GAME DAY: vs. Winnipeg
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|For the Winnipeg Jets, to say the last six months have been a whirlwind would be understating the obvious. At the end of the 2010-11 regular season, the then-Atlanta Thrashers had missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season despite having a strong start to their campaign. The end of the season signaled the beginning of a period of change for the club, starting with the franchise’s immediate future in Atlanta.
Several local suitors were reportedly interested in keeping the team in Atlanta, but eventually the club was sold to True North Sports and Entertainment, one of the largest sports entertainment companies in North America. Chairman Mark Chipman spearheaded the effort to bring NHL hockey back to Winnipeg, Manitoba, a city that lost its original team 15 years ago. In the time since, Winnipeg hosted one of minor hockey’s most successful franchises (the Manitoba Moose) and built one of the finest facilities in the league, the MTS Centre.
The Jets hired former Blue Jackets assistant coach Claude Noel to be their full-time head coach, and just a few days later selected Mark Scheifele with the No. 7 overall pick at the NHL Entry Draft in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Captain Andrew Ladd soon followed with a new five-year contract extension, and the wheels were in motion once again in Winnipeg. The Jets have a young, talented team that can best be described as a blend of several different elements.
Up front, they are led by Ladd and veterans such as Blake Wheeler, Nik Antropov, Bryan Little and Kyle Wellwood in the top six. Young players like Evander Kane and the dynamic Alexander Burmistrov give the Jets an intriguing mix at the forward position, and they are complemented by an experienced group in the bottom six. Jim Slater and Chris Thorburn are sturdy checking-line players that have solidified the lower half of Noel’s lineup, and have received a surprising offensive contribution from free-agent signee Tanner Glass.
Dustin Byfuglien is the Jets’ unquestioned cornerstone on defense. Former GM Rick Dudley acquired the hulking blue-liner the summer after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, and it has proven to be one of the better adds for the franchise in recent years. The Jets definitely have a skill-over-grit defense, with Zach Bogosian and Tobias Enstrom playing important roles on Winnipeg’s back end. The defense is battered with injuries at the moment, as Ron Hainsey, Randy Jones, Derek Meech and Enstrom are on the IR. Veteran Mark Stuart plays the sandpaper role on defense for the Jets, playing most of his minutes alongside Johnny Oduya.