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PICK PLAY

Who might Jets choose at No. 9 in the NHL Draft?

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TORONTO -- For the 2014 NHL Draft, the consensus seems to be there are four, maybe five top-end players who will have an impact soon and then it's a crapshoot.

The top five teams currently in the draft order are the Florida Panthers, Buffalo Sabres, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and New York Islanders. The Vancouver Canucks, Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs occupy the sixth through eighth slots.

When the Winnipeg Jets come to the podium in Philadelphia on June 27 with the ninth pick, here are some of the options they may have, in no particular order, assuming they keep the pick:

 

Nick Ritchie

LW, Peterborough (OHL)

 

DRAFT RANKINGS: NHL Central Scouting No. 7 North America skaters; ISS Hockey No. 9 overall; The Hockey News Draft Preview No. 9.

GAME: Had 39 goals, 74 points for the Petes in his third OHL season; late 1995 birthday is 6-2 and has a mean streak, but not mean enough for some; some say there are consistency issues, but big guys who can move never have a shortage of attention.

COMBINE CHATTER: Ritchie's size was evident. You can see how "power forward" is going to get attached to his name pretty easily.

 

Jake Virtanen

LW, Calgary (WHL)

 

DRAFT RANKINGS: NHL Central Scouting No. 6 North American skaters; ISS No. 10, THN Preview No. 11.

GAME: Might be the fastest player in the draft; had 45 goals and 71 points in 71 games for the Hitmen; The Hockey News suggests he's a pure scorer, not a playmaker. Tied for team scoring lead with Team Canada at the world under-18 tournament.

COMBINE CHATTER: Had shoulder surgery two weeks ago, preventing him from participating in Saturday's fitness testing. Rehab starts soon but he's not likely ready for training camps. In a left-arm sling to protect his shoulder, Virtanen had 24 team interviews, including with the Flames, where oft-disheveled president Brian Burke asked how he could tie his tie. Virtanen said the knot was basically one-handed. "All their guys were chirping him, telling him I could teach him how to tie his," he said with a laugh. Said he looks up to Ryan Getzlaf, Rich Nash as players.

 

Nikolaj Ehlers

LW, Halifax (QMJHL)

 

DRAFT RANKINGS: NHL Central Scouting No. 13, North American skaters; ISS No. 11; THN preview No. 7.

GAME: First year in Halifax produced 49 goals, 104 points. Played with Jonathan Drouin. The Hockey News touts his high hockey IQ and his speed and vision. Developed by moving from native Denmark and playing in Switzerland before the move to the QMJHL.

COMBINE CHATTER: Ehlers has a sense of humour. Asked to describe Saturday's two bike tests, he exhaled a few times, then laughed. "There, that's how I describe them," he said. "No, they were hard. I think everybody who has been through them has been exhausted afterwards. I mean, I'm standing here and my legs are shaking." What he can do on the ice should excite fans, including in Winnipeg. "I would say I'm a fast guy, lot of speed, like to use my speed," he said. "I think I have a lot of skills and good hockey sense. I can set up some good plays and I'm a goal scorer. I love scoring goals."

 

Kasperi Kapanen

RW, Kupio (Finland)

 

DRAFT RANKINGS: NHL Central Scouting No. 1 European skaters; ISS No. 13; THN preview No. 10.

GAME: Smart player, which surprise nobody. His father is former NHLer Sami Kapanen. Played in the top Finnish League this season with KalPa, and some with his father, had seven goals and 14 points.

COMBINE CHATTER: Kapanen said he's got great memories hanging around NHL locker-rooms with his dad as a kid. "I think I danced around the (Flyers) locker-room with Jeremy Roenick," he smiled. "Those were good times. My dad is my teacher, my mentor, my trainer at the same time. He helps me a lot. He's been the biggest influence in my hockey career so far. He's a good dad." Kapanen said he loved combine week. "I think that's one thing I'm good at, doing interviews. It's just natural for me. I know how to talk to people. It's fun and relaxing."

 

Dylan Larkin

LW/C, (U.S. under-18)

 

DRAFT RANKINGS: NHL Central Scouting No. 17; ISS No. 15; THN preview No. 14.

GAME: From the U.S. development program, scored 17 goals and 26 points in 26 games this season. The Hockey News calls him a heart-and-soul forward. Will go to the University of Michigan. He's an earnest young man, and apparently driven, and that should interest many teams, including the Jets.

COMBINE CHATTER: Larkin should get some kind of award from the combine fitness tests -- he basically had to do the difficult VO2 bike test twice. "The batteries were dead or something. I had to start over," he said. "Never been through anything like that." Asked what his game is all about, he said: '"Skating and making players around me better. I'm competitive."

 

Ivan Barbashev

C, Moncton (QMJHL)

 

DRAFT RANKINGS: NHL Central Scouting No. 18; ISS No. 19; THN preview No. 22

GAME: An all-zone player, doesn't mind the traffic, says The Hockey News. He had 25 goals and 68 points in 48 QMJHL games this season and has become a North American style player.

COMBINE CHATTER: The native of Moscow was direct with reporters and apparently with teams this week about his nationality, which seems to cause a lot uneasiness with NHL teams (hello, Jets) these days. "The KHL is not for me," Barbashev said in excellent English.. "You can trust me on that." Did teams ask him about it this week? "Every team."

 

Kevin Fiala

LW, HV71 (Sweden)

 

DRAFT RANKINGS: NHL Central Scouting No. 3 European skaters; ISS No. 20; THN preview No. 13.

GAME: Played in Sweden for the HV71 juniors, then for Switzerland at the world championship, had two assists in seven games there; NHL has him listed as a centre, which should cause some interest; had 10 goals and 25 points in 27 Swedish junior league games and played 17 games with HV71's main team, where he was said to be a contributor. THN's bio calls him an artist, which should really draw interest. Only his size, 5-10, 180, might raise question marks.

COMBINE CHATTER: Fiala talked to all 30 teams at this combine, which at least shows that there's intense interest in his gifts. He did not do the fitness testing, he said because his schedule was so crammed with his junior team and the world championships that he had no time to prepare. "I'm disappointed because I wanted to show everybody that I could be one of the best," he said. Players he admires? "Crosby, Kane, Jagr, but I want to be myself and do what I can do." Asked to assess his game, Fiala's words will excite many fans, including Jets' faithful: "I'm an offensive player, good hands, good skater, good shot. I'm a scorer and a playmaker."

 

Alex Tuch

RW, U.S. under-18 development team

 

DRAFT RANKINGS: NHL Central Scouting No. 12; ISS No. 14; THN preview No. 17.

GAME: Big 6-3 winger is committed to Boston College; had 13 goals and 32 points in 26 games for the U.S. development team this season; known for his hard shot.

COMBINE CHATTER: Rose sharply in the NHL's final rankings. Has played since he was three because his dad always made a backyard rink. Grew up next door to former NHLer Tim Connolly. Said Saturday he likes to model his game after Ryan Kesler. Raved about the U.S. NDTP, which has produced players like Jets' Jacob Trouba. "Two of the best years of my life," Tuch said. "A lot of fun. First year was difficult because we didn't do too well in the USHL. U-18 year we came out strong."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 1, 2014 B3

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