While the 2021 NHL entry draft isn't viewed as being as deep as the 2020 class, as with Alexis Lafreniere last season, there appears to be a consensus No. 1 - Michigan's Owen Power. The Wolverines freshman defenceman didn't look out of place playing with the men at the IIHF world championship, winning a gold medal skating for Canada, playing in the top defensive pairing. Power is almost certainly going to the Buffalo Sabres.
NHL Futures: Are the Winnipeg Jets The Real Deal?
Flying High in Winning-Peg
If you told us before the season that the Winnipeg Jets would have the best record among Canadian teams, you were either 1) the most devout fan; or 2) lying out off your butt. The Jets opened the regular season as +4500 longshots to win the Stanley Cup, the second-worst amongst Canadian teams. But fast forward to tonight and the Jets are at +1300, second-best among Canadians.
There is a lot to break down regarding Winnipeg's success. The Jets are ranked fifth in goals scored per game (3.35), seventh in goals against per game (2.71), third in power play success rate (26.73 per cent), and sixth in face-off winning percentage (52.09). But the single-biggest contributor: the man between the pipes: Connor Hellebuyck.
Winnipeg's Success on Hellebuyck's Shoulders
Hellebuyck has been the Jets' most valuable player this season. The one thing the Jets needed was stability in net. Last season, they finished 26th in the league in goals against with 256, their worst since their rebirth in 2011-12. The Jets scored 246 goals, good for seventh in the league and had a solid defenseman corps with Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, and Jacob Trouba.
They had one of the best two-way centres in Mark Scheifele, a hot new rookie in Patrick Laine, and captain Blake Wheeler was having a career year. All the pieces were coming into place for the Jets. But Winnipeg fell short of the playoffs for the second straight year. They gave up 31.04 shots per game, 20th in the league but only two teams who surrendered more shots had worst goals against.
It was clear, they needed better play in net.
Hellebuyck, a rookie, led all Jets goalies with 2.80 goals against average on .907 save per cent with four shutouts. This season, Hellebuyck has made huge improvements to his game and has boosted his stats across the board: 2.44 goals against average and .921 save per cent.
What makes Hellebuyck's improvement even more impressive is the fact the Jets aren't playing as well defensively this season as they did last year. They were ranked eighth in allowing high danger scoring chances last year and this year they're only average ranking 16th overall. Last season, the Jets were 14th in stopping opponents' passes to the slot while this year, they're 24th.
Hellebuyck has long been touted a key prospect for the Jets and he's delivering it in spades this season considering the Jets signed Steve Mason to a two-year $8 million contract to be their starter. It's a pleasant surprise to almost everyone but Hellebuyck, who comes from a disciplined family that instils the values of focus and constant improvement.
The Jets will go as far as Hellebuyck can keep this up but for the skaters need to pick up the slack and help out their man as its still just December and there's plenty of hockey left. Hellebuyck doesn't need to keep playing like a man possessed but all he needs to be is solid and the Jets are legitimate cup contenders.
NHL Stanley Cup Futures: Canadian Teams Updates
If the Jets have been the biggest movers, the Vancouver Canucks are not far behind. They had the worst odds among Canadian teams at +10000 but have now dropped to +5000 thanks to a better-than-expected start. Led by young guns Brock Boeser (13 goals) and Bo Horvat (10 goals) and some decent goaltending from Jakob Markstrom (2.41 GAA, .917 Sv%), Vancouver could make their first playoff trip in two seasons.
The Toronto Maple Leafs remain with the best Stanley Cup hopes for Canadian teams now at +700 (opening at +1500). The Leafs are second in the league in offence (3.48 goals per game) and have the fifth-best goal differential at +16. On the flipside, the Edmonton Oilers keep falling and are now +3300 to win the Cup when they opened at +100.
What's Next for Winnipeg?
Winnipeg gets a real test when they visit the Stanley Cup-favourite Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, December 9 at 7:00 PM ET.
- This is Winnipeg's first of two games against the Bolts and it could be a sign if the Jets are contenders or pretenders.
- The Lightning lead the league in offence with the highest goals per game (3.74, tied with New York Islanders) and are third in defence, only allowing 2.56 a game.
- The Jets are 7-5-3 on the road and are 9-6 against the spread (ATS). They are 16-12 ATS overall and are 2-4 against the Lightning since the 2014-15 season.
- Winnipeg will likely be underdogs and ecstatic fans can head to online sportsbooks to bet on the Jets while availing of the many signup promotions.
*Note: all betting odds via Sports Interaction
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