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Crafting a draft

Jets makin' their lists, checking twice, with 10 picks on tap

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Defenceman Jacob Trouba (center) stands with Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff after being chosen ninth overall in the 2012 NHL hockey draft in Pittsburgh.

KEITH SRAKOCIC / CANADIAN PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Defenceman Jacob Trouba (center) stands with Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff after being chosen ninth overall in the 2012 NHL hockey draft in Pittsburgh.

Another intense week of entry draft preparation is already underway for the Winnipeg Jets.

The NHL team, headed into what will be its first normal off-season since it relocated to Winnipeg in the summer of 2011, had interviews scheduled with nearly 90 top prospects at this week's Draft Combine in Toronto.

The league has invited the top 101 prospects eligible for the June 30 entry draft in Newark, N.J.

Between Monday and this Saturday, players will do a sort of speed-dating with the 30 NHL teams. The sessions in almost every case aren't long, but they provide an initial introduction between the mostly 1995-born prospects and clubs in search of various qualities.

More interviews -- those often a bit longer -- take place in the final days leading up to the actual draft as teams finalize their own priorities and lists.

Then on Friday and Saturday of this week, the 101 prospects are put through a series of demanding physical tests, from bench pressing to vertical and horizontal leaping to the dreaded breathing-monitored bike test. More than one youngster has given up his breakfast or lunch to that gruelling procedure.

All of those tests over the final two days are done in the presence of the gather of NHL GMs and scouts, as well as reporters.

This year's entire combine proceedings have some extra urgency for the Jets.

In their two seasons in Winnipeg they have finished out of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The franchise, previously located in Atlanta, has made the Stanley Cup tournament just once in its existence, which began in 1999.

In Winnipeg's return to the league in 2011, the team didn't have a name and hadn't yet hired GM Kevin Cheveldayoff when the draft combine took place that spring, just days after the franchise relocation was announced.

The organization revealed its name and its first coach the day of the entry draft in St. Paul, Minn., and conducted that exercise with the existing Atlanta scouting staff.

Last year, more of Cheveldayoff's fingerprints were on the organization but the entire process took place with the clouds of an impending NHL lockout hanging over the entire league. The lockout indeed became reality and lasted nearly four months, trimming the season to just 48 games.

This off-season, new CBA rules and a declining salary cap are already in place for the fall.

And even more importantly to the Jets, they have stockpiled some extra picks for this year's draft, making this their best opportunity yet to rebuild some of the depth issues -- the lack of such, Cheveldayoff has pointed out on several occasions -- that have plagued the franchise in recent years.

As of today, Winnipeg will have 10 selections in this year's seven rounds. The club has six picks in the first three rounds, starting with the No. 13 choice overall.

If they're going to use the extra picks, two acquired through trades and the other via the NHL's rules awarding compensatory picks for first-round selections who are not signed (Daultan Leveille, chosen in 2008), the Jets need to get at least some of them right.

That's been Cheveldayoff's main focus for much of the time since the regular season ended on April 25 with a ninth-place finish in the Eastern Conference when only eight teams advance to the post-season.

In just the last three weeks, Cheveldayoff has been to Europe to watch the World Championships, been to the Memorial Cup in Saskatoon and in between, spent the better part of five days huddled with the organization's entire amateur scouting staff, plotting strategy and comparing notes ahead of the entry draft.

After this week's combine is finished, Cheveldayoff and the hockey department will return home to have another round with scouts, this time meetings with the bird-dogs of the professional leagues.

Those sessions help the GM and his staff make decisions on which players to re-sign and which players to pursue when the league's free agency period opens on July 5.

NOTES: Among the players invited to this week's combine are two members of the Brandon Wheat Kings, Grandview's Ryan Pulock, a defenceman, and blue-liner Eric Roy, as well as Kelowna Rockets defenceman Madison Bowey of Winnipeg.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 29, 2013 C3

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