Sean Monahan has 2 distinct Winnipeg Jets predecessors: How will he pan out?



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There was a time in Sean Monahan’s career when he was known as a game-changer, a difference-maker and a clutch performer.

Go back through The Athletic’s archives and his impact was catalogued with reverence.

“A lethal, cold-blooded assassin on skates,” Darren Haynes wrote in 2018. “Monahan, the Flames’ deadly sniper, has ice water in his veins, doesn’t shy away from big moments and is absolutely lethal around the opposition’s net.”

“The explosive nature of Monahan’s game — with that offensive knack, with that flair for (late-game) drama — is at odds with his low-key personality,” Scott Cruickshank wrote the following season.

Those are the kinds of words reserved for big, strong, 18-year-old centres who make the NHL right after they’re drafted and then score 31 goals the following season. It’s the heady stuff reserved for players who go on to deliver multiple 30-goal seasons, including 34 goals and 82 points in 2018-19, while playing with their team’s best players against the best competition in the league.

That was the path Monahan walked — elevated among his peers in a generation that was meant to take Calgary to playoff heights it hadn’t hit since Jarome Iginla led the way. It didn’t work out like that. Multiple wrist surgeries. Herniated discs. A thumb issue. Left hip surgery. Right hip surgery. Performance that dipped so far below the value of Monahan’s $6.375 million contract that Calgary sent a first-round pick to Montreal in August 2022 just to make the trade worth Montreal’s while. The pundits bit their proverbial tongues; gone were the words meant to make a legend.

That’s when the shy and publicly softspoken Monahan, now in his late 20s, set out to reclaim his career. Monahan, a player who was so timid as a child that he often hid underneath his own bench instead of celebrating his goals, put in the quiet work away from NHL stardom that made him a sought-after asset all over again.

The Winnipeg Jets acquired Monahan on Friday for a first-round pick and a conditional third-round pick, payable to Montreal if the Jets win the Stanley Cup. That’s a heck of a rebound in asset value for Monahan, whose resilience as a person endeared him to a Jets team fixated on character and fit.

“A lot of players get injured over the course of their careers,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said after acquiring Monahan. “But it’s how they come back from it. It’s a testament to his hard work and what he’s done to prepare himself to be an elite level pro.”

Monahan isn’t a surefire star anymore. There are reasons to believe his 52 points in 74 games in two seasons for Montreal are the product of opportunity the Jets can’t give him. He’ll start alongside Cole Perfetti and Nikolaj Ehlers, mind you — two of Winnipeg’s most productive five-on-five players — but a big part of Monahan’s scoring surge is about his work on the Canadiens’ power play. He’s scored more points per minute with the man advantage in Montreal than he ever did during his starring years in Calgary.

At five-on-five, Montreal occasionally promoted him to top-six duty, whereas he’ll likely be a “middle-six” centre for the Jets, playing more than Adam Lowry’s line in some games but not all of them. In Winnipeg terms, Monahan’s ability to produce from that spot will determine whether he’ll go down closer to Paul Stastny or Kevin Hayes as far as trade deadline additions go.

Stastny scored some of the biggest goals of Winnipeg’s 2018 playoff run, finishing fourth in Jets playoff point scoring. Hayes had plenty of ability but was relegated to fourth-line minutes and three points in six playoff games. Rick Bowness will likely run Scheifele’s line first and foremost, Lowry’s against top matchup competition and then Monahan’s line as a secondary scoring line.

Of course, it’s not fair to Monahan to compare himself to Stastny or Hayes. It’s not even fair to compare him to his younger self — the player who earned such effusive early career praise. In some ways, however, the Jets are banking precisely on Monahan’s struggle: The bet they’re making is on a quality player who took the long road back to effective NHL minutes, learned plenty of valuable lessons along the way and is ready to share those lessons now.

“One of the things that was really impressive about him when I was talking to the coaches and the coaches were doing their due diligence and watching some extra film on him, was how he interacted with the young players,” Cheveldayoff said. “You watch him in Montreal and he would come back to the bench and he’d be talking to Cole Caufield or he’d be talking to (Juraj) Slafkovský. You would see that kind of mentorship that he had, quiet leadership on the bench. That’s exactly what you want in a pro.”

Go back to Winnipeg’s longest playoff run and you’ll see Stastny score deciding goals against Nashville. Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor took their games to new levels. You’ll also find key goals from Winnipeg’s third and fourth lines and five out of its six most frequently used defencemen. A proper playoff run needs everybody; Monahan might not be an impact player every game but if the Jets win playoff rounds, it will be in part because Monahan did his part.

Projected lineup

LW C RW

Kyle Connor

Mark Scheifele

Gabriel Vilardi

Cole Perfetti

Sean Monahan

Nikolaj Ehlers

Nino Niederreiter

Adam Lowry

Mason Appleton

Morgan Barron

Vladislav Namestnikov

Alex Iafallo

LD

RD

Josh Morrissey

Dylan DeMelo

Brenden Dillon

Neal Pionk

Dylan Samberg

Nate Schmidt

G

Connor Hellebuyck

Laurent Brossoit

Winnipeg’s forward group is the deepest it’s been since Stastny’s 2018 heroics. Its fourth line could go toe to toe with Hayes’ version in 2019.

The one area Winnipeg might like to upgrade is its defence. They’re left with enough cap space to take a big swing (Chris Tanev would require salary retention on the Flames’ part; Sean Walker would not require retention from Philadelphia). There’s also plenty of room for Winnipeg to look for a defenceman with similar qualities to Monahan — a journey that shows resilience and the disposition to make the most of lessons learned.

“The work on the ice is only going to get harder and the work off the ice isn’t going to stop,” Cheveldayoff said. “It’s an exciting time for the guys, for the franchise.”

The opportunity for Monahan to prove he’s for real on a team with Stanley Cup aspirations must excite him as well.

(Photo: Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images)





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