Projecting the Winnipeg Jets’ opening-night lineup: Roster battles, waivers issues and more

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One year into Rick Bowness’ Winnipeg Jets tenure, we know a little bit about his tendencies as head coach.

Bowness’ second Jets camp starts with off-ice meetings and medical evaluations on Wednesday and takes to the ice on Thursday. The Athletic will be at the Hockey For All Centre, taking detailed notes and sharing them with you as always.

In the meantime, let’s pore over Winnipeg’s camp roster and think about it through the lens of Bowness as head coach. We’ve come to know him as fearless in certain regards (see: removing Blake Wheeler’s captaincy last season), predictable in others (his predilection for size on D-zone faceoffs late in games cost Cole Perfetti and Nikolaj Ehlers some minutes) and more than capable of surprising: Ehlers may have seen his ice time decline but he started the season with Kyle Connor and Mark Scheifele on an all-offence, firepower heavy first line.

Josh Morrissey doubled his career high in points under Bowness last season. Dylan Samberg broke into the NHL on a full-time basis. And, throughout the year, various role players from Kevin Stenlund and Saku Maenalanen to Karson Kuhlman and Axel Jonsson-Fjallby found their way into meaningful minutes.

How does this impact Winnipeg’s established stars? What does it mean for top prospects like Colby Barlow, Brad Lambert, Chaz Lucius, Elias Salomonsson and Nikita Chibrikov?

I’m glad you asked. Here is our early look at Winnipeg’s locks, battles for spots and our projection of the 2023-24 opening-night roster.


Roster locks: Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Nino Niederreiter, Alex Iafallo, Gabriel Vilardi, Cole Perfetti, Adam Lowry, Vladislav Namestnikov, Morgan Barron, Mason Appleton, Rasmus Kupari

Vying for spots: Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, David Gustafsson, Jansen Harkins, Dominic Toninato, Jeffrey Viel, Jeff Malott, Kristian Reichel, Parker Ford, Colby Barlow, Chaz Lucius, Brad Lambert, Nikita Chibrikov, Daniel Torgersson, Henri Nikkanen, Wyatt Bongiovanni, Danny Zhilkin, Connor Levis, Jacob Julien, C.J. Suess*

* Training camp invitee

Biggest camp battles: Jonsson-Fjallby, Gustafsson, Harkins, and Toninato for what looks like the one and only forward job up for grabs.

This section is meant to discuss Winnipeg’s forwards but the Jets’ crowded blue line is already causing problems.

The roster limit is 23 players, meaning Winnipeg could carry as few as 13 forwards (assuming it keeps eight defencemen and two goaltenders.) Check out that depth chart, though: The Jets can list 12 forwards before getting to a single roster battle.

This puts some of Winnipeg’s depth forwards at risk.

Jonsson-Fjallby, Gustafsson, Harkins and Toninato all require waivers to be sent to the Moose. Only one of them can become Winnipeg’s 13th forward — I’m assuming Kupari gets a job because I can’t imagine the team risking waivers on a promising part of the Pierre-Luc Dubois package. Three of them will end up on the waiver wire, assuming full health.

This is not a catastrophe. Gustafsson is the only player in that group who has yet to pass through waivers at some point in his career. Still, it’s a symptom of where the team is at. (From a glass-half-full point of view, it’s a testament to the team’s forward depth.) My guess is that Gustafsson gets the final job and Winnipeg risks losing Jonsson-Fjallby, Harkins and Toninato — just as it did last season — but the job is very much on the line.

The intrigue heightens when you try to project how Bowness will use the forwards who are locks to make his team.

Scheifele is the obvious No. 1 centre. New captain Adam Lowry will play tough minutes on the third line. Connor will get top minutes among Jets wingers. The rest is a mystery, particularly at second-line centre.

Cole Perfetti is my front-runner to win that job, although Gabriel Vilardi and Vladislav Namestnikov may also get a look. Perfetti excelled at centre in junior and found a part-time home playing down the middle with Manitoba, where puck touches in the middle of the ice frequently turned into dangerous passes. Offensively, Perfetti’s hockey sense can pick defenders apart. Defensively, it leads to sharp reads and good positioning. If Perfetti does get the role, the challenge will be obvious: he’ll need to find a way to win battles against players who are bigger, stronger and faster than he is. He’s won three faceoffs of the 11 that he’s taken in the NHL but was well above 50 percent in junior and in the AHL.

