The Winnipeg Jets were dealt a huge blow Thursday afternoon, as head coach Paul Maurice confirmed Mark Scheifele's crash into the endboards versus the Edmonton Oilers was indeed as bad as it looked, declaring his superstar center out for the next six-to-eight weeks with an upper-body injury.
While there's no substituting his presence in the lineup, due to an influx of offensive talent, a steady blue line, and reliable goaltending, the Jets appear more than capable of weathering the storm.
Winnipeg practiced with the following line combinations Thursday, according to team reporter Jamie Thomas:
|Kyle Connor||Blake Wheeler||Patrik Laine|
|Mathieu Perreault||Bryan Little||Nikolaj Ehlers|
|Andrew Copp||Adam Lowry||Brandon Tanev|
|Shawn Matthias||Matt Hendricks||Joel Armia|
It could certainly be worse.
Even without Scheifele, Winnipeg's top six is better than most, and all of those players should be able to operate a dangerous power play. The bottom six doesn't instill much confidence, but Maurice wants to work with what he has before making any call-ups. If it comes to that, he has plenty of options to pluck from the AHL-leading Manitoba Moose, including top prospect Jack Roslovic (35 points in 31 games), as well as Nic Petan and Brendan Lemieux - who have each spent time in the NHL this season.
(Photo Courtesy: Getty Images)
The Jets are also without Dustin Byfuglien on the blue line, but they've managed to win four of the eight games he's missed, and increased minutes for Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Once again, the X-factor for Winnipeg, particularly over the next six-to-eight weeks, will be goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. He's emerged as the clear-cut No. 1 goalie and has posted a sturdy .919 save percentage across 30 starts, so there's little reason to panic there.
Personnel aside, perhaps the most promising factor in Scheifele's recovery timeline is an advantageous January schedule, as the Jets are off between the 14th and 19th for their league-mandated bye, followed by a four-day hiatus from the 26th to 29th for the All-Star Game, which Scheifele will, unfortunately, have to miss.
The Jets sit second in an air-tight Central Division, tied with the Blues at 48 points with one game in hand, and trailing the Predators by one, though Nashville has played two fewer contests. With a six-point cushion over its closest wild-card chaser, Winnipeg remains in a solid position to stay in the postseason race, even if it stumbles a bit without Scheifele.
It's certainly going to be more difficult without him, but the Jets are a team built to contend.