Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

There's no magic in major makeover

But three years of hard work has Jets organizational chart looking better poised for perennial success

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Draft and develop. Draft and develop. Draft and develop. Boy, does it get old when the results aren't readily visible at the NHL level.

The Winnipeg Jets will miss the post-season for the third straight year and the easy but inaccurate conclusion is to write them and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff's work off as tired and ineffective.

Or one can take a close look at where the Jets as an organization are now situated from top to bottom and see the remarkable change since Cheveldayoff began turning the soil of this franchise.

The Jets are far closer to perennial success today even if the first taste has yet to arrive.

Organizational depth was the first step in Cheveldayoff's plan and is finally beginning to show results below the surface. It's like filling a glass of water. The drops have to hit the bottom of the tumbler before they can get to the brim.

To say Cheveldayoff has ignored the franchise's NHL roster would be incorrect as he's gone about signing what he views as his best players to long-term deals. And through the draft, he's inserted two players, Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba, who are now the most important on their team and will soon be NHL elite.

But the real work, under the mandate and plan established by owner Mark Chipman and Cheveldayoff, has been at the AHL and prospect level. And the returns are undeniably strong.

On Wednesday night, the affiliate St. John's IceCaps won their ninth straight game with rookies J.C. Lipon, Adam Lowry and Brenden Kitchton leading the way. This isn't a team built on castoff veterans but has 12 players on the active roster that can still be considered prospects. They're winning but developing, too.

On newsstands today, The Hockey News' Future Watch issue rates the Jets as having the NHL's eighth-best crop of prospects, down from fifth a year ago due to the fact Scheifele and Trouba moved straight from junior and college, respectively, to the NHL.

Depth eventually becomes a red herring if it doesn't equate to wins and playoff success but the Jets and Winnipeg, with their unique situation as both a franchise and a market, can't have one without the other and they have to come in sequence.

When one looks at the Jets as a hockey entity from the bottom up and not just at the surface level, Cheveldayoff is getting it done and the organization is markedly better off than when he took over.

To best understand what Cheveldayoff has been up to and what he's accomplished, it's necessary to look back with cold eyes on what he inherited and the conditions under which he must work.

The short answer to what Cheveldayoff was handed when he became GM of the Jets is: very little. An NHL roster with no elite players, some kids rushed up to the bigs too quickly and a mix of veterans ranging from dead-weight contracts to middle-of-the-lineup players.

Dustin Byfuglien was an all-star defenceman and Blake Wheeler had a top-end package of skills but still hadn't figured out how to squeeze the most from his assets. Andrew Ladd was the team's leading scorer with 59 points and the club finished out of the playoffs for the fourth straight year with a 34-36-12 record.

Nothing new here. The Thrashers were a bad hockey team in Atlanta and moving to Winnipeg as the Jets didn't spark some magical change.

Long before Chipman purchased an NHL franchise, he knew he was getting one of two teams and he put his people on the case so he'd know exactly what he was buying when the time arrived.

Craig Heisinger, Chipman's top hockey man at the time, was dispatched to find out what both the Phoenix Coyotes and Atlanta Thrashers had in the cupboard. Soon the focus narrowed to the Thrashers and the answer came back that the NHL roster needed a lot of work and even more troubling was the lack of value in the farm system.

Ivan Telegin was the lone A prospect in the entire organization. The club's most recent first-round draft picks (Zach Bogosian, Evander Kane and Alex Burmistrov) had been rushed to the NHL.

Prospects and draft picks had been repeatedly dealt for rentals or lost in bad trades and the prospect pool was bankrupt of talent. Hindsight is 20-20 but not one of the prospects in the organization that came north as the Jets in the spring of 2011 has developed into a meaningful NHLer. Not one.

None of the franchise's AHL players from that season have made the jump to the NHL as significant contributors. Not one.

This isn't open for debate anymore. The returns are in. The cupboard could not have been more bare.

Certainly there has been some development at the NHL level as Wheeler has grown into his talents, Bryan Little has continued to improve and Kane put up 30 goals in his first season in Winnipeg.

The Jets remain one of the youngest teams in the league and the best days of this roster are still ahead.

In the accompanying boxes to this story, put together with the talent- evaluation expertise of NHL GMs and scouts, the Jets now have six A prospects (blue-chip prospects with potential to be top-six F or top-four D) and 10 B prospects (pro future, skewing towards NHL depth player). That's up from one A and 10 Bs in 2011.

Not to mention, Trouba and Scheifele, drafted and developed and turned into NHLers with huge upside by Cheveldayoff.

Competition

It's taken three years to get to this point but development moves at its own pace. Free agency is both unpredictable in what is available and uncontrollable in terms of price. Not to mention the competition Winnipeg faces in terms of location and market saleability. Let's face it, the New Yorks and Chicagos and L.A.s have it over our fine city where rich young men are concerned.

