All draft picks have something that caught a scout's eye, but going from prospect to pro takes more than speed or size or shootout skills. You have to be... a player.
"We're looking for hockey players. The guys that do the little things right. You're up 3-2 and the other team pulls the goalie, you're looking for the guy that passes the puck instead of shooting it," said Jets assistant GM Craig Heisinger. "Everybody has their term. At the end of the day we're looking for what we call hockey players. That doesn't get said about every guy that plays. There are some that we look at and say, 'that's a hockey player.' Those guys separate themselves when put in a situation like this."
The Jets will welcome their prospect class to Winnipeg on Thursday morning and put them through a quick skate before whisking them off to Penticton, B.C. to take part in the Vancouver Canucks Young Stars tournament, featuring the youth of the Canucks, Jets, Sans Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers.
GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, Heisinger and head coach Claude Noel will be among the Jets staffers watching from the stands.
"One of the scout's favourite slogans is, 'the outline of the player is there.' There's a lot that goes into determining whether there's enough to fill out that outline of the player," said Heisinger. "It comes down to things like effort and compete and will. Hockey sense. The outline is the vision, the size, the skating, the strength. The rest of it is what makes up a hockey player."
The Jets already know the statistical side of their draft picks, now they're looking to find out more about them as actual players when put in a setting against the best of their age.
"The rookie tournament is to get that peer group together that will hopefully grow up to one day be Winnipeg Jets. You get to see them as players against their peer group," said Heisinger. "We'll see them in social situations and game situations and see how they react."
The Jets will have prospects on the verge such as Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba in Penticton, as well as hopefuls like Nick Petan and first-round pick Josh Morrissey.
The club is getting closer to establishing the organizational depth at the prospect level Cheveldayoff has been aiming for since taking over the team.
"It's at times like this tournament where it's clear we're becoming the Winnipeg Jets and not the transplanted Atlanta Thrashers," said Heisinger. "We have three drafts under our belt, so for the most part these are our players that the Winnipeg Jets have drafted and believe in."
The Jets have continually preached a message of draft, develop and retain. This summer Cheveldayoff re-signed a number of young free agents to long-term deals. Now he's hoping his work at the draft table can begin to supply his organization with young players pushing for work with the AHL's St. John's IceCaps and the NHL's Jets.
Scheifele is likely to crack the Jets lineup out of camp and Trouba is also a possibility. Players such as Adam Lowry, J.C. Lipon and Brenden Kichton will fight for work in St. John's.
"We would like to have a bunch of young guys in St. John's that come up together. That work together and learn together and maybe win together down there and then maybe make the step to the next level together," said Heisinger. "That's how you get better. Look at the Ottawa Senators, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Boston Bruins. Those guys have come up as a group. Tried to win in the AHL, and then it translates to the NHL."
Most of all, Heisinger says this is a chance for players to introduce themselves.
"These are the opportunities players have to take advantage of. They'll have management and coaches all looking at them. They can show us something," he said.
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