Which Wpg Jet has most to prove at World Cup?

Intriguing story lines surround Jet players

Winnipeg Jets starting (?) goaltender Ondrej Pavelec will be under the microscope all season long, starting at the World Cup.

After a summer that has seen a Blue Bombers resurgence, more playoff baseball for the Goldeyes, we now prepare for the spectacle that is the World Cup of Hockey, with seven Winnipeg Jets taking the ice for their respective teams.

It promises to be an entertaining tourney, with lots to offer from a national pride angle, to the new wrinkle of teams like Team North America, which is heavy on Jets content. While Jets fans don’t have much to cheer on nationally (strong team, but no Jets), many will adopt Team NA, while at the same time getting to see why someone like Dustin Byfuglien isn’t as much fun to watch when playing against your team.

But what of the Jets taking part? Who has the most to gain? Who has the most to lose? And who has the most to prove?
Here we’ll take a look at those questions, looking at the players involved in alphabetical order:

Dustin Byfuglien

It is almost unbelievable that this will be Dustin Byfuglien’s first time representing the USA on the international stage. Expect him to reward them for finally selecting him.

Big Buff doesn’t have a whole bunch to lose here. He is just months past signing a lucrative long term contract to stay with the Jets and has just been named an assistant captain with the Jets, alongside his Team USA counterpart Blake Wheeler who will serve as Jets captain.

What is easy to see is that Byfuglien has reason to show up ready to go and be his game-changing self to both gain respect from USA Hockey and prove some of their past decisions wrong. It is a mild surprise to imagine that Byfuglien, one of the top defencemen in the National Hockey League has never represented the United States in international play – not at the Olympics, and not at world championships.

In the past, perceived weaknesses in his defensive game and questions about his mobility on international ice were cited at the time. His defensive play has really stabilized in recent seasons and on the North American ice, expect his physical assets to be a factor over the course of the tournament.

Connor Hellebuyck

The last time we saw Hellebuyck on the international stage it was his coming out. This time around he might have a difficult time getting a lot of time on the ice.

The Winnipeg Jets heir apparent to the starting goaltender role (with many fans hoping he’ll grab that mantle this coming season), Hellebuyck is looking to build off last year’s impressive debut on the world stage at the world championships, leading the USA to a bronze medal despite having yet suited up for an NHL game.

But the biggest question facing the young Jets puck stopper will be playing time. The NA team is stacked at goaltender. John Gibson is quite accomplished already, both in the NHL and internationally, and Matt Murray, well, he just so happens to have led the Pittsburgh Penguins spring Stanley Cup run.

Hellebuyck will get some time in net, but at this point, it looks like he might be on the outside, looking in during their biggest games – through no fault of his own.

Patrik Laine

Can Patrik Laine be as dominant on the small ice with the very best in the world as he was for Finland during the World Championships just a few months ago?

He’s 18 years-old, pencilled in on Finland’s top line, and he is one of the players the hockey world will be watching the closest as this tournament unfolds. With his lack of NHL experience and young age, expectations will, and should be tempered.

But, that shot, oh that wonderful shot that has led to constant comparisons to Alex Ovechkin, many observers are tremendously curious what impact he can have for a Finnish team that many believe will be overmatched.

He should get some quality minutes, but the problem will be that many of those minutes will be against top-level defenders. He should also get some primo power play time. Laine was the MVP at the world championships.

If he follows that up with a solid effort against the world’s very best players on NHL ice surfaces, it will be hard to blame Jets fans for being giddy beyond belief.

Ondrej Pavelec

If there is one player who absolutely needs to prove something, anything, it is Pavelec. One of the interesting realities of that is it seems unlikely that Pavelec will see much playing time behind Philadelphia’s Michal Neuvirth and Detroit’s Petr Mrazek.

Pavelec has lost the confidence of Winnipeg Jets fans, seems to have also lost the confidence of the Czech Hockey Association and at times it seems like maybe of himself.

As he stares down the final year of his NHL contract with the Jets, he has to realize that he is running out of time to allow himself an opportunity to earn another contract – anywhere in the league.

He has to recapture his late 2014-2015 form to have any chance. If he gets much playing time in the World Cup, he better start surprising people or he could be facing a very long season.

Mark Scheifele

Mark Scheifele has had an offseason worthy of lots of smiles, including a strong performance at the World’s helping push Canada to gold. Can he keep pushing his stock higher at the World Cup?

There was talk earlier this week that Scheifele was a possibility for captain of the North America squad. It seems like sensible speculation, although it seems much more likely that Scheifele would wear an A, with Connor McDavid taking on the captain role. Make no mistake, McDavid is already recognized as one of the best in the world, and commands that kind of respect.

Scheifele has also become a young player who commands respect. He has parlayed a late-blossoming junior hockey career to the verge of being a bonafide number one centre in the NHL (with a hefty NHL contract to match).

This tournament could play a role in determining where and if Scheifele is a key cog for Canada in future international play. If the NHL goes back to the Olympics in future years, could Scheifele be a part of those teams?

At this point, it appears that Scheifele could be in line for top line time with McDavid and some top line power play action on the point. It will be up to Scheifele to prove he belongs in those roles. If he does, watch out!

Jacob Trouba

Arguably, there may not be a Jet, or NHLer, with more on the line during the World Cup of Hockey than Jacob Trouba, who remains a restricted free agent heading into the tourney.

It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon, or even a brain scientist, to come to the conclusion that Trouba could easily be the Jet with the biggest question marks over his head and the most to gain, lose and prove at this tourney.

As he remains in restricted free agent status, if Trouba absolutely shines during the World Cup, his stock will rise. If he struggles or lacks impact, it is possible that hurts his standing in negotiations – either with the Jets or if another team is considering an offer sheet.

There is also the risk he faces when it comes to potential injury. Sure, he has insurance, but that insurance can’t fully cover the full potential his professional career might hold.

All indications are that he won’t be starting on the USA power play units and likely won’t see the 22+ minute playing time he has been used to in Winnipeg.
But if he can be an impact player here, will that force Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s hand in negotiations?

Blake Wheeler

Blake Wheeler has emerged as one of the top players in the NHL. Can he translate that to a World Cup to remember for both himself, and more importantly, Team USA?

The newly-minted captain of the Winnipeg Jets is better positioned for this tournament than he has ever been in his career.

He was a top ten player in NHL scoring last season and while he went into the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia on the fringe of the USA roster, and was only given fringe ice-time, but he heads into the World Cup as one of the players his team will lean on to be successful.

Wheeler definitely has to feel like he has something to prove to USA Hockey, but he likely has already answered most of his critics in the last year or two.

It is clear that from a Winnipeg Jets fan perspective, there will be no shortage of story lines to keep our eyes on. If either Team USA or Team North America is a factor in this tournament, fully expect the Jets on those teams to be key factors. It also seems that if Finland is going to step up and surprise in this tournament, Laine’s performance will likely be a key factor.

Watch all of the World Cup of Hockey action on Sportsnet and CBC: World Cup of Hockey TV schedule

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