Trading picks and prospects got the franchise into this mess in the first place and doesn't become a realistic approach until a GM can do it from a position of strength underpinned by organizational depth.

Some have tried to argue the point Cheveldayoff is unable to make a trade.

More accurately, Cheveldayoff has been unwilling to chase bad deals.

Now, armed with burgeoning depth, this summer might be the time for Cheveldayoff to alter his NHL roster with a swap or two. Maybe it's time to move a veteran D for a number of younger pieces. Shaking up the forward corps via trade might also be a realistic and productive possibility this summer.

Deadline deals, where the prices are torqued by playoff races, often tend to be bad for the buyer when the long-term picture is taken into account. But making an off-season deal from a position of strength shouldn't be shied away from, and Cheveldayoff finally has some assets to shuffle around.

Trading for the sake of trading doesn't help an organization and chasing false playoff expectations is the most dangerous practice of them all. Cheveldayoff's deliberate approach has clearly reaped the organization benefits.

The GM has given the organization legs and shown it how to walk. Now he must make it run.

 

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @garylawless

That was then...

Here’s the organizational roster Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff inherited in 2011:

PLAYER 2011 STATUS TODAY'S STATUS
NHL    
Nik Antroprov Veteran NHLer Now in KHL
Zach Bogosian No. 3 pick in 2008 Learning his craft, signed to a seven-year deal
Eric Boulton Fringe player New York Islanders
Alex Burmistrov Talented forward RFA left for KHL
Dustin Byfuglien All-star defenceman Third year of five-year contract
Radek Dvorak Veteran NHLer Left as UFA and now with Carolina
Toby Enstrom Puck moving defenceman Year one of five-year contract
Ron Hainsey Veteran NHL blue-liner Left as UFA and now with Carolina
Evander Kane No. 4 pick in 2009 Now in second year of six-year deal
Andrew Ladd Second-line NHLer Jets captain in third year of five-year contract
Bryan Little Second-line NHLer First year of five-year contract
Chris Mason Veteran NHL backup goalie Now in Europe
Frederick Meyer Veteran D Retired and coaching in Europe
Johnny Oduya Veteran NHL D Traded to Blackhawks for draft picks
Ondrej Pavelec NHL goalie Now in second year of five-year contract
Jim Slater NHL regular Second year of three-year contract
Tim Stapleton Fringe NHLer Now in KHL
Anthony Stewart NHL regular Now in KHL
Mark Stuart NHL regular Recently signed four-year contract extension
Chris Thorburn NHL regular Last year of three-year contract
Blake Wheeler NHL regular Front-line player in first year of six-year contract
 AHL    
Patrice Cormier B prospect Jets property in AHL
Chris Carrozzi C prospect Playing semi-pro hockey
Angelo Esposito C prospect Now in Europe
Brett Festerling C prospect Now in Europe
Michael Forney C prospect Now in Europe
Riley Holzapfel C prospect Now in Europe
Carl Klingberg C prospect Jets property in AHL
Andrew Kozek C prospect Now in Europe
Jason Krog Career minor leaguer Now in Europe
Arturs Kulda B prospect Now in KHL
Spencer Machacek B prospect Traded and now in AHL
Peter Mannino C prospect Now with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in AHL
Ben Maxwell B prospect Now in Europe
Ian McKenzie D prospect Now in ECHL
Paul Postma B prospect First year of two-year NHL contract with Jets
Zach Redmond B prospect Jets property in AHL
Rob Schremp Fringe NHLer Now in Europe
Jaime Sifers Career minor leaguer Now in Europe
Prospects
   
John Albert B prospect On recall with Jets
Akim Aliu C prospect Traded to Calgary and now in Europe
Ben Chiarot B prospect Solid defender in AHL
Yasin Cisse D prospect Jets property in ECHL
Alex Kangas D prospect Now in ECHL
Tanner Lane B prospect Jets property in college
Daultan Leveille C prospect Now in ECHL
Jesse Martin D prospect Inactive
Kendall McFaull D prospect Now in Canadian college hockey
Julian Melchiori B prospect Jets property in AHL
Eric O’Dell B prospect On recall with Jets
Danick Paquette D prospect Now in ECHL
Eddie Pasquale B prospect Jets property in AHL
Fredrik Petterson C prospect Now in KHL
Jared Ross D prospect Now in Europe
Jordan Samuels-Thomas C prospect Jets property in NCAA
Vinny Saponari C prospect Now with Milwaukee in AHL
Cody Sol C prospect Jets property in ECHL
Peter Stoykewych B prospect Jets property in NCAA
Ivan Telegin A prospect Loaned to KHL
Will O’Neill C prospect Jets property in AHL
Sebastian Owuya D prospect Inactive
Noah Welch C prospect Now in Europe
Fredrik Pettersson-Wentzel B prospect goalie Now in Europe
Andrei Zubarev C prospect Now in KHL

Legend:

