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Dane-o-mite

Ehlers continues explosive showing at development camp

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KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

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KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

If there was a ribbon-on-top moment for the Winnipeg Jets to close their 2014 Development Camp, it came in a flash late Friday morning at the MTS Iceplex.

Make that two or three flashes.

First, there was top draft pick Nik Ehlers faking a slapper in the high slot before freezing a defenceman and then driving hard to the net to deposit a HON-candidate goal that drew gasps and cheers from the crowd.

That was followed by a perfect Scott Kosmachuk-to-Ben Walker feed for another marker and then a Kosmachuk toe-drag that led to another puck being deposited behind a goaltender.

And with that a pair of the club's brightest prospects had the joint positively buzzing -- including the Jets brain trust that watched the whole thing unfold from a balcony above the ice.

"When Ehlers scored one of his goals from Kosmachuk, or vice versa, Zinger (assistant GM Craig Heisinger) went to his book and said, 'That's going to be a line in Penticton (at the Young Stars Tournament in September),' " said Jets' GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. "When you see some chemistry between young players and the excitement that it generates, it gets you excited for training camp."

Interestingly, even with the best of the St. John's IceCaps not on the ice -- management opted to have them take a breather after the long run to the Calder Cup final -- the overall skill level was still impressive.

Of course, there's an inherent danger in reading too much into a July D-camp scrimmage featuring teenagers and college kids. Some of the Jets' best might disappear at the Young Stars event or be dwarfed by the vets when main camp opens.

Then again, maybe not.

Here are five things that stood out after watching the Jets' future this week at the MTS Iceplex:


1. NIK EHLERS HAS GAME

 

All eyes have been fixated on the 2014 first-rounder and the young Dane didn't disappoint. He's a thoughtful interview and he definitely has some showboat in him. That was evident from the moment he stepped on the ice for Friday's scrimmage through his interview session afterward.

"That's the kind of player I am," said Ehlers when asked about his scrimmage. "I want to win games. I want to score goals for the team."

Listed at 5-11, 163 pounds, Ehlers has been asked all week about putting on more weight before main camp in September. It came up again Friday.

"I'm going to try and eat as much as I can," said Ehlers. "My mom is hopefully going to make a lot of food for me. I'm going to try and make a nutrition plan... well, not by myself. I don't know how to do that. But I'm going to try and put on some pounds."

Asked what his favourite dishes are, he added: "I would like to say fast food, but that would probably not be the best idea. Spaghetti and meat sauce... I always eat that before games."

And then a peek at his confidence: After raving about being on a line with Kosmachuk, the two passed each other just outside of the media scrum -- Kosmachuk being up next. Ehlers grinned and said to his future teammate: "Say something good about me... just saved your ass."

 

2. THE 'OTHER' GUYS ARE SLICK, TOO

 

The first-rounder may have been under the microscope, but there were moments all week when the club's other young talent -- Kosmachuk, Nic Petan, Ryan Olsen, Chase De Leo, C.J. Franklin, Jimmy Lodge, Jack Glover, to name a few -- all did something to pop off the page.

Petan fed Shane Hanna for a goal in Friday's scrimmage; Lodge converted a sweet feed from Nolan Zajac; Franklin potted one... and so on. The only people more thrilled to see all that unfolding than the Jets' faithful who jammed the building were the club's scouting staff huddled above.

 

3. THE NET DEPTH CHART IS DEEP

 

Consider when the Jets first moved north from Atlanta the big club featured Ondrej Pavelec and Chris Mason with Eddie Pasquale, David Aebischer and Chris Carrozzi. This is the same organization that traded Kari Lehtonen in 2010 for Ivan Vishnevskiy and a fourth-round pick in the 2010 draft (Ivan Telegin). Vishnevskiy, we should point out, never played a game for the Thrashers and has spent the last three years in the KHL. Ouch.

The point here is this: with Connor Hellebuyck, Eric Comrie, Jason Kasdorf, Jamie Phillips and Jussi Olkinuora all at D-Camp the Jets are clearly deeper in goal as a franchise than they've been, well, ever. Hellebuyck was the top goalie in the NCAA last year; Comrie could be playing for Team Canada at the world juniors and Kasdorf was the ECAC rookie of the year before hurting his shoulder last year. Couple that with Michael Hutchinson, who came out of nowhere this past winter to muscle his way into the discussion with the big club, and the Jets have some net assets.


4. SIZE ISN'T EVERYTHING

 

There was some significant moaning and groaning from Jets' faithful when the club passed on bigger prospects like Nick Ritchie (6-2, 226 to Anaheim, 10th overall) and Brendan Perlini (6-2, 205 to Arizona, 12th overall) and chose Ehlers -- especially knowing how big bodies dominate the Western Conference. It will take years to determine which pick was best, but Jets D-camp wasn't exactly a collection of Smurfs either. Matt Ustaski and Axel Blomqvist are both 6-6, Adam Lowry (who didn't skate) is 6-5, and there are a number of big dude prospects who still look like they shave once a month, let alone have finished maturing physically.

 

5. A MAKEOVER ON THE ROCK

 

Change is the nature of the biz in hockey, particularly at the AHL level. And while the IceCaps' run to the final was a great story, the roster figures to be loaded next season with more of the Jets' own picks. Since the start of free agency, Kael Mouillierat (New York Islanders); Jerome Samson (Tampa Bay); Andrew Gordon (Philadelphia); Zach Redmond (Colorado); Ryan Schnell (Rockford, AHL) and Eddie Pasquale (traded to Washington) have all moved on.

That means increased roles for Austen Brassard, J.C. Lipon, Kosmachuk and Olsen -- provided they don't land spots on the big club -- come next fall.

 

BONUS ROUND...

ALL EVANDER, ALL THE TIME

 

We all know this about Evander Kane after three years in Winnipeg: The guy certainly is a headline grabber. And so it was only fitting that this D-Camp week was dominated with talk about the gifted left-winger after he told a Vancouver radio station on Tuesday he was a Jet "for now."

Not surprisingly, that lukewarm answer was a topic when Cheveldayoff met with the media on Friday.

And, not surprisingly, knowing what we know about Cheveldayoff in his three years in Winnipeg -- a headline grabber, he is not -- the Jets' GM hardly stoked the trade-rumour fires. Strip away the vanilla politico-speak from Cheveldayoff and this was the most noteworthy chunk of his answer:

"Evander Kane is a Winnipeg Jet and that's how we're going forward."

Fair enough. But everyone in this town knows this story is hardly going to simply fade away. The over-under on it surfacing again? We give it a week.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 12, 2014 C3

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