As we all know, The Winnipeg Jets have had a real problem with their defensemen ever since the 2018-2019 offseason when they lost key pieces in Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers and Ben Chariot. They haven’t been able to fix that problem.
The team has also struggled of late, losing seven in a row and if the franchise is quickly ousted from the 2021 NHL playoffs, there could be some offseason changes. With changes potentially coming and with a weaker blue line corps, here are six UFA defensemen the Jets should target this off-season.
#1 Dougie Hamilton
Dougie Hamilton is the kind of player that leads your team on both sides of the puck. The Jets currently don’t have a dynamic defenseman that can play that way. Hamilton is a right-shot blue who would most likely slot in on the top pair with Josh Morrissey or maybe even Ville Heinola in a couple of years.
Hamilton ranks 20th among defensemen this season in Even Strength Offense (EVO) Goals Above Replacement and 64th in Even Strength Defense (EVD) Goals Above Replacement this season. But, he also is a huge contributor to the powerplay as he ranks 6th in Power Play Offense (PPO) among all defensemen this season.
The Winnipeg Jets could use a guy like Hamilton on their top pair and he would be a real leader and their new power-play quarterback. The defenseman is also only 28 years old and could be a contributor in Winnipeg for at least the next six seasons.
#2 Mike Reilly
Mike Reilly is an interesting defenceman. He struggled his first couple of seasons on teams such as the Minnesota Wild and the Montreal Canadiens. He only really took off this past season with the Senators and reminds me of Jets defenceman Dylan DeMelo. He’s someone who played well on a bad team and is now looking good on a contending team.
A 27-year-old, left-shot defenseman, Reilly has 25 points in 51 games so far this season. He also ranks 6th among all defenseman this season in Even Strength Offense (EVO). Which is ahead of defenders regarded as the best offensively in the league such as Victor Hedman, Charlie McAvoy and Alex Pieterangelo. Reilly can also play well on the defensive side of the puck as he ranks 36th in Even Strength Defense (EVD) among defensemen this season.
A defeneman like this could play top minutes on the Jets top pair and could also play on the second pair, he’s a very versatile defenseman. Reilly would most likely slot on the second pair with Neal Pionk or on the third pair with Dylan DeMelo.
#3 Jamie Oleksiak
Jamie Oleksiak is a defenseman the Jets seemed like they would try and snag at the NHL Trade Deadline which makes it very likely that they at the very least make a push for him in free agency. He really broke out on the Stars 2020 playoff run where they made it to the Stanley Cup Final and lost to Tampa Bay in a six-game series.
He’s a very good defensive defenseman which is what the Jets desperately need. He ranks 40th in Even Strength Defense (EVD) among defencemen this season. He would be a second or third pairing guy that would play in those final minutes of close games or against teams top lines.
#4 Ryan Murray
Ryan Murray has been really good offensively this season on a bad Devils team. He plays around 18 minutes a night and could be a good 2nd pairing offensive guy. He ranks 23rd in Even Strength Offense (EVO) among defenseman this season. But, his mediocre defensive play may turn the Jets away. Since what they need is a guy who can defend the puck.
Although Murray may have defensive struggles his offensive play this season deserves a look by Cheveldayoff and his crew. Ryan Murray is also only 27 and could be in Winnipeg on a long term basis.
#5 Jake McCabe
Jake McCabe is a left-shot defenseman who is great in his own end. He would be the perfect guy to play with Neal Pionk. He could also play with DeMelo as two guys that are good defensively.
McCabe ranks 38th in Even Strength Defense Goals Above Replacement among defencemen this season. He also ranks 3rd among defenseman in xGA/60 behind defensemen Victor Mete and Ben Thomas. It might need to be a short-term situation as defensemen Logan Stanley and Dylan Samberg look to jump in the top 4 in the coming seasons.
#6 Dmitry Kulikov
The Jets have had an experience with Dmitry Kulikov in the past. Maybe they look to bring him back in the mix as a third pairing shutdown guy.
A 29-year-old left shot defenseman, he has played well defensively this season for the Devils and was recently acquired by the Edmonton Oilers. Kulikov ranks 6th in Even Strength Defense (EVD) Goals Above Replacement among defenseman this season. That puts him above defenseman like Jake Muzzin, Jonas Brodin and Charlie McAvoy.
Kulikov would most likely sign in Winnipeg for a one-year deal since there are young defenseman ready to break in soon.
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