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Jets' GM Chevy looks for right guy

Interviewing potential draft picks in Toronto

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TORONTO -- He called it a week of speed-dating.

Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff certainly needs it to lead to just the right phone number at the NHL draft, given the team's thin list of in-the-system prospects.

Cheveldayoff and his hockey department and scouts have been busy at the NHL scouting combine this week, interviewing more than 70 draft-eligible prospects since Monday.

The NHL brings the top 105 17- and 18-year-olds together for four days of conversations and then today's and Saturday's fitness testing.

"You get essentially 20 minutes with each player," Cheveldayoff said Thursday during a break between interviews. "You get a chance to learn a little bit about their personality, a little bit about them as a person and their background. And to hear them evaluate themselves, how they feel their game is and what their strengths and weaknesses are.

"These players are very professional even though they're not in the pro ranks yet. They all train, have off-season programs. Hockey has become a 12-month sport, not just in the NHL and the business side of the game, but also from a prospect perspective.

"The amount of time, effort and dedication they put into the game is evident."

The Jets are in a cross-current heading into the entry draft, June 22-23 in Pittsburgh. They sit in the No. 9 spot in the first round, with a more urgent need for more forward prospects.

The highest-ranked draft prospects this year are forwards, like consensus No. 1 Nail Yakupov, Filip Forsberg and Mikhail Grigorenko. But those players are all but guaranteed to be gone by the time it comes the Jets' turn, and the next wave of players is a bona fide crop of elite defencemen prospects, which is not exactly what the doctor is prescribing.

Compounding it all is that numerous top prospects this season have missed varying amounts of recent time with injuries.

"I think that this year's draft, it's going to be really tough to predict," Cheveldayoff said. "You've got a lot of guys who have had injuries throughout the year and missed a good portion of the year."

 

"You've got a lot of team dynamics, different teams that may want to draft more for position than player. I think you'll see a lot of players ranked very differently on each and every team."

Cheveldayoff said the wide variety of individual team lists this season could lead to any number of unexpected developments "on how the top 20 kids will fall into play."

"It's still very early in this process and at No. 9, it's still the great unknown as far as what happens in those eight spots in front of you," he said.

"You try to get the feel for the different things that might or might not happen (ahead). You just don't know. All of a sudden there could be a trade. You just have to be prepared and have your own thoughts and lists in place."

It was at this point of Thursday's conversation that Cheveldayoff again refused to rule out dealing the No. 9 pick.

"Those kind of conversations among GM's are ongoing and we had the meetings there yesterday in New York," he said. "So any time you get together, you talk about different things. I think everyone will get through this combine and as the weeks start leading to the draft, lots of conversations about different things could happen."

The GM has certainly left the door open for it.

Some even think some kind of deal at draft time could be the perfect opportunity to create the roster spot, or even two, on defence that the Jets may want for an in-the-system promotion for someone like Paul Postma.

"Moving up or moving down, does that make sense for us?" Cheveldayoff said. "That'll be determined as we continue to meet more and try to target who we want."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 1, 2012 C1

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