Winnipeg Jets F Kyle Connor is expected to miss 6-8 weeks after sustaining a knee injury on Sunday. He was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday and the team provided the timeline for his return. Dominic Toninato was recalled from the AHL to replace Connor on the roster. Connor is the Jets’ leading scorer with 28 points (17 goals) this season. The Jets have been one of the surprise teams in the Western Conference through the first few months of 2023-24. So can the Jets keep winning even without their top player? We take a look.
Kyle Connor injury: Impact on Jets
The Jets sit at 16-9-2 and are in third place in the Central Division with 34 points entering play Wednesday. Winnipeg has mostly been anchored by its defensive play and goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck. The Jets had won four in a row prior to Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks. That was the first game this season without Conner, though the Jets didn’t play poorly.
If we look at the schedule and the timeline for Conner to return, he should miss a big chunk of games. If Conner returns on the earlier side of the timeline, he could be back in the lineup by the end of January. If it’s a two-month recovery, he could miss over 20 games, which isn’t ideal. But the Jets made a few moves over the offseason, most notably trading away C Pierre-Luc Dubois to the Los Angeles Kings for depth. That depth is in the form of forwards Gabriel Vilardi and Alex Iafallo. The issue may not be with depth but in the scoring department.
Conner was a first-line forward and on the first power-play unit. He has 102 shots on goal on the season, which is 30+ more SOG than the Jets’ second ranking player (defenseman Josh Morrissey). So without Conner, the Jets will need to generate offense from another source. That could come from Vilardi, who is going to skate on the RW with Nikolaj Ehlers and Mark Scheifele on the top line. Vilardi is also on the top PP with Cole Perfetti, Morrissey, Scheifele and Ehlers. That second line with Perfetti, Vladislav Namestnikov and Morgan Barron will also have to step up and generate more offense.
Can the Jets stay in the playoff picture without Conner?
Winnipeg plays a solid defensive game and has one of the better goaltenders in the NHL in Hellebuyck. As long as the Jets stick to that structure, they can win games. Really at this point the team just needs to stay afloat and tread water in the standings until Conner can come back. The Jets could explore making a deal for another scorer (something they may do before the trade deadline anyway). For now, you hope forwards like Vilardi, Perfetti and Iafallo step up to fill the void.
The schedule also favors the Jets during this stretch. There isn’t a super tough week or two of games. The Central Division is also pretty weak this season with the Wild and Blues struggling. So the Jets’ competition behind 3rd place in the standings isn’t all that threatening. This could be a good opportunity to get the Jets to make the playoffs at favorable odds. It feels like Winnipeg won’t have trouble remaining in the playoff picture in the West even while Conner is sidelined.