Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets' farm crop will yield little

Cheveldayoff counting on draft to stock organization

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has amassed 10 picks in this summer's draft as he continues to address his organization's lack of depth.

Cheveldayoff inherited a fairly bare cupboard when he signed on as Jets boss and he's made steady strides to rectify that, but time is the biggest factor when it comes to development.

When the Jets lost winger Anthony Peluso to a hand injury on Sunday, thoughts turned to who would replace him. The Jets have a pair of spare forwards in Antti Miettinen and Kyle Wellwood with the big club, but there's not much on the farm that could be helpful right now.

St. John's IceCaps centre Patrice Cormier and his six goals and three assists in 30 games is believed to be next in line if the Jets get pressed. After him, veteran Jason Jaffray is always an option and Eric O'Dell is putting up some numbers, but the tea is pretty weak out on the Rock right now.

The Jets aren't a playoff team in the NHL nor are the IceCaps in the AHL. There aren't enough good players up top or in the system.

Cheveldayoff is striving to change that and having six picks in the first three rounds of this summer's NHL draft is the next step.

Part of the problem is the Atlanta Thrashers threw away good players and got little in return. Dependable Braydon Coburn was dealt for Alexei Zhitnik. When they couldn't sign Ilya Kovalchuk, they traded him to New Jersey for Johnny Oduya, Niclas Bergfors, Cormier and a first-round pick. They dealt goaltender Kari Lehtonen to the Dallas Stars for Ivan Vishnevskiy and a draft pick used to select Ivan Telegin.

Too often Atlanta tried to get good quick and it cost them. Now Cheveldayoff must use the draft to restock the farm and wait for those players to be ready for the NHL. Development can't be rushed -- it happens on its own pace with each individual player.

To show how important the Jets view this summer's draft, just check Cheveldayoff's and assistant GM Craig Heisinger's air miles. Heisinger has been to Europe four times already to look at the upcoming draft class over there. Cheveldayoff is constantly leaving the Jets on the road for a day or two to take in a junior or college game. One thing that can be said about Jets management is they won't be outworked.

Many GMs spend much of their time watching their own team. Cheveldayoff doesn't have that luxury.

Cheveldayoff is now trying to get better by developing his assets and the fruit on the vine is slowly ripening. Having Mark Scheifele, Scott Kosmachuk, Adam Lowry and Jacob Trouba on the way changes the picture, but none of those players is even playing pro yet.

Cheveldayoff had seven picks in the 2011 draft and six last summer. But this year's draft is a chance for him to fill his system with new prospects. If he can hit a homer and a bunch of doubles, the Jets will have a fresh outlook as an organization.

But those players will mostly be years away from contributing in St. John's or Winnipeg.

Some have suggested Cheveldayoff trade some picks right now to get a player or two to help the Jets get better immediately. Don't bet on it.

The past sins of the Atlanta Thrashers still haunt the Winnipeg Jets.

Cheveldayoff won't double down. He'll live with the pain to execute his plan and the Jets will be better for it.

Maybe the waiting is the hardest part for fans. But Cheveldayoff is counting on it paying off.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 5, 2013 D3

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