As the Winnipeg Jets look ahead to the 2020-21 NHL season which is expected to start in January, they will have many options to consider for the bottom of their lineup.
After a disappointing end to their 2020 play-in series against the Calgary Flames, the Jets will look to bounce back and an injection of exciting youth to play alongside their veterans might be what the team needs to reach the level of the 2018 squad that made the Western Conference Final.
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The regulars, like star centre Mark Scheifele, captain Blake Wheeler, sniper Patrik Laine, and top-pairing defenseman Josh Morrissey all have a secure spot on the roster. It’s players like Mason Appleton, Jansen Harkins, Ville Heinola, and Dylan Samberg who have something to prove if they want to become regulars next season. Here’s a closer look at the Jets’ hopefuls for 2020-21.
Appleton is heading into his third season with the Jets but he has never played a full campaign. In 2018-19, he played 36 games and in 2019-20, 46 games. Fresh off signing a two-year, $900,000 contract, he will be fighting for a job to play all 82 games for the Jets without getting scratched or sent down to the minors.
The 24-year-old forward is developing nicely. Drafted in the sixth round of the 2015 NHL Draft, the late-round pick could be one of the Jets’ many steals from that class. What makes Appleton special is his speed and tenacity on the puck, and he is a great asset on the Jets’ penalty kill which ranked in the bottom 10 in the league last season.
Appleton may never play top-six minutes for the Jets, but he could be a very successful third or fourth-line player.
Another gem in the 2015 Draft, the second-round pick made his NHL debut in December last season. In 29 games, Harkins put up 7 points and received high praise from the Jets’ bench boss, Paul Maurice: “I don’t know if I have had a player that has been given less opportunity and stayed in the fight and competed as hard as this guy has.”
It’s a perfect description. Last season, Harkins was not likely to make the Jets’ roster out of camp, so he started the season with the team’s AHL affiliate, Manitoba Moose, and put up 31 points in 30 games before being called up to the NHL club.
Without a contract to start next season, the restricted free agent should be next on the Jets’ to-do list. Confidence with the puck and the right opportunity is what Harkins needs to become a full-time NHL player.
The 20th-overall selection in the 2019 NHL Draft played eight games for the Jets last season before moving overseas to play in Finland. In those eight games, he put up five points and looked impressive for a rookie defenseman on a defensively troubled team.
Heinola is a capable NHLer, but he might benefit from playing another year in Finland or for the Moose. He was only 18 years old last season and showed poise with the puck and a high hockey IQ.
Heinola will push to make the Jets next season and with a good training camp, he has the ability to do so.
Jets fans should be very excited about Samberg. The Hermantown, MN native played a full three years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth for the Bulldogs. Now 21 years old, he should be able to step in and make an impact on the Jets’ blue line right away. He is 6-foot-4 and plays a mean, physical game, a style Jets fans absolutely love.
Being drafted in the second round by the Jets in 2017 is part of a long list of successes so far in Samberg’s career. He won two first-place NCAA championships with the Bulldogs and a second place. He has also competed in the World Junior Championships for Team USA and won silver and bronze medals. Samberg knows how to win and can bring that mentality to the Jets.
Is it beneficial to bring Samberg on the Jets squad this coming season, or should he play for the Moose for a year? The answer is yes, he is ready to play for the pro club. He has the size and the smarts to be a successful defenseman in the NHL. If proves he is ready in training camp, he will push for an opening-night roster spot.
Who Has the Best Shot of Making the Club?
All of these players will be a boost for the Jets at some point in their careers. However, not everyone can make the team next season, and some have a better chance than others.
Appleton and Harkins are almost sure to make the roster because they have the most experience and can provide the depth at forward that the Jets need. Heinola and Samberg both have a great chance to make the club, but not as high as the former two players. The Jets have been known not to rush defensemen and let them develop in the minors.
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We will see what happens during training camp. Given the right opportunity, these four players become full-time players for the Jets.
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