Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Is Kichton draft day steal?

Jets sign late-round pick after stellar WHL career

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Ever wonder how it could it be that a guy who was the top defenceman in the Western Hockey League last season, averaging better than a point per game for the Spokane Chiefs, was still available to the Winnipeg Jets with the 190th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft?

You're not alone in wondering that.

"You and me both. I honestly don't know," said Brenden Kichton with a laugh Wednesday after the Jets announced they had signed the 6-0, 190-pound, 21-year-old defenceman to a three-year, two-way contract worth an average of $620,000 per season.

"Obviously everybody's game needs work, but if you look at my plus-minus stats the last three years, I mean, it's not like I'm a liability on the ice. So I don't know -- maybe it was just lack of exposure in Spokane or something.

'Obviously everybody's game needs work, but if you look at my plus-minus stats the last three years, I mean, it's not like I'm a liability on the ice. So I don't know -- maybe it was just lack of exposure in Spokane or something. Obviously, my physical game needs to get bigger and stronger and faster. But no, I don't think my defensive game needs too much work'

-- Jets prospect Brenden Kichton

"Obviously, my physical game needs to get bigger and stronger and faster. But no, I don't think my defensive game needs too much work."

The WHL would seem to agree -- Kichton won the Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy as the league's top defenceman in 2012-13 after a sensational season in which he scored 22 goals and added 62 assists in just 71 games.

The season capped a remarkable five-year WHL career for Kichton in which he registered 67 goals, 201 assists and 143 penalty minutes in 333 career regular-season games.

So again -- how is it that Kichton was available to the Jets in the 7th round this year, while one of the men he beat out for last season's Bill Hunter award -- Moose Jaw Warriors defenceman Morgan Rielly -- was selected fifth overall in 2012 by the Toronto Maples Leafs?

Part of it might have had something to do with the long and unusual route to the NHL taken by Kichton, who was actually drafted twice -- the first time in 2011 by the New York Islanders (fifth round, 127th overall) and then again this summer by the Jets.

Kichton says the Islanders offered him a bare-bones contract in 2011.

"It was the minimum you could offer," Kichton said. "It was like $40,000, I think, and then like a $10,000 signing bonus. It was just bare minimum and they said that was pretty much all I was worth."

Kichton and his agent balked and the Isles never did come back with a second offer.

"I guess they just didn't like me," said Kichton. "There was nothing more me and my agent could have done. They just said they're not signing me."

That put Kichton back into the draft, where the Jets were only too happy to pluck him in a late round and hope he develops into that special kind of defenceman who can take care of business in his own end while also scoring points in his opponent's end.

Is he NHL-ready?

"Probably not," Kichton admitted. "I probably need a year or two to develop and learn the pro game, because the pro game is completely different from junior. The guys are so much bigger, stronger and faster. It's going to be a tough transition, but I'm looking forward to this new challenge."

What does he know about Winnipeg? "Blue Bombers," said the native of Spruce Grove, Alta., before conceding his CFL team isn't exactly anything to brag about either.

"Yeah, the Bombers and the Eskimos aren't doing so hot this year."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 29, 2013 D2

History

Updated on Thursday, August 29, 2013 at 8:51 AM CDT: adds photo

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