Winnipeg Jets season will be ‘long road back’ from 2018 Stanley cup run

That was then and this is now for the Winnipeg Jets.Captain Blake Wheeler and his teammates are taking that approach as the club prepares to follow up being on the doorstep of last season’s Stanley Cup final.“When the puck drops this season, it’s not going to be Game 1 of the Western finals again,” Wheeler said after signing a five-year contract extension last month.Story continues below

“There’s a long road to get back to where we got last year and it doesn’t happen just because we want it to happen or we think we’re better than everyone else or because we had a good year last year.”READ MORE: ‘My heart is here’: Winnipeg Jets’ captain Blake Wheeler in it for the long haulHe stressed the team didn’t accomplish anything last season, but the Jets did make franchise history by getting to the NHL Western Conference final, where they fell in five games to the upstart Vegas Golden Knights.Fans have high expectations and pundits slot the team among the top contenders, especially since the core of last season’s group is back.READ MORE: Few jobs up for grabs as Winnipeg Jets get set to open training campWheeler, centre Mark Scheifele and left-winger Kyle Connor are together again after providing much of the squad’s offensive power. Wheeler recorded a career-high 91 points, including 68 assists that tied him for tops in the league, while Scheifele had 60 points in 60 games and Connor fired in 31 goals in his rookie season.High-scoring winger Patrik Laine is looking to build on a 44-goal season, and top-pairing defencemen Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey and all-star goalie Connor Hellebuyck also return with new contracts.“It’s the same expectations in this room, too,” Connor said after the Jets wrapped up the pre-season with a 4-3 record. “It’s nothing new for us.“I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves and we know that we’re capable of having that season and going even farther than last year.”READ MORE: Winnipeg Jets suffer 2nd pre-season loss in MinnesotaItems of note:HEAD COACH: Paul Maurice, fourth seasonLAST SEASON: 52-20-10. Finished second in the league for points. Lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games in the Western Conference final.KEY PLAYERS:Connor Hellebuyck: The goaltender became an elite goaltender and Vezina Trophy finalist last season after posting 44 wins and needs close to a carbon-copy campaign to keep the quest for the Stanley Cup in high gear.Patrik Laine: The Finnish star dropped some weight to become quicker and wants to improve his overall game.Dustin Byfuglien: If the veteran defenceman can again combine less roving with more responsible play in his own end, his physical force and offensive output will be a big boost.THE BIG QUESTION: Can the Jets live up to expectations? Anything less than competing in the Cup final will be viewed as a disappointment, at least by the thousands of white-clad fans who overflowed the bandwagon last season.Get daily local headlines and alerts