Alex Iafallo is an excellent two-way winger whose Kings coaches referred to as “human deodorant” for his ability to clean up other people’s messes. I think that Iafallo’s hockey sense would serve Perfetti well: recall that Winnipeg’s first forward back into its own zone is the one who plays down low. Iafallo would be a good partner for Perfetti in the sense that he can be trusted to make the right reads, handle his coverage, and switch spots with Perfetti as the circumstances dictate. Nino Niederreiter would be a more than capable alternative if Iafallo doesn’t get that job.

I expect Bowness to reunite Scheifele and Connor, leaving a job opening on their right wing. I like Vilardi’s ability to read off of those linemates, form triangles and exploit space from more of a standstill than Ehlers, so I’ve given Vilardi the top job and put Ehlers on line two.

The possibilities are almost endless though. Consider the strength of the third line in the following projection. Either of Lowry’s wingers could moonlight in Winnipeg’s top six if the situation called for it — and, given Bowness’ penchant for giving big, late-game minutes to big, defensively game players, expect Lowry and his linemates to play an outsized role when Winnipeg is protecting a lead.

It’s almost a shame that Morgan Barron is relegated to a fourth-line role after the playoffs he had but he, Mason Appleton and Rasmus Kupari have a lot going for them that far down the lineup. If everybody stays healthy, this could be the best Jets fourth line since Mathieu Perreault played that far down the lineup.

What about the kids?

Chibrikov excelled at the Young Stars Tournament, showing observers offensive instincts and creativity that outshone Lucius, Lambert and Barlow. Chibrikov is a good bet to star in the AHL alongside Lucius and Lambert and, if he keeps finding time and space to showcase his NHL-ready release at main camp, could move himself to the front of the line. The truth is it’s a long road to the top for all of Winnipeg’s young stars and staying power will be just as important as early flash.

Projected forward lines:

Connor Scheifele — Vilardi

Iafallo — Perfetti Ehlers

Niederreiter — Lowry Namestnikov

Barron — Kupari — Appleton



Roster locks: Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk, Brenden Dillon, Dylan DeMelo, Nate Schmidt, Dylan Samberg, Logan Stanley

Vying for spots: Kyle Capobianco, Declan Chisholm, Ville Heinola, Artemi Kniazev, Elias Salomonsson, Simon Lundmark, Tyrel Bauer, Dmitry Kuzmin, Ashton Sautner, Jimmy Oligny*, Dean Stewart*

* Training camp invitees

Biggest camp battles: Stanley vs. Capobianco vs. Chisholm for two jobs, then the odd man out vs. waivers

We did this dance a year ago, calling Johnathan Kovacevic (or Kyle Capobianco) to battle the waiver wire given the glut of capable veterans on defence. Winnipeg kept Capobianco, risked waivers with Kovacevic and lost him to Montreal as a result. Declan Chisholm takes Kovacevic’s spot in that discussion this season.

Was it a catastrophe that the Jets lost Kovacevic? Would it be a catastrophe if someone claimed Chisholm?

The company line is that Winnipeg is happy when good players and good people get NHL opportunities. That’s noble and I admire it. On some level, though, I think it must sting to draft a player, follow their development through junior or college into the AHL, watch them find their professional footing and then say goodbye just as they show they’re capable of regular NHL minutes. Montreal got solid, smart, reliable defending from Kovacevic in a third-paring role last season — for free, after Winnipeg developed him.

And, you know what? Good for them (and good for the popular Kovacevic for making his NHL dreams come true).

Dylan Samberg was even better in Winnipeg, taking a job that previously belonged to Logan Stanley and showing real top-four potential. Samberg’s role was sheltered, playing with Nate Schmidt against lesser competition at five-on-five, but he excelled in that role and on Winnipeg’s penalty kill. Heading into training camp, it is Samberg and not Stanley whose role looks assured, while Winnipeg’s veteran-heavy roster remains.

