It’s open for debate which of the four significant departures the Winnipeg Jets experienced this summer is going to be the most problematic for the team to absorb this season.
Replacing the group of Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot on the blue line won’t be easy and it’s probably going to take some time for the team to recover the meaningful minutes that trio supplied and the contributions they provided offensively and physically.
To date, the most likely source for backend roster replacement will come from Winnipeg’s organizational depth, but to fill the void there will be a level of patience required on the part of the team and its fans.
Asking National Hockey League neophytes such as Sami Niku, Tucker Poolman and possibly Logan Stanley to mirror what the three departed players provided is folly – at least for the upcoming season.
However, based on professional service time in the American Hockey League, plus draft status and prospect expectation within the organization, time and money have necessitated a youth injection around veterans Dustin Byfuglien, Josh Morrissey and Dmitry Kulikov and newcomers Neal Pionk and Nathan Beaulieu.
So while there will be growing pains and questions still to be answered on the backend for the Jets this October and beyond, the loss of forward Brandon Tanev might be less daunting for the team to facilitate in finding a comparable replacement.
Unarguably, Tanev played a unique role with the Jets over the last three seasons. He was fast, quick, fearless and able to contribute in a variety of areas including penalty killing, shot blocking and checking on the third line.
Enter JC Lipon.
The 26-year-old longtime Jets’ farmhand must be salivating leading up to training camp next month, as he’s likely to receive his best chance to earn a full-time NHL job since his selection in 2013 by the team in the third round (91st overall).
Lipon has the skating ability and tenacity to serve as a capably replacement to Tanev and since he’s on a one-year deal, this season could provide an opportunity for him to elevate his game and potentially his bank account in Winnipeg or elsewhere next season, just like Tanev did by signing a six-year contract at $3.5 million (all figures U.S.) per annum with the Pittsburgh Penguins on July 1.
Over the past six seasons, Lipon has been a great solider for the Jets spending most of that time in their system with St. John’s and Manitoba. He got a quick NHL tutorial in 2015-16 for nine games with the Jets about the same time Tanev arrived from Providence College late that season.
In the AHL, Lipon has recorded four straight seasons of 11-goals or more including 17 two seasons ago. Aside from offensive skill he’s also tough, passionate, focused and served as one of Manitoba’s assistant captains the last three consecutive seasons.
He’ll also block shots, kill penalties, finish his check and fight if he has to and could help augment some of the team toughness the Jets lost with this summer’s free agent departures.
Now, can Lipon immediately enter Winnipeg’s lineup and replace Tanev’s 14 goals from last season? Not likely. But remember it took Tanev three full seasons to get there after campaigns of two and eight goals, previously.
There is certainly no guarantee Lipon finds a home on the bottom six of the Jets forward depth chart this season, but he’ll get a look – a strong one in fact – from the coaching staff and management to assume Tanev’s vacated role.
JETS NOT HANDCUFFED WITH COPP
As the labour impasse continues with restricted free agents Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine, should one – or both – remain without a contract when the preseason starts or even as far along as when the regular season begins, look for Andrew Copp to get a tryout on the top line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. Copp, 25, has likely earned an opportunity to increase his offensive role with the team and certainly has the skating ability and hockey IQ to play the left wing with those two stars. His career-high 11 goals last year (in a limited offensive role on the third and fourth lines) proves there’s some additional offensive potential there and his attention to detail in his own zone could make him a very valuable piece to a well-balanced top line.
TRAINING CAMP & PRESEASON NOTES
Watch for the Jets to start training camp the second weekend of September – likely around the 13th before the seven-game preseason schedule commences three days later in Edmonton on Sept. 16. As an interesting note to their exhibition schedule next month, the Jets will face the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues on Sept. 20 at Bell MTS Place.
When training camp and the preseason schedule do begin, it will be intriguing to see how the Jets’ coaching staff coordinates the power play units from a quarterback standpoint. Certainly Dustin Byfuglien will be “up top” on the first unit, but do fellow defenceman Josh Morrissey and Neal Pionk also get a look? Morrissey has certainly earned the opportunity but is a left-handed shot and the Jets have traditionally tried to operate both units to the left side - or strong side - of the ice for one-timers. As such, with Pionk being a righty and used on the power play with the New York Rangers last season, one wonders if both units will look the same or vary in puck distribution from one side of the ice to the other?
Speaking of defenceman, as mentioned earlier there’s a good probability Logan Stanley will get a solid audition during the preseason and should be in-line to play some regular season games with the team this coming season. The 21-year-old suited up for 73 games for the Manitoba Moose last season and showed a steady progression in his first year pro. Moreover, he was a Black Ace for the Jets last April during their playoff series with the Blues.