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Youth must be served

Jets won't get better by making talented prospects sit

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/9/2014 (1022 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Depending on how many of Kevin Cheveldayoff's kids are ready to bust through, inactivity or the opening of opportunity will be the theme of this fading summer for the Winnipeg Jets.

The roster right now is almost the same as it was at the end of last season. To open the campaign with this group would be, at best, uninspiring. Better for young players such as Adam Lowry and Josh Morrissey to step in and take up spots than have the likes of Eric Tangradi and Keaton Ellerby log considerable minutes.

 Josh Morrissey, above, Nic Petan and Adam Lowry have the chance to make an immediate contribution.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Josh Morrissey, above, Nic Petan and Adam Lowry have the chance to make an immediate contribution.

Winnipeg Jets prospect Adam Lowry

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Jets prospect Adam Lowry

 Nic Petan

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Nic Petan

Certainly it would be great if the Jets were a perennial contender with a roster that enabled the organization to let its prospects over-ripen in junior, college and the AHL.

But that's not Winnipeg. And if they're not going to be a playoff team, why not bring in some youth and let them learn on the job.

Rushing a young player is always a mistake. But if they're close, let them play.

Wouldn't a bottom six forward group including talented kids such as Lowry, Nic Petan and last summer's first-round pick Nikolaj Ehlers be preferable over what we saw finish last season?

Lowry is long and skilled with a mean streak. Jets coach Paul Maurice is going to fall in love with him.

While Petan is undeniably small, his game is also well beyond what a number of the current Jets have in their limited arsenal.

The book on Petan is he's a mix of Montreal's Brendan Gallagher and future Hall of Famer Martin St. Louis. Bring him along if there's a hint he's NHL-ready.

Sending Morrissey back to junior for a fifth year seems like a waste. All reports suggest he's ready to think the pro game and it's just a question of whether he can handle the heavy going. Shelter him in five-on-five play and then pop him out on the blueline for the power play.

Let's find out. Make tomorrow arrive. Today.

Placeholders such as Olli Jokinen have served their purpose for the Jets, but not proven to be an answer in the pursuit of playoff contention.

Cheveldayoff has been painfully clear about his draft and develop plan. So why clog the roster with expensive half measures? Not when the future appears ready to announce itself.

The best part of last year's Jets season was the arrival of centre Mark Scheifele and defenceman Jacob Trouba.

Already they are among the team's best players. It's time for more of Cheveldayoff's draft and develop projects to begin chipping in at the NHL level.

Ehlers is more explosive and dynamic than most players already on the Jets roster. He's an elite package of skills, but he's also raw and small. If he shows up at camp and produces, he could add pop and flash desperately missing to the bottom end of this lineup.

The old thinking of, "He has to play in the top six," is outdated. There's a very good chance Evander Kane will begin this season on the third line with centre Matthieu Perrault. Coach Paul Maurice will have to split time much more equally among his first three lines if Kane isn't skating on a line centred by Scheifele or Little.

Why not have Ehlers dancing on the other wing? Too small and a defensive liability are the easy responses. Maybe. But if he proves elusive and isn't getting blown up every other shift, he can be taught the defensive side of the game. That's Maurice's job.

Sooner or later, a draft and develop plan such as the one being employed by the Jets must hit critical mass and push a bunch of players into the NHL or be declared a failure.

Prospects must force themselves into the big club's picture and become valuable contributors or the plan just continues to sputter along and never kicks out a winner.

Cheveldayoff has a solid core of players reaching their potential. Blake Wheeler appears to be a point-a-game man. Kane has a 30-goal season under his belt. The trio of Bryan Little-Andrew Ladd-Michael Frolik is a superior puck possession group. Dustin Byfuglien is a power forward with vast potential.

There are warts. If Maurice can't find a way to improve goaltender Ondrej Pavelec's save percentage the entire endeavour will be a waste of time.

But there's no denying there's promise here. The question is whether it's ready to show up.

More of Cheveldayoff's prospects must step forward and expand the core. Patience is fine. But it can't be infinite. Not for the GM and not for the fans of this organization.

Rushing players doesn't make sense. But, as we saw with Trouba and Schiefele, young players don't have to fail.

Cheveldayoff didn't make a lot of people happy this summer. He stuck to his guns and his plan.

It's time that plan begin to supply him with the ammunition to defend his stance.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

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