The 82-game regular season grind starts Thursday night in New York for the Winnipeg Jets, and it’s a different looking group than the one that took to the ice a year ago—especially on defence.
2019-2020 Winnipeg Jets expected opening night defence:
Josh Morrissey Dmitry Kulikov
Ville Heinola Neal Pionk
Anthony Bitetto Tucker Poolman
Only Josh Morrissey remains from the opening night roster in 2018, but the wholesale changes don’t have head coach Paul Maurice reading into some predictions that have his team missing the postseason for the first time since 2017.
"I don't spend any time looking at that stuff, I really don't,” he said Wednesday. “And I don't think the players, maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think they spend a whole lot of time taking a look at the assessments. What you can almost tell in belief a lot of times, is how consistent are they with their game. They'll stay with their game, and run the game they want to play, they believe in it and believe in each other. And we've been consistent."
There will be a familiar face amoung the opposition Thursday; Jacob Trouba spent the first six years of his NHL career with the Jets, and was dealt to the Rangers for a 2019 first round pick and defenceman Neal Pionk back in June.
That first round pick turned into training camp standout Ville Heinola, who oddly enough, will be paired with Pionk to start the season. Pionk has been impressed by the 18-year-old fin’s game.
"Highly skilled player, really high hockey IQ, so despite his smaller stature I think he makes up for it in his hockey IQ,” said Pionk. “We've had a couple games together in the preseason, and should be a couple, or good three here coming up."
Up front, veteran forward Bryan Little is going through concussion protocol after sustaining a hit from Luke Kunin of the Minnesota Wild in the Jets’ final preseason game, so Andrew Copp will check in at centre on the second line between Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine.
2019-2020 Winnipeg Jets expected opening night forwards:
Nikolaj Ehlers Mark Scheifele Blake Wheeler
Kyle Connor Andrew Copp Patrik Laine
Mathieu Perreault Adam Lowry Jack Roslovic
Mason Appleton Mark Letestu Gabriel Bourque
23-year-old Nikolaj Ehlers will start the season in the highly coveted top line spot with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler.
"It's exciting of course, they're two great players, but there's a lot of work that needs to be done from my side to be able to stay there and continue to get better personally,” said Ehlers. “It's a good challenge for me."
"We've liked the times that he's played there, we need to see enough of it early that we have a faith that it would continue,” said Maurice. “He's coming out of that three year pro, where we stop considering him a kid anymore. But he has the skillset, and he's a good enough player to play there for sure."
The Jets’ return a pair of 26-year-olds in net; Connor Hellebuyck will try to rebound from a season where his numbers dropped across the board, while Laurent Brossoit fills the role of backup.
2019-2020 Winnipeg Jets opening night goaltenders:
The Jets begin the season on a four game road trip with games against the New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, and Pittsburgh Penguins. They’ll return to Winnipeg for their home opener against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday October 10.