- Per the Winnipeg Sun’s Scott Billeck, Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dylan DeMelo will be out for the Jets’ next two games with a lower-body injury. DeMelo is an important blueliner for coach Rick Bowness. Not only does the respected defensive defenseman lead the Jets in short-handed ice time per game, but his steady defensive style has provided number-one blueliner Josh Morrissey with the freedom to play a more aggressive offensive game, something that has resulted in career-best production for Morrissey. While his absence for these next two games will not cripple a talented Jets team, it will be something for the team to monitor as they continue their playoff push.
The Winnipeg Jets have activated defenseman Logan Stanley from injured reserve today, according to a team tweet. In a corresponding transaction, the Jets reassigned youngster Ville Heinola to the Manitoba Moose of the AHL.
Associate coach Scott Arniel told reporters last weekend that Stanley could return on Tuesday, and it turns out he was correct. The roster move suggests Stanley will be ready to go when Winnipeg takes on the Nashville Predators in an important divisional matchup tonight.
A pair of lower-body injuries have limited Stanley to seven NHL games this season, recording one assist in just 13:34 of ice time per game. He’s been on injured reserve with a lower-body injury since December 11 and missed 18 games earlier in the season with a fractured foot.
He’ll have to fight for minutes with another 24-year-old left-shot defenseman: Dylan Samberg. Samberg has impressed defensively in his first steady NHL season, is averaging over 15 minutes per game, and has eight points in 37 games.
Heinola, Winnipeg’s 2019 first-round pick, continues to scratch and claw for NHL time in Winnipeg. He’s played in just 10 out of Winnipeg’s 48 games and has been given little opportunity, playing 13:16 per game and recording one assist. The 21-year-old returns to Manitoba, where he has 11 points and a staggering +17 rating in just 14 games.
- Jets defenseman Logan Stanley wasn’t in the lineup tonight against Philadelphia but associate coach Scott Arniel told Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press (Twitter link) that the blueliner could be ready to return on Tuesday. Stanley has been out of the lineup for a little more than six weeks with a lower-body injury. The 24-year-old has been limited to just seven games this season which is a hardly ideal platform year for someone eligible for salary arbitration for the first time this summer.
The Jets find themselves in a situation that not many expected them to be in at this point of the season as they’re battling for first in the Central Division. They also happen to have some cap flexibility unlike several of their competitors so they’re likely to be buyers over the next six weeks. To that end, Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun suggests that Sharks winger Timo Meier could be the right target for Winnipeg. While a $10MM qualifying offer looms large, that can be overcome with a long-term agreement beforehand while it could also offer some insurance with Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, and Connor Hellebuyck (plus potentially Pierre-Luc Dubois) all set to hit the open market in 2024. Winnipeg has all their first-round picks and some young prospects that might be intriguing to San Jose should they decide to move on from the 26-year-old.
The middle of the season is a common time for awards check-ins in the NHL, and for good reason. Enough sample size is under our belts to cross off some early-season hot and cold streaks, and it’s given some time for players to grow into impact roles for new teams.
That’s especially true with the Calder Trophy, tracking the best rookie in the league. Young players are especially susceptible to streakiness, for better or for worse. Many players’ seasons have evened out somewhat, and it’s as good a time as any to take a look at where things stand for a handful of top Calder Trophy candidates, this time at the forward position.
Matthew Beniers, Seattle Kraken
Beniers stands as the clear front-runner for the Calder in most circles, and for good reason. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is playing serious minutes at 17:05 per game. He’s one point behind Andre Burakovsky for the Kraken lead in scoring, and he’s been a crucial part of Seattle’s improvement from basement dweller to playoff contender in 2022-23.
The 2021 second-overall pick was a “safe floor, unsure ceiling” type of player when he was drafted. With this kind of production so early in his career, Seattle can be optimistic that Beniers will hit his first-line center ceiling as his defense improves. He’s a poor 43.7% in the faceoff dot, but that’s been a problem for the entire Kraken squad, as they don’t have a single player over 50%.
Cole Perfetti, Winnipeg Jets
Along with the rest of the Jets, Perfetti is thriving offensively under head coach Rick Bowness. He had a solid seven points in 18 NHL games last season, maintaining his rookie status, but this season leads rookies with 20 assists.
While he has thrived playing with some of Winnipeg’s top talent, Perfetti’s point production is impressive in its own right. Very little of his scoring has come on the power play, he has just four points there. He’s sixth on the Jets in scoring, and while he isn’t receiving top minutes quite yet, nearly 15 minutes a night is still fine for a player his age. Look for his goal-scoring to improve throughout the season, too; he’s shooting at just 8.2%.
Mason McTavish, Anaheim Ducks
After a 2022 World Juniors for the ages, McTavish has transitioned well to the NHL on a struggling team. Anaheim’s systems have been a mess all season, but McTavish has still managed 27 points in 45 games and is drawing some tough matchups in the top six.
Used on and off at the center position, McTavish is scoring without much support. He’s third on the team in points and his -14 rating is actually one of the better ones on the team. Selected immediately after Beniers in 2021, it’s looking like an incredibly strong top-five from that class.
The shuffle in Buffalo continues, as the Sabres recall Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen once again. Peyton Krebs is the player headed back to the Rochester Americans this time. Luukkonen is the starter for Buffalo still, but as the only waiver-exempt goalie on the roster is moved down between appearances.
