By: Jared Clinton
And so it begins.
No one would say it was The Game Heard ‘Round The World, but it was a nice, fun showing from the Jets in their preseason opener, a 2-1 win over the visiting Minnesota Wild. In a move that was certainly a crowd-pleaser, Jets head coach Paul Maurice iced a roster that included big names Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, and Bryan Little.
The real show for Jets’ fans, however, was in the first sighting of 2014 first-round draft pick Nikolaj Ehlers.
Ehlers, who was getting his first look at preseason NHL action, didn’t look out of his element. He looked comfortable with the puck on the few rushes he made, took a regular shift, and even mixed it up a bit with Wild forward Charlie Coyle and came out no worse for wear. With few Jets’ fans deluding themselves into thinking this will be a championship season, the chance to get a glimpse of what Ehlers could bring to the team was certainly appreciated.
While it’s difficult to make much of a single preseason game, there were a few positives and a few glaring negatives for the Jets.
Obviously, Ehlers was a positive and watching him suit up for professional action was a treat. The first pick of the Jets in the June draft, Ehlers looked settled, not rushing to get the puck off of his stick and showed patience in moving the puck around the ice. The new hope, goaltender Michael Hutchinson, looked solid, if not spectacular, and even the much-maligned Ondrej Pavelec didn’t look shaky for his first start of the year.
But the negatives – which are always, oh, so much easier – were there. It still seems as though Maurice is destined to try his hardest to get Byfuglien to play forward, while Big Buff looks as though he’d be best used on the blue line. The most glaring example of this was on the Jets’ failed power plays early in the game. Albeit the argument is much easier to make when Byfuglien blasts home a goal on his first power play shift on the point, it looked as though he was lost playing up front with the mad advantage.
On the Jets’ fourth opportunity with the extra man, Byfuglien sat in the high slot as a point shot came in. Net front? Andrew Ladd. While Ladd is definitely a bigger body and someone who is well suited to play net front on the power play, if Maurice is going to attempt to use Byfuglien up front on the power play, he needs to be in front of the opposition netminder.
We’ve seen it in years prior – most notably in the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup run in 2010 – that Byfuglien can be a disruptive force on the power play when utilized properly. But that’s with a roster that was built differently and one that didn’t necessarily need a shot like Byfuglien’s on the blue line.
As we approach the first year of the new, statistically inclined National Hockey League, you’re going to hear this a lot: Byfuglien absolutely drives possession as a defenseman and it would be to Maurice and the Jets’ advantage if he was back on the blue line.
Of course, all of this will get sorted. In two months, we may be talking about a Jets team featuring Ehlers, a breakout year for Mark Scheifele, or another year that’s spiraling out of control. It’s only game one of the preseason, so no need to get too wound up.
More than anything, it was just nice to see the Jets back on the ice again and know that another hockey season, another year of Jets 2.0, is about to begin.
Here’s to a fun year.