Opening Night Roster Opinions: Forwards

Here is part one of my opinions on the Jets’ opening night roster, and for now I’m going to be limiting myself to discussing the forwards. Part two will cover the D corps and the goalies. I’m trying to give a balanced perspective, but let’s see how that goes.

 

First line

Connor-Scheifele-Wheeler

  • Pros: Stick with what you know. Scheifele and Wheeler are a powerhouse combo. For the most part, Connor was able to keep up with his star line-mates last year, but I’m sure Paul Maurice will be looking for him to become more of a contributor this season. 30 goals is great, but I believe he can do a lot more in his own end and to keep play in the offensive zone. If he can take a step forward, it would mean very good things for the team. I’ll be looking for that as we get started this evening.
  • Cons: There is an argument to be made for spreading your top talent through the line-up. Scheifele and Wheeler have excellent chemistry together, no question about it, but does their chemistry together outweigh the combined chemistry they could have with other players if they were each given a line on which to drive play? My understanding of current hockey literature suggests that this may not be the case. Also, I wouldn’t be doing due diligence as a hockey blogger if I didn’t ask whether there could be an even more efficient LW option to play with Scheifs and Wheels. These vets could probably carry any one of Laine, Ehlers, Dano, Petan, or even Vesalainen, any of whom would give an interesting new look to the top line. In turn, Connor’s ability to stay on the puck and pick corners could be of more use lower in the line up, where those attributes are a little more scarce. Maybe. I’d love to see them give that a try, anyway! It was a bit of a wasted pre-season from that perspective.

Second line

Perreault-Little-Laine

  • Pros: 2nd line. Perreault and Little work well together, despite the fact that Little couldn’t seem to drive the bus without Frenchie last season. These two vets looked great with Ehlers last season, and pretty good with Roslovic, too. PoMo will be counting on them to carry Paddy and keep the puck in the offensive zone. Perreault is a master at this, and also a great puck distributor – should look good with Paddy. I daresay I even saw the chemistry between Paddy and Frenchie developing through the pre-season. If Little can manage even a slight bounce back year this could be a very dangerous combination.
  • Cons: Little has been in a steady fancy-stats decline for the past three seasons. There is a stronger case to be made that he will continue this trend than there is to suggest he will bounce back. He could defy the odds and have a great year – I hope he does, I really like the guy – but that doesn’t change the fact that the odds of managing this are not in his favour. Since Laine still struggles to drive play, if Little struggles at all, even a wizard like Perreault might not be enough to carry the day against tough match-ups. The warning signs will be in their own end, so keep an eye out for them getting hemmed in.

Third line

Copp-Lowry-Tanev

  • Pros: We know that Copp and Lowry work magic together. They are solid defensively, and even when playing against top talent they play keep away behind the opposing net like they’re up against teenagers. The only drawback to this combination’s performance is that despite being great at controlling the number of shots for and against, a lot of their offence comes from cycling the puck back to the blue line for a point shot. Point shots are low-danger shots, even when you have a cannon like Byfuglien blasting away. Lowry is actually quite good net-front, and if they can get more shots happening in tight they could be fearsome. For his part, we all know that Tanev has wheels, and Copp and Lowry are very good at feeding him the puck as he flies the zone for breakaways and rush chances. To his credit, Tanev was even able to bury more of these chances last season than I had given him credit for.
  • Cons: That said, I don’t consider Tanev to be one of the play-drivers on this line, and I don’t think he has enough shooting talent to take full advantage of Copp and Lowry’s knack for controlling the puck and generating shots. I believe Tanev is more of a passenger on this line (much like Connor on the 1st line), and while I hope he shows as much improvement this year as he did over the previous season, I am not wildly optimistic. There are other players who have more offensive chops who I would have loved to have seen get a shot at his job during the pre-season. Take for example Marko Dano. Dano is good in board battles (which is the meat and potatoes of this line’s game), he has a sneaky shot, and he is a surprisingly effective puck distributor. Tie that in with his propensity to cause chaos in front of the the net and Copp-Lowry-Dano could be a dynamite combination.

Fourth Line

Vesalainen-Roslovic-Ehlers

  • Pros: This is easily the most raw talent the Jets have ever iced on a fourth line. If Maurice can manage the bench to shelter their match-ups, this could prove to be a very dangerous scoring line. This combination of players has tons of speed in Roscoe and Ehlers, tons of puck retrieval ability in Roscoe and Vesalainen, and quite a bit of firepower between Ehlers and Vesalainen. Since they have two good puck carriers and two good puck retrievers, something to watch for is whether they will have more success getting out of their own zone than previous iterations of the Jets fourth line.
  • Cons: I wouldn’t count on this line playing much defence. Ehlers is a good offensive player, but if he is the grizzled vet on a line then there are bound to be question marks in their own zone. Vesalainen is a promising kid and he showed very well in the pre-season, but he is an untested rookie and new to the Jets’ systems. Ehlers has never been that great in his own zone, and as much as Roslovic has a reputation as a good two-way player, he earned that reputation playing predominantly on the RW. Roscoe’s defensive positioning at C looked a little shaky during the pre-season, and that will be something to keep a close eye on through the first few games.

Extras

Dano, Lemieux, (Petan)

  • Dano is kind of a swiss army knife of a player. He can slot in anywhere in the lineup and be decent-to-solid. In fact, there are a couple of spots on the line-up where I think he could actually represent an improvement. Dano started the pre-season off strong, but towards the end of the exhibition series he was looking slower, a step or two behind his man. He takes penalties when he’s behind the play, so that’s not ideal. I’m not sure if this is a conditioning issue (he did lose a *lot* of weight over the summer), or if it could be due to him playing on an undisclosed injury.
  • Lemieux is a loose cannon. In my opinion, he needs to clean up his act before he gets another look in the big league. When he is at his best he is a young player with a lot of potential. He has decent hands, he’s hard on the puck, and he’s able to drive the net. But, he can also be easily provoked into taking penalties, and I would expect veteran NHLers to exploit this vulnerability if he ever gets on the ice again.
  • Petan is a non-roster player at the moment, on bereavement leave following the death of his father. Once he returns, he will likely need a week or two to get back up to game speed. By the time that happens we will have a much better idea of whether or not there is a spot in the regular line-up for him. I suspect one of two things will happen, either: A) Vesalainen will be sent down before playing enough games to activate his ELC; or B) The experiment of Roslovic at Centre will have proven unsatisfactory. I believe Petan is a better C than Roscoe is *for now*, and a fourth line of Ehlers-Petan-Roslovic could be a beautiful, beautiful thing.

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