On the 3rd day of Jetsmas, we’re talking defensemen. The ten that the Jets have played to be more specific which is strange because we’re counting down to Christmas instead of counting up but whatever. The whole “12 Days Of Christmas” song is a little strange anyway and we’d much rather have Byfuglien and Trouba than any lords that have a knack for leaping.
When people talk about a team’s group of defensemen, they usually limit their talk to just the main six guys that a club would dress most of the season. Sometimes a seventh defenseman comes into the conversation by way of talking about team depth but that’s typically the end point. No one ever really goes on to discuss the team’s “eighth or ninth defenseman” because typically those guys are in the AHL and only called upon when needed due to injury.
Yet if you look around the league, pretty much all teams have used at least eight defensemen while some – like the Jets – have used up to ten, and a select few such as Ottawa and Boston have had to dress up to 12 different defensemen at one point or another just 30-ish games into the season.
So while the Winnipeg Jets have had to deal with some injury issues, it could be worse. At least they don’t have to dress a Erik Burgdoerfer as a warm body to throw into a game.
Let’s take a quick look at each of the ten Jets defensemen and how they’ve fared so far this season.
Nelson Nogier – 1 game
Nelson finally got a call back to some NHL action, albiet in a brief one game stint against the New York Islanders on December 4 as the Jets had to fight off a group of injuries to multiple defensemen. He held his own against the Isles playing 10:06 while getting a shot on goal and being credited with a blocked shot in his own end of the ice.
The 22 year old’s pro hockey career has been derailed some due to injuries. When the Jets drafted him in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, there was some thought he was a good sleeper pick who could be one of those future “sixth or seventh NHL defensemen” and there is still faint hope that could be the case. He’s played 24 games with the Manitoba Moose this season, picking up a single assist.
Cameron Schilling – 4 games
Before this season, Cam Schilling’s last NHL game was March 11, 2015 as a member of the Washington Capitals. The Jets signed him this past summer with an eye on their AHL team and hoping that Schilling could be a nice veteran blue line presence, but he was pressed into NHL action when the Jets started dealing with multiple injuries to their defensive group.
And really, he wasn’t all that bad. He picked up an assist in his first game against Chicago and averaged 12:06 of ice time in the four games he played.
Schilling may not get another shot at the pros this season, but for the brief time he was up with the main club he held his own.
Sami Niku – 5 games
If most Jets fans had their way, Sami would have a lot more games played with the main club at this point. He was one of the last cuts made as the team came out of training camp and again has been very good with the Moose picking up two goals and seven points in 13 games played at the AHL level.
He went pointless in his five games up with the big club from November 29 when he made his season debut against the Chicago Blackhawks up until his last NHL game (for now) on December 7 against the St. Louis Blues.
While Jets fans remain frustrated that he can’t seem to stick in the lineup, they should take heart that head coach Paul Maurice spoke glowingly about him a few days ago.
— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) December 7, 2018
Dmitry Kulikov – 5 games
One of the players seen as keeping a player like Niku away from the lineup is Kulikov who again this season has had to deal with injury issues, but due to his 4.3$ million contract that lasts through next season, keeping him in the press box isn’t exactly the wisest move.
And it’s not like Kulikov is a bad defenseman, in fact he seems to complement the play of Tyler Myers very well.
Fun fact in a very small sample this yr Kulikov/Myers have been really good pic.twitter.com/8Pwo2ooL7z
— not affiliated (@Tony_MBHKY) December 15, 2018
You’re never going to get a ton of offense from Kulikov but what you will get is some solid defensive work and a guy who does fairly well getting the puck out of his own end.
It’s just that he can never seem to stay healthy. Here’s hoping 2019 brings him better luck in that department.
Joe Morrow – 19 games
In an ideal world, Joe Morrow is the Jets’ “seventh defenseman” where he can come in when an injury happens, fill in for some games and be a respectable replacement. Morrow has been ok in that role playing 19 games and playing an average of 14:08 a game which is the loest average ice time he’s had in his brief five year NHL career.