Morrissey will lead the way. Dylan DeMelo will play the smart, quiet, defence-first game that helps Morrissey push up ice. Brenden Dillon and Neal Pionk will likely reprise their role as Winnipeg’s second pair. Pionk’s downward trend over the past two years is troubling, mitigated only by an end-of-season push and a strong start to the playoffs against Vegas, but his minutes seem assured.

I suppose it’s possible that Stanley, Chisholm, Capobianco or some of the above outshine Nate Schmidt in training camp, necessitating an awkward and difficult decision but I think people focus on Schmidt’s salary and sleep on third-pairing effectiveness. It is not a given that the younger, more affordable players on this list offer more on-ice value than he does.

Add it all together and assume everyone stays healthy: One of Chisholm or Capobianco is headed to the waiver wire, even if they have the training camp of their life. That’s a tough spot to be in — Capobianco was a game, capable No. 7 or No. 8 defenceman last season, while the 23-year-old Chisholm has been excellent throughout his AHL career. As for Ville Heinola, Artemi Kniazev, Salomonsson and Winnipeg’s other young defencemen who don’t require waivers? I just can’t see Winnipeg making the roster moves required for them to get their due.

Performance will dictate whether Winnipeg ends up under a lot of pressure or just a little bit to look for a workaround. Winnipeg is a good team but not so good that it can afford to be a farm team for the rest of the NHL.

Finally: if you’re looking for a glass-half-full approach, consider that Samberg was up against the same deep roster one year ago and won himself a job.

Projected defence pairs:

Morrissey  DeMelo

Dillon  Pionk

Samberg  Schmidt

Stanley, Chisholm/Capobianco


Roster locks: Connor Hellebuyck, Laurent Brossoit

Vying for spots: Collin Delia, Oskari Salminen, Thomas Milic, Dom DiVincentiis

Biggest camp battles: Delia vs. the waiver wire

If Winnipeg keeps Connor Hellebuyck this season, whether because he’s signed an extension or the Jets are going all-in on the year, his job as starter is assured. In that scenario, the biggest question facing Laurent Brossoit is how many games he can play at a high level, still hoping to prove himself as a bona fide starter. Delia would be placed on waivers with the thought he’d be an excellent AHL starter for a young Moose team.

There’s intrigue in that path: What would Hellebuyck’s contract look like? Would the Jets really hold on to him for the playoffs if he didn’t have an extension? If Brossoit played like he did last season, could he even convince Winnipeg it could afford to move on from its Vezina winner/two-time finalist? If Brossoit’s numbers looked like they did two years ago — a .895 save percentage through 24 games — Winnipeg would be desperate to keep Hellebuyck, make an upgrade or accept that the season had gone sour. Delia does have enough NHL experience to be a backup if the situation called upon it, too, so it’s not a guarantee he will play the full year in the AHL after clearing waivers.

Meanwhile, it seems likely that Oskari Salminen will be Delia’s backup in the AHL after Arvid Holm’s departure, with Thomas Milic first in line to start for Winnipeg’s new ECHL affiliate in Norfolk. Dom DiVincentiis seems destined to return to North Bay, where he’s a Hellebuyckian force for the Battalion and could be named the OHL’s goaltender of the year all over again.

It’s a great situation from top to bottom if Hellebuyck stays. Without him, the intrigue would grow into something thoroughly dramatic.

Projected goalies: Hellebuyck, Brossoit

Projected opening-night roster


Kyle Connor

Mark Scheifele

Gabriel Vilardi

Alex Iafallo

Cole Perfetti

Nikolaj Ehlers

Nino Niederreiter

Adam Lowry

Vladislav Namestnikov

Morgan Barron

Rasmus Kupari

Mason Appleton

David Gustafsson



Josh Morrissey

Dylan DeMelo

Brenden Dillon

Neal Pionk

Dylan Samberg

Nate Schmidt

Logan Stanley

Declan Chisholm*


Connor Hellebuyck

Laurent Brossoit

*If Winnipeg waives Kyle Capobianco

(Photo of Josh Morrissey and Adam Lowry: Jonathan Kozub / NHLI via Getty Images)

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