No matter how many scouts are involved, how many dollars spent or kilometres travelled scouring this Earth, most National Hockey League general managers will tell you this:
The evaluation of fresh, new talent is an inexact science, making the NHL Entry Draft a bit of a guessing game at times.
For every Winnipeg Jets' first-round future star like Dale Hawerchuk and Dave Babych, there were busts like Jimmy Mann and Sergei Bautin. And for every first-rounder who crumbled under the weight of expectation, there were steals -- Brian Mullen and Nik Khabibulin, drafted in the seventh and ninth rounds, for example -- who carved out solid NHL careers.
While fans and media alike will crank up the debate as to whom the Jets should select with the ninth-overall pick at the draft in Pittsburgh next week, the starting point for every franchise is determining what talent is already with the big club and in the system.
"An organization's depth can get very deep very quickly, but it can become very shallow very quickly, too," Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a recent chat with the Free Press. "You have to continue to stockpile at every position.
"It's funny -- at this time of the year as the draft approaches, everybody wants you to pick and choose. It's like, 'You want a centre? You want a defenceman? Wingers? Right? Left?' My answer is, 'Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.'"
Over the next week, the Free Press will examine the Jets' organizational depth chart as part of our buildup to the draft.
The process might not yield any further clues as to whom the Jets might select or what trends might develop in Pittsburgh, but it will help provide a glimpse of what kind of talent has been stockpiled by the club and where the depth may be thin.
Today: left wing
"We have two very good players at left wing in Andrew Ladd and Evander Kane, who bring a lot to the team and to the organization in many different areas. Andrew's our captain and has a great deal of experience at a very young age as a two-time Stanley Cup champion who is the leader of the franchise.
"Evander is a young, up-and-coming star with everything still in front of him. If he can continue on the same progression he has been, then he's destined for good things.
"We've got some decisions to make on the free-agent side: Tanner Glass is a UFA that we've been very open in saying he's someone we'd like to have back.
"I like what we have, but we can't get too caught up in having two very good left-wingers and saying, 'Well, we're all set there.'"
LEFT WING -- What's in the Jets' system:
-- Andrew Ladd: El Capitano's value to the Jets isn't measured solely by goals and assists. He's durable, missing only one game in the last four years, and a solid, respected presence in the room.
Ladd FYI: Age: 26. 2011-12 numbers: 82 GP, 28 G, 22A. Contract: Four years left at $4.4 million per season.
-- Evander Kane: Gifted sniper who already has played in 213 NHL games and won't turn 21 until August. Coming off 30-goal campaign.
Kane FYI: Age: 20. 2011-12 numbers: 74 GP, 30 G, 27A. Contract: Entry-level deal that paid him $3.1 million is about to expire, making him a restricted free agent.
-- Tanner Glass: Character-and-grit guy who finished 10th in the NHL with 246 hits, tops on the Jets.
Glass FYI: Age: 28. 2011-12 numbers: 78 GP, 5 G, 11A. Contract: Becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1 after signing one-year deal last year worth $750,000.
-- Tim Stapleton: Versatile and consistent pro, just finished campaign in which he posted career-high numbers.
Stapleton FYI: Age: 29. 2011-12 numbers: 63 GP, 11G, 16A. Contract: UFA on July 1; made $525,000 last year.
-- Ivan Telegin: Fourth-round pick by the Thrashers in 2010 is coming off a solid season -- his last in junior -- with the Barrie Colts, in which he scored 35 goals and added 29 assists in just 46 games. Played RW for the Colts this year, but can play on both sides. Still needs to add pounds to his 6-3, 185-pound frame to be able to withstand the physical toll at the pro level. World-class speed.
"He's someone we're certainly excited about having turn pro next year and see where he fits in. We really started talking about him at the end of the year because his second half was really good. I give him a lot of credit on and off the ice. He learned the language and is becoming much more comfortable and acclimated to the North American culture, and it's helped his game."
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ON THE ROCK/IN THE MINORS
-- Jason Gregoire: Limited to just 44 games with the IceCaps this year (6G, 8A) because of injuries, but the Jets like the Winnipegger's hockey intelligence and skill set.
-- Jason Jaffray: The IceCaps captain turns 31 later this month and had his season end with neck-fusion surgery in April. He's also an unrestricted free agent.
-- Ben Maxwell: Former Montreal second-rounder can play centre and wing and didn't look out of place in nine games with the Jets.
-- Jon Albert: His hustle and energy didn't go unnoticed by the Jets, but he is an unrestricted free agent.
-- Maxime Macenaeur: Made the Anaheim Ducks roster out of training camp last year before being demoted. Jets traded Riley Holzapfel for his rights.
-- Kenndal McArdle: Feisty grinder played in nine games with the Jets before being demoted, then "loaned" to Portland. Read into that what you will, but his future in Winnipeg is iffy.
-- Mike Forney: Spent most of the year in the ECHL; another IceCaps loaner, this time to the Texas Stars.
IN THE SYSTEM
-- Adam Lowry, Swift Current (WHL): Drafted in the third round (67th overall) last year, the big forward (6-4, 184) and son of longtime NHLer Dave Lowry was limited to just 36 games in Swift Current (12G, 25A) because of injury.
-- Nicklas Lasu, Vastra Frolunda (SEL): Thrashers' fifth-round pick in '08 played in 45 games in the Swedish Elite League, managing four goals and nine points.
-- Jordan Samuels-Thomas, Quinnipiac (NCAA): Seventh-round pick in '09, red-shirted last year after transferring from Bowling Green.
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THE NHL'S BEST
By comparison, a look at some of the NHL's top LWs (ranked by 2011-12 scoring):
1. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ: 77 GP, 37 G, 46A
2. James Neal, Pitt.: 80 GP, 40 G, 41A
3. Ray Whitney, Phx.: 82 GP, 24G, 53A
4. Loui Eriksson, Dal.: 82 GP, 26 G, 45 A
5. Matt Moulson, NYI: 82 GP, 36G, 33A
Other notable LWs: Patrick Sharp, Chi.; Zach Parise, NJ; Henrik Zetterberg, Det.; Scott Hartnell, Phi.; Alex Ovechkin, Wash.; Daniel Sedin, Van.; Joffrey Lupul, Tor.
5 LWs who become unrestricted free agents on July 1st:
1. Zach Parise, NJ: 31G, 38A -- One of the jewels of the NHL free-agent market... if he makes it to July 1 without re-signing with the Devils.
2. Ray Whitney, Phx.: 24G, 53A -- Still productive, but 40 years old.
3. Jiri Hudler, Det.: 25G, 25A -- He's 28 and he's got some finish.
4. Steve Sullivan, Pit.: 17G, 31A -- Now 37, but can still score.
5. Ryan Smyth, Edm.: 19G, 27A -- He's 36 and loves Edmonton.
Tomorrow: Part 2 -- Right wing
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