Jets have tough calls ahead
KEN WIEBE, QMI Agency
|Jets defenceman Paul Postma takes part in a drill during practice at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Man., Sep. 29, 2011. (JASON HALSTEAD/QMI Agency)
WINNIPEG - Now comes the hard part for head coach Claude Noel and the rest of the Winnipeg Jets brass.
Noel has made it perfectly clear how difficult this time of the season has been for him as he massages and trims his training camp roster down.
With four more players reassigned on Friday morning, the Jets were down to 32 players, including five that were suffering various levels of injuries and ailments.
But with rosters due to get down to a maximum of 23 by early next week, there are some extremely important decisions ahead.
“It won’t be hard for me, but it might be for our organization,” said Noel. “We’ve got a good team. I really look forward to the season. The thing that surprised me the most is our intelligence. I knew we had smart team, but they’re smarter than I thought. We’re sharp and that’s what excites me so much.
“Some good things are ahead. I can clearly see the road.”
By our calculations, there are two or three forward spots up for grabs at this point.
In goal, the Jets are set with Ondrej Pavelec — who wrapped up the pre-season on Friday with a 22-save performance in a 3-2 shootout loss — and veteran Chris Mason as the backup.
On defence, the first seven spots are basically spoken for (Dustin Byfuglien, Toby Enstrom, Zach Bogosian, Ron Hainsey, Mark Stuart, Johnny Oduya and Randy Jones) and should the Jets choose to start the season with eight as Noel said they were considering (and we suspect they will) it could be good news for Winnipegger Derek Meech, who has had a steady training camp.
Paul Postma was in the lineup last night and finished with two goals and five points in four games, but he’s in the third year of the entry-level contract and won’t require waivers to be sent to the minors.
A more experienced guy like Meech (who requires waivers) might be able to handle being in and out of the lineup a little better, while it’s clear that Postma needs to be on the ice and playing in order to continue his development.
Postma has shown he has the offensive game to play at the next level, but would also benefit from being around St. John’s IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge as he works on his defensive game.
And that leaves us with the questions at forward, where the top trio of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler is basically set and by our calculations you can count Evander Kane and Nik Antropov, Chris Thorburn, Tanner Glass and Jim Slater among the locks.
Kyle Wellwood has experience and versatility, so you’d have to think he’s earned a job as well.
Second-year centre Alex Burmistrov hasn’t racked up points, but has shown smarts, creativity and his defensive game improved steadily last season, so mark him down for a spot as well. The biggest question revolves around what to do with top prospect Mark Scheifele and he’s basically answered it during the pre-season.
The seventh overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft has performed admirably and likely has earned an opportunity to at least stick around for up to nine games at the start of the regular season — provided he signs his entry-level contract before Tuesday afternoon, as per the collective bargaining agreement.
Scheifele has made it clear his primary goal is to make the Jets, so we can’t imagine a contract dispute would prevent him from starting his career in the NHL.
If Scheifele holds down the 10th spot — at least for the time being — Patrice Cormier made a strong case to be on the team as well, basically leaving two up in the air.
So hold your breath Jets’ hopefuls, it won’t be long before you learn your fate.