  • A prospect: blue-chip prospect with potential to be top-six F or top-four D
  • B prospect: pro future, skewing towards NHL depth player
  • C prospect: minor league potential
  • D prospect: project
  • UFA: unrestricted free agent
  • RFA: restricted free agent

... this is now

Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has had three drafts and three off-seasons to reshape his organization. Here’s what it looks like today:

NAME ANALYSIS
NHL  
John Albert Fringe NHLer
Zach Bogosian Second-pairing NHL defender
Dustin Byfuglien Top-six power forward
Grant Clitsome Injured third-pairing NHL defender
Keaton Ellerby Third-pairing NHL defender
Tobias Enstrom Small, first- or second-pairing NHL defender
Michael Frolik Useful, versatile forward
Matt Halischuk Bottom-six forward
Olli Jokinen Veteran NHLer, pending UFA
Evander Kane Top-six forward, hampered by injury
Andrew Ladd Top-six forward
Bryan Little Underrated top-six forward
Al Montoya Solid NHL backup goalie
Adam Pardy Third-pairing NHL defender
Ondrej Pavelec Statistcally among the busiest and worst No. 1 goalies in the NHL
Anthony Peluso Fourth-line tough guy
Paul Postma Skilled, can’t get in lineup
Mark Scheifele Among top 10 rookies in NHL, No. 1 centre ability
Devin Setoguchi Trade bust, pending UFA
Jim Slater Solid bottom-six centre
Mark Stuart
Leader, third-pairing NHL defender
Eric Tangradi Fringe NHLer
Chris Thorburn Fourth-line winger
Jacob Trouba Top-five NHL rookie, future No. 1 defenceman
Blake Wheeler Jets’ best player, U.S. Olympian
James Wright Fringe NHLer
AHL  
D Ben Chiarot AHLer
C Patrice Cormier AHLer
F Andrew Gordon AHLer
G Michael Hutchinson B-prospect goalie playing in AHL, could be an NHL backup
D Brenden Kichton A prospect with 43 points as a rookie AHL defenceman, has top-four NHL D potential
F Carl Klingberg AHLer
F J.C. Lipon B prospect playing in AHL, has third-line NHL potential
C Adam Lowry A prospect playing in AHL, has top-six NHL potential
D Julian Melchiori B prospect, keeps pushing ceiling higher, might turn into an NHL regular
C Eric O’Dell AHLer
D Will O’Neill AHLer
G Edward Pasquale B-prospect goalie playing in AHL, could develop into an NHL backup
G Zach Redmond AHLer with potenial to move into NHL, injury has slown development
F Jerome Samson AHLer
In the system
 
F Axel Blomqvist C prospect
F Austen Brassard C prospect
C Alexander Burmistrov Second- or third-line centre who Jets could use right now
F Yasin Cisse D prospect playing in ECHL
G Eric Comrie A prospect playing in WHL, odds-on favourite to be one of Team Canada’s goalies at next year’s world junior
F Andrew Copp A prospect played for USA at world junior, could be a top-six NHL forward
D Aaron Harstad C prospect playing in NCAA
G Connor Hellebuyck A prospect playing in NCAA, has NHL No. 1 potential
D Marcus Karlstrom C prospect playing in Sweden
G Jason Kasdorf C prospect playing in NCAA
F Scott Kosmachuk A prospect, with 43 goals and 92 points in OHL so far this season
F Jan Kostalek B prospect, played for Czech Republic at world junior, adjusting to life in Candian junior hockey in Quebec
F Arturs Kulda B prospect who looked good playing for Latvia at the Sochi Olympics
F Tanner Lane B prospect playing in NCAA F James Lodge B prospect with 20 goals in OHL this season
D Joshua Morrissey A prospect, played for Canada at world junior, has top-4 D potential in NHL
G Juho Olkinuora C prospect playing in ECHL
F Ryan Olsen B prospect with 30 goals this season in WHL
C Nicolas Petan Aprospect, played for Team Canada at world junior and second in WHL scoring this season with 108 points; high end he’s Marty St. Louis and low end he’s Brendan Gallagher
G Jamie Phillips C prospect playing in NCAA
D Tucker Poolman B prospect playing in USHL
F Jordan Samuels-Thomas C prospect putting up strong numbers in NCAA
D Brennan Serville C prospect playing in NCAA
F Lukas Sutter C prospect playing in WHL
D Cody Sol C prospect, Jets property in ECHL
D Peter Stoykewych B prospect, Jets property in NCAA
F Ivan Telegin A prospect on loan to KHL, has speed and skills to be a top-six NHL forward but must decide if it’s what he wants

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 14, 2014 C2

History

Updated on Friday, March 14, 2014 at 7:12 AM CDT: Adds table

7:38 AM: Adds AHL info to "That was then" table

8:11 AM: Adds prospects info to "That was then" table

8:11 AM: Adds "this is now" table

8:28 AM: Adds AHL info to "this is now" table

9:00 AM: Adds In the system info to "this is now" box

9:01 AM: adds photo

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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