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Cullen: Promising Jets need time to develop

Scott Cullen
9/20/2011 12:10:54 PM
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The Atlanta Thrashers bring a not-so-storied history with them to Winnipeg, reaching the playoffs once in 11 seasons, but even if there are some growing pains to be encountered by this young team, the fan base figures to be enthusiastic enough that it won't much matter in the short term.

Shifting back to defence full-time last season, Dustin Byfuglien enjoyed a breakthrough campaign, leading all defencemen with 20 goals. Byfuglien' scoring, combined with penalty minutes (93) and, for leagues that count them, an outrageous shots on goal total, make Byfuglien exceedingly valuable. Big Buff recorded 347 shots on goal last season, 83 more than Zdeno Chara, who ranked second among defencemen.

If there is any concern about Byfuglien, it figures to be conditioning-related. While reports from Jets camp are positive in that regard, he did weigh 286 pounds when he was arrested in the summer and, for a player that reportedly gained 19 pounds during last season, that would seem to be too big to remain effective.

As Byfuglien provides the power game, defencemen Tobias Enstrom is a more graceful presence, a smooth skater who makes good decisions with the puck and scored a career-high 51 points last season. Enstrom's more modest penalty minute totals make him less valuable than Byfuglien for fantasy owners, but his tremendous power play work (28 PP points last season) gives him top-notch value nonetheless.

20-year-old Evander Kane showed nice progress in his second season, going from 26 points as a rookie to 43 last season. If he becomes more of a presence on the power play -- he had eight points with the man advantage last year -- Kane could be ready for another big jump in production.

Through the first five seasons of his NHL career, Andrew Ladd was primarily a banger on the third line, who would contribute a little offensively, but wasn't counted on for a great deal of offence. Then last year in Atlanta, Ladd broke through, taking on more responsibility and leading the team with 29 goals and 59 points while playing more than 20 minutes per game. With a new long-term contract in hand, expectations will be decidedly higher for Ladd going forward.

Rangy winger Blake Wheeler wasn't able to earn consistent playing time in Boston and has yet to surpass the 45 points he tallied as a rookie, but after arriving in Atlanta last season, Wheeler contributed 17 points in 23 games, while playing nearly 19 minutes a night. If the Jets can harness Wheeler's rare size/speed combo, he could be a fixture on a scoring line.

Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec missed the first several weeks after collapsing on opening night, but when he returned to action, he was outstanding, and had a 2.44 goals against average and .927 save percentage going into the All-Star break. At that point, the wheels fell off and Pavelec had a 3.33 goals against average and .883 save percentage that rest of the way. The potential that Pavelec exhibited in his first half performance is what makes the 24-year-old so intriguing.

Bryan Little has moved back and forth from the wing to centre, so he does have more value if he's right wing eligible, but he produced a solid, if unspectacular, season in 2010-2011. Little may be more suited to deeper leagues for now, but still has room to grow offensively.

Veteran Nik Antropov struggled to 41 points last season, but it was understandable as he was coming back from offseason hip surgery. Antropov had put up at least 56 point in each of the previous three seasons, while playing 17-20 minutes a night, so if he can rebound to that form, he'll have a chance to lead the Jets in scoring.

The eighth pick in the 2010 draft, Alexander Burmistrov made the Thrashers out of camp and had a respectable rookie season, scoring 20 points in 74 games. If Burmistrov moves into the second-line centre spot, he should play more than the 13 minutes per game he received as a rookie and, logically, score more, but maybe not enough yet to generate fantasy interest.

A couple of veterans coming in also have some offensive skills, though neither has played a prominent enough role to draw serious interest. Eric Fehr was an efficient goal-scorer on a per-minute basis in Washington, but last year's 12:35 per game respresented a career high.

Kyle Wellwood has been a fringe player for much of his career, though it looked like he could have been more when he scored 42 points in 48 games in 2006-2007 with Toronto. That was the last time Wellwood scored 40 points, so he's not going to hold draft-day appeal, but maybe he'll be able to work his way into a scoring role with the Jets.

The Jets are still growing and the potential of some of their young players makes them exciting, but they are still a team that appears to be a year or two of development away from having a legitimate shot at the postseason.

Depth Chart - Winnipeg Jets

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.  For more, check out TSN Fantasy Sports on Facebook.

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