Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Should Chevy go after the right stuff?

Here's how club stacks up on the starboard side

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It's never healthy to play the "what-if?" game in pro sports, especially if your business card features the logo of a National Hockey League squad.

After all, repeatedly pounding one's forehead on the wall out of frustration over the sins from previous regimes can do some serious damage to the frontal lobes.

Still, that won't stop us from opening up old wounds and stirring up discussion as part of the second instalment in our series analyzing the Winnipeg Jets' organizational depth chart in the days leading up to next week's NHL entry draft in Pittsburgh.

So...

What if the Atlanta Thrashers hadn't sent Ilya Kovalchuk to New Jersey in 2010? And, further to that, what if the Jets had more to show for the deal today than Patrice Cormier?

And one more... what if the Thrashers hadn't traded Marian Hossa to Pittsburgh in 2008? All that remains from that swap, for the record, is Michigan State prospect Daultan Leveille.

We know it's moot and there are some salary considerations that would be in play if that dynamic duo were still in the organization, but would anyone be questioning the Jets' Top 6 skill if Kovalchuk and Hossa -- among the best left and right wingers in the NHL -- were still in the organization?

Kovalchuk led all NHL left wingers in scoring in 2011-12 and Hossa, who has averaged 30 goals over the past four seasons, was third among right wingers in points this winter.

What the Jets do have at right wing is an intriguing mix: an emerging star power forward in Blake Wheeler, one of the best -- and cheapest -- free agent pick-ups of 2011 in Kyle Wellwood, a gritty and popular leader in Chris Thorburn, a capable veteran in Antti Miettinen and Eric Fehr, who battled to recover from a shoulder injury and managed just two goals in 35 games.

Here's the take of the man whose opinion matters most, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, on what the club has at right wing:

"Blake has taken a step we hoped he would take given the opportunities he had in our organization versus what he had in Boston. We're very happy with the year Blake had and we're hoping that step can continue.

"Hopefully Antti Miettinen having a full training camp, a North American start, will help him. I think he did better after the trade deadline. It was a difficult transition to go through some of the things he went through (switching leagues, continents), but that's part of being a pro.

"Chris Thorburn had a very good second half of the season and stepped up on the size and physical side of things and contributed on the production side... we hope now that the first season of change from Atlanta to here is behind him, he's going to continue to make plays on a consistent basis like he did in the second half of last year."

What's in the Jets' system:

Blake Wheeler: Led the Jets in scoring even after not potting his first goal until Game 19. Skilled, slick power forward with still more to give.

Wheeler FYI: Age: 25. 2011-12 numbers: 80 GP, 17G, 47A. Contract: One year left on current deal at $2,550,000.

Kyle Wellwood: Versatile, under-appreciated and intelligent hockey player who posted career best point totals. One of the Jets' best off-season additions.

Wellwood FYI: Age: 29. 2011-12 numbers: 77 GP, 18G, 29A. Contract: Unrestricted free agent on July 1; earned $700,000 last season.

Chris Thorburn: Brings some sandpaper to the lineup and is popular in the room.

Thorburn FYI: Age: 29. 2011-12 numbers: 72 GP, 4G, 7A. Contract: Two years left on current deal that pays him $866,667.

Antti Miettinen: Far more effective for the Jets late in the season. Had averaged 16 goals over a four-year span before bolting, briefly, to the KHL last year.

Miettinen FYI: Age: 31. 2011-12 numbers: 45 GP, 5G, 8A. Contract: One year left at $1,351,293.

Eric Fehr: A disappointment last season. Question now is whether he can find his game again.

Fehr FYI: Age: 26. 2011-12 numbers: 35 GP, 2G, 1A. Contract: A restricted free agent who earned $2.2 million last year.

Top prospect

Carl Klingberg: The big Swede was drafted in the second round, 34th overall, of the 2009 draft... Decent offensive numbers in his first year of pro hockey in North America (15G, 22A). He's got size (6-3, 205), is a beast on the forecheck and can also play LW... The man has some personality. Who can forget this quote from last year's rookie camp when he was asked to describe himself: "I shouldn't compare to (Alex) Ovechkin, but I'm like a copy of him. But a lot worse, though."

On the rock/in the minors

Spencer Machacek: Really took a step in a late-season stint with the Jets and finished with nine points in 13 NHL games. Energy guy who could push for work on the third or fourth line.

Jason King: Has played in 59 career NHL games, but none since '07-08. He's a Newfoundland product who put up 22 goals last year. Also an unrestricted free agent.

Ray Sawada: Under contract, officially, with Dallas. An unrestricted free agent.

Kevin Clark: Winnipegger ain't big (5-8, 170), but plays big. Had 12 goals for the IceCaps last year.

Danny Dries: Former Ohio State product ended the season on a tryout contract with the IceCaps.

In the system

Austen Brassard, Belleville Bulls (OHL): Winnipeg's fifth-round pick a year ago, Brassard finished second in Bulls' scoring with 51 points in 64 games.

Yasin Cisse, Boston University (NCAA): Good size at 6-3, 210, this fifth-round pick by the Thrashers in 2010 had five points in 25 games in his second season of NCAA.

Fredrik Pettersson, Vastra Frolunda (SEL): Headed back to Sweden after one year with the Chicago Wolves and had 16 goals in 54 games. Just signed in the KHL and is fading from the Jets' plans.

Vinny Saponari, Northeastern University (NCAA): Georgia boy has played for three teams in the last three years -- Boston University, Dubuque (USHL) and Northeastern.

Jesse Martin, University of Denver (NCAA): Thrashers' seventh-round pick in 2006 played just eight games last season.

The NHL's best

A look at some of the NHL's top RWs (ranked by 2011-12 scoring):

1. Claude Giroux, Phi.: 77 GP, 28 G, 65 A

2. Phil Kessel, Tor.: 82 GP, 37 G, 45 A

3. Marian Hossa, Chi.: 81 GP, 29 G, 48 A

4. Marian Gaborik, NYR: 82 GP, 41 G, 35 A

5. Jordan Eberle, Edm.: 78 GP, 34 G, 42 A

Other notable RWs: Rick Nash, CBJ, Corey Perry, Ana., Daniel Alfredsson, Ott., Martin St. Louis, TB, Jarome Iginla, Cal.

5 RWs (not Jets) who become unrestricted free agents on July 1 (ranked by points):

1. PA Parenteau, NYI.: 18 G, 49 A -- He's 29, but has 38 goals in the last two years.

2. Teemu Selanne, Ana.: 26 G, 40 A -- Now 41 and still getting it done. But it seems it's the Ducks again or retirement for the Finnish Flash.

3. Alexander Semin, Wash.: 21 G, 33 A -- Caps paid him $6.7 million last year? Yikes.

4. Jaromir Jagr, Pha.: 19 G, 35 A -- Didn't look at all like a 40-year-old. Wants to return to Philly.

5. Shane Doan, Phx.: 22 G, 28 A -- The Coyotes captain wants to stay in the Arizona desert.

This is the second in a series. Tomorrow: Part 3 -- defence.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 12, 2012 D2

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