He’s missed the last eight games due to a lower body injury suffered in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but with the Jets almost completely healthy on the back end, Morrow may just end up seeing some press box time… At least until the next time Dmitry Kulikov is out with injury.
Dustin Byfuglien – 26 games
The big man is a big presence on the ice, but when he isn’t in the lineup – as has been the case for six games this season due to an upper body injury in October and a concussion in late November – his absence is almost even more noticeable. While he may not be the Jets best overall defenseman any more (although he’s done well to reclaim that title this season), he is their most impactful as he blends his intimidating size and strength with skill and an offensive flair that will see him make at least one skate around the low end of the offensive zone while typically one arm stick handling a puck while holding off a would be checker with the other per game.
And let’s not forget how much entertainment and personality he brings to the ice.
And people dare ask me why Byfuglien is my favorite Jet… pic.twitter.com/wio3Djc888
— GameTimeArt (@GameTimeArt) December 12, 2018
Josh Morrissey – 30 games
There was a time when people felt that Jacob Trouba was the Jets “future number one defenseman” but an argument can and would probably be made by many people that the title of future “best defenseman on the Jets” belongs to Josh Morrissey. Some would maybe argue that’s a title he holds onto now.
In just his third full NHL season, Morrssey has developed into maybe the Jets most reliable defender in his own end, and on the offensive side of things is starting to develop into a threat as well. After his first two seasons where he had 20 and then 26 points, Josh is already at 19 (four goals, 15 assists) just 30 games in as he’s seen a lot more time on the power play and for the first time in his short career, the Jets have had him with more zone start time in the offensive end of the ice rather than the defensive.
The only question about Morrissey’s future will be just how much money he’ll get when he becomes a restricted free agent in the summer of 2020. If the Jets are smart, they lock him up to a long term deal before he can get to that point.
Ben Chiarot – 32 games
Big Ben already has a career high this season in goals with three and I’m willing to bet no one expected that many goals from him, maybe not even Ben himself.
Chiarot has settled into a role of a mid to bottom six defenseman playing about seventeen minutes a night and being a dependable defender if not having a few issues when it comes to puck retrieval and exiting in his own end.
At 6’3″ he’s not afraid to play physical – he leads all defensemen in hits with 55 – and the sporadic offense has been a welcome sight.
Tyler Myers – 32 games
Ask multiple Jets fans about how they feel about Tyler Myers and you’re likely to get multiple answers. Overall if Jets fans were able to set relationship status for each player on the team, the one attached to Myers would be “It’s complicated.”
We could write an entire post about the ups and downs of Myers. He struggles with zone exits at times and has issues making reads on the ice and sometimes hesitates before making a decision on playing a puck or taking the man. At the same time though he has a knack for contributing on offense and his size and speed help make him an above average NHL defenseman.
His best role is that of a mid-six defenseman and as we’ve noted with Dmitry Kulikov, there seems to be a chemistry with the two that make the whole greater than the sum of their talents.
He’s also on the last year of a 5.5$ million contract before he becomes a UFA and thus proves even more questions on his future with Winnipeg and even more fractured opinions on what that future should be.
Jacob Trouba – 32 games
The story of Jacob Trouba with the Winnipeg Jets has been a long and strange one and that’s just when talking about his contract issues. He still remains one of the Jets top defensemen, but there is also some wonder at this point if he’d really be worth the eight million a year he reportedly asked for this past summer, especially when you factor in a player like Josh Morrissey and the pending rise of Sami Niku and the multiple ELC’s (Laine & Connor) that are due to expire in the next few seasons.
Trouba has slumped a little bit recently on the offensive end – he hasn’t had a point in his last five games – but outside of a few mistakes made he’s been the Jets most reliable defender and if past seasons are any indication, the offense will come around sooner than later.
5 on 5 points per minute over the last 3 seasons (min 2000 minutes played). pic.twitter.com/lDNOCildwj
— Timothy Bonnar (@TBonnar) December 14, 2018
It’s just a question of what the Jets will do with him again this summer when he yet again becomes an RFA.