The Winnipeg Jets’ 2021-22 season was a disappointment, as they came into the season considered a Stanley Cup contender but drastically underperformed, finishing sixth in the Central Division and well out of the playoff picture.
In this series, we’ll take a look back on the season, player by player, and grade their individual performances with an eye toward their future with the team.
Dylan DeMelo excelled after being put into a top-pairing role last season and was a bright spot on the Jets’ defence.
DeMelo and Morrissey Combined to Make a Shutdown Pairing
DeMelo started the season in a third-pairing role alongside Logan Stanley but shot up the depth chart in the second half of the season to complete what was the Jets’ best pairing of the 2021-22 season. His play style allowed Josh Morrissey to take chances offensively and in transition which made him the best defenceman on the team. If he was not there to clean up transition opportunities, Morrissey would not have been able to expand his game and be as creative offensively as he was throughout the season.
DeMelo is always in the right spot defensively and was one of the most consistent defencemen on the team last season. Although his name may not pop on the scoresheet, he is tasked with shutting down the opponents’ top line and excels at doing just that. The defensive-minded focus of his game allows him to always be in the right spot and always make the right decision when it comes to defensive coverage.
Morrissey elevated whoever played alongside him last season, but DeMelo was able to give him a sense of security that the rest of the defence core could not provide. After acquiring Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt in the offseason, it seemed that he would be limited to the third-pairing role he found himself playing last season. Soon after Dave Lowry was named interim head coach, he quickly rose up the depth chart and played exceptional against top competition.
DeMelo’s Numbers Remained Steady in Year 8
DeMelo has been a model of consistency his entire career, and the latest campaign was no different. According to Moneypuck.com, after being vaulted to the top pairing with Morrissey, they combined to control the rate of shot attempts at 51.4 percent, expected goals at 57 percent, and the goal differential of 51.8 percent at 5-on-5.
DeMelo’s only goal of the season came on Nov. 13 against the Los Angeles Kings, as he finished the season with 13 points, which was his highest point total since 2019-20. His offensive metrics are rarely a topic of discussion because he takes the phrase “stay-at-home defenceman” to the extreme.
If there is a weakness to DeMelo’s game, it is in the physicality department. He is 6-feet tall, 191 pounds and can be taken advantage of when playing against physical opponents. While he may not out-muscle his competition, he’s able to outsmart them on breakout and rush opportunities, and that more than makes up for his lack of physicality. He possesses a very active stick that gives him the ability to break up passes and deflections in high-danger areas.
DeMelo’s Affordable Contract Makes Him a Valueble Asset in 2022-23
After being signed to a four-year $12 million contract in the 2020-21 offseason, he was destined to remain on the team as an efficient, affordable option for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff on defence. For $3 million in average annual value (AAV), his contract remains a value with two years remaining in the flat cap era. In the midst of a disappointing season, his name remains safe from any possible trade talks due to the financial value he brings to the team.
The Jets have plenty of defensive prospects, but they are all pegged to fill out the left side of the defence core. Ville Heinola, Dylan Samberg, and Declan Chisholm are all prospects itching for NHL time that are left-handed. Being a right-handed shot, DeMelo is safe from being beaten out for a spot in training camp, and his chemistry with Morrissey makes him the offseason front-runner to remain on the top pairing. Cheveldayoff will have plenty of decisions to make this season, but the 29-year-old defenceman will not be one of them.
DeMelo’s role is not flashy, and there are no highlight reel clips of what he provides on a nightly basis, but his contributions are necessary to any success the Jets will enjoy next season. In a time where cap space is hard to come by, having a cap-efficient top-pairing defenceman is a huge advantage that they will not take for granted heading into what hopes to be a bounce-back season for the club in 2022-23.
Overall Grade: A-
My name is Connor Hrabchak. I am 19 years old, and I am currently working towards completing my communications and media degree. I was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I have been a die-hard fan of the Winnipeg Jets ever since they moved back to Winnipeg in 2011, which has inspired me to write about hockey and attempt to make it into a full-time career.