The Winnipeg Jets announced today that their new trio of captains for the upcoming season will feature Blake Wheeler wearing the “C” and Mark Scheifele and Dustin Byfuglien donning the “A”’s as alternates. Wheeler steps in for long-time captain Andrew Ladd (who wished him well), who was traded at the deadline last season to the Chicago Blackhawks and then signed a long-term deal with the New York Islanders this off-season. Wheeler had previously served as an alternate captain to Ladd along side Mark Stuart. Those two roles will now be taken over by the young Scheifele and defensive stalwart Byfuglien.
After finishing in last place in the Central division in 2015–16, the Winnipeg Jets are very much in a rebuild. The promotion to captain of Wheeler and naming of Scheifle as alternate are further evidence of this movement. With 2016 second overall pick Patrick Laine now in the fold, as well as other young contributors, the youth revolution is in full effect for the Jets, and their two top young scorers will be leading the way.
Wheeler, who was acquired from the Boston Bruins with Stuart in 2011 for Rich Peverley, has since been the top offensive catalyst in Winnipeg and was a predictable choice for captain. With at least 25 goals and 60 points in each of the last three seasons, Wheeler has cemented himself as the most reliable and productive forward on the Jets. His tenure as a offensive leader on the team will now transform into a role as a locker room leader on the team as well. Byfuglien too is a long-time team member; his first year with the organization was their last season as the Atlanta Thrashers. As the leader of the defensive core and one of the best scoring defenseman in the NHL, it makes sense for the bruising blue liner to take on a bigger leadership role on the team. Scheifele may be the only surprise naming at just 23 years old, but his label as a face of the franchise after being drafted 7th overall in 2011, his development into a top NHL prospect, and his steady increase in scoring over his first few years makes him a natural fit in a leadership role moving forward with a young team.
Perhaps the only surprise omission from a captaincy role is that of Bryan Little. A career member of the Trashers/Jets and a consistent contributor year in and year out, Little being left out of the leadership heirarchy is strange. However, with a drop off in points in 2015-16 and a contract year approaching in 2017-18, it is possible that this is a sign of things to come for Little.