The young goaltender showed on Saturday exactly why they are going through all the trouble. He stopped 38 of 41 shots to outduel Juuse Saros for the win against the Nashville Predators, taking the Sabres to 21-18-2 on the year. They begin a back-to-back situation today with an important game against the Florida Panthers, a team they are competing with directly in the Atlantic Division.
- Anton Blidh is back up for the Colorado Avalanche, after last appearing more than a month ago. The 27-year-old forward has failed to score in his nine NHL appearances so far, and has just nine points in 23 games for the Colorado Eagles. He represents nothing more than a fourth-line replacement for this afternoon’s game against the Detroit Red Wings.
- The Winnipeg Jets have swapped Jansen Harkins and Ville Heinola again, recalling the latter. Harkins was up while several forwards dealt with an illness, but will head back to continue his strong play for the Manitoba Moose. Heinola, who still has only 33 NHL appearances spread over four seasons, will try to get back into the lineup with the Jets on a more regular basis.
- The Winnipeg Jets have recalled Jansen Harkins under emergency conditions as several forwards deal with a non-COVID illness. To make room, Ville Heinola has been sent back to the minor leagues. Harkins, 25, has scored five goals in 22 games this season with the Jets, but was getting just a handful of shifts the last couple of times he dressed in the NHL. Heinola, meanwhile, has appeared just eight times, recording his first point of the season earlier this month.
The Winnipeg Jets have announced that forward Saku Maenalanen has been activated off of injured reserve. In a corresponding move, forward David Gustafsson has been placed on injured reserve due to an upper-body injury.
The move allows the Jets to dress Maenalanen for tonight’s game against the Buffalo Sabres, a move that became necessary when forward Morgan Barron went down with a non-COVID-related illness, per the Jets’ radio color commentator Jamie Thomas.
Maenalanen has been out since December 8th, when he was sidelined by an apparent shoulder injury after being driven into the boards by St. Louis Blues defenseman Niko Mikkola.
The Jets signed Maenalanen last summer, inking him to a one-year $750K deal with a hefty $225K AHL guarantee. The team made the signing after Maenalanen authored an impressive 2021-22 season in his native Finland, scoring 41 points in 47 games for Karpat.
This season Maenalanen hasn’t been able to translate his scoring success from Liiga but has nonetheless managed to skate in 25 total names. He has six points in that span, operating largely in a depth role with some limited penalty-killing time.
This activation gives Maenalanen the chance to get into some more NHL games, with the hope of him playing well enough to earn a contract extension, as his deal expires at the end of the season.
Replacing Maenalanen on injured reserve is Gustafsson, a 22-year-old 2018 second-round pick. Gustafsson had an impressive year in the AHL in 2021-22, scoring 30 points in 47 games. He has just five points in 38 games this season and now lands on injured reserve.
With just six points in 66 NHL career games, generating offense at the game’s highest level has been a challenge for Gustafsson. But he has managed to feature on the Jets’ penalty kill, and has a well-regarded defensive game. He’ll now land on injured reserve, setting back what has been an underwhelming first run as a regular NHLer.
The Winnipeg Jets have decided to send a couple of top prospects from their minor league club to the WHL. Brad Lambert and Chaz Lucius are headed to the Seattle Thunderbirds and Portland Winterhawks, respectively. This is huge news for the junior clubs, who get to add difference-making talent for their stretch drives.
Lambert, 19, was the 30th overall selection in 2022 and made quite an impact in the preseason before eventually being assigned to the Manitoba Moose. Despite having played two seasons of professional hockey in Finland before coming to North America this year, Lambert has struggled in the AHL, scoring just two goals and three points in 14 games. Those frustrations continued at the World Juniors where he was only able to record a single goal for Finland, even in his third go-round at the tournament.
Still, he should be a dominant player for Seattle as he moves back to junior hockey. The experience he has in Finland and at the AHL level will only serve to make him more effective in the WHL, and Lambert is joining an incredibly talented club that has its sights set on a Memorial Cup.
To do that, they’ll have to get past the Winterhawks, though, who may be adding the more effective player of the two. Lucius, 19, was the 18th overall pick in 2021 and just showed how good he could be at the World Juniors, recording five goals and seven points for the U.S. squad. That comes after 12 games with the Manitoba Moose, his first taste of professional hockey after one season of college hockey. It’s not very often you see the NCAA->AHL->CHL route for prospects, but Lucius is going to get an opportunity to play huge minutes and help a Winterhawks team that is just a few points behind Seattle for first place in the Western Conference.
These assignments could be game-changing moments for both franchises, who recently saw the third-place Kamloops Blazers (hosts of this year’s Memorial Cup) send a huge package to the Everett Silvertips for Olen Zellweger. It’s an arms race in the WHL, and it should make for outstanding hockey down the stretch.
- Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman is out tonight against the Winnipeg Jets, although it’s for a positive reason. Lightning beat writer Chris Krenn notes that Hedman has returned to Tampa and is expecting the birth of his family’s second child over the next few days. Mikhail Sergachev, who actually leads all Lightning blueliners in points, steps up to the top pairing in Hedman’s absence.
- After playing the first half of the season in the AHL, Winnipeg Jets 2022 first-round pick Brad Lambert could head to junior hockey for the first time in North America. Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek expects Lambert to end up with the top-ranked Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL “at some point” this weekend. Lambert has struggled somewhat in his post-draft season after seeing his stock fall heavily out of the top five, as he posted just one point in five games at the 2023 World Junior Championship and managed three points in 14 games with Winnipeg’s AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.