent, but what lies ahead is a significant and delicate piece of work: elevate Connor, Ehlers, and Dubois without alienating Wheeler and Scheifele. Dedicate the time, energy, and patience required to properly integrate Perfetti, Heinola, Samberg and others (and I thinking about other promising young talent such as Chaz Lucius and Dmitri Rashevsky) into the line-up on a permanent basis.

This will not necessarily be an easy or straightforward task. But it is one that has to be done. And whoever is the next full-time Head Coach of the Winnipeg Jets will have to be up for the challenge.

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