O say can you see…Jets like Americans

Four of eight Winnipeg draft picks from USHL


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SUNRISE, Fla. — They mined Finland and the Czech Republic and found a potential gem in Western Canada. But the Winnipeg Jets’ work at the 2015 NHL draft was all about their tapping the talent pool down south.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/06/2015 (2713 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

SUNRISE, Fla. — They mined Finland and the Czech Republic and found a potential gem in Western Canada. But the Winnipeg Jets’ work at the 2015 NHL draft was all about their tapping the talent pool down south.

The Jets made eight selections over the sevenround draft Friday and Saturday and took four Americans (three of them in the team’s first four picks). And they paid particular attention to scouting the United States Hockey League as all four Yanks — first-rounders Kyle Connor and Jack Roslovic, third-rounder Erik Foley and sixth-round selection Mason Appleton — spent time in America’s top junior league.

The Jets also selected two Western Hockey Leaguers on Day 2 — centres Jansen Harkins of the Prince George Cougars (second round, 47th overall) and Matteo Gennaro of the Prince Albert Raiders (seventh round, 203rd overall) — along with Czech winger Michael Spacek (fourth round, 108th overall) and Finnish defenceman Sami Niku (seventh round, 198th overall).


The tallies, then: four Americans, two Canadians, one Czech and one Finn; four centres, three wingers and one defenceman.

“We’ve added a lot of skill to the organization throughout the course of the two days here,” said Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. “Certainly, we added a lot of depth at centre, a little bit on the wing. Maybe not as much on defence as we had maybe set out and planned to, but when you’re at the table that’s how some things fall.

“And when there’s players scouts are passionate about drafting, those are the ones you draft. We had great meetings throughout the year and our guys enjoy putting our lists together. We encourage a lot of passion for different players and I keep on telling them, ‘Don’t draft a guy just because he’s on someone’s list, draft him because you want him to be a Winnipeg Jet.’ ” Harkins, like Connor in the first round, was a player who may have “fallen” to the Jets. Projected as a first-rounder by most draft analysts, he dropped to No. 47 before he heard his name called by the Jets.

“It’s one of those things where sometimes players ranked a lot higher throughout the different rankings, for whatever reasons, fall into your lap,” said Cheveldayoff. “He’s a skilled centreman who had over a point a game (79 points in 70 games) in his draft year in the Western Hockey League. A two-way player, real smart puck distributor who is going to get stronger and become real solid player.”

The Jets used their third-round pick (78th overall) to select Foley, a left winger with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the USHL. Foley (5-11, 172 pounds) had 27 goals and 27 assists in 55 games last year as a rookie. He will attend Providence College (Rhode Island) in the fall.

“There’s a lot of relief having your name called. I’m just happy I could cherish it with my family,” said Foley, who spoke to the Jets three times before the draft. “I knew they liked me so I wasn’t surprised when I went to them.

“I’m a power forward. I like to use my strength and my speed and win pucks in the corners, but I can mix in some skill with that and put pucks in the net.”

Foley’s older brother, Bruce, now a personal trainer, was an excellent football player in high school who had scholarships to Ohio State and Michigan State, but did not meet NCAA eligibility standards.

“I kind of looked at that as motivation,” said Foley, “that he had the chance and now I have a chance to do something for the family. I want to live up to his name and take it from there.”

Spacek has been playing in the Czech elite league with Pardubice and has suited up for his country at the world junior tournament. The Jets hope he can join a Canadian junior team this fall so they can better monitor his development.

“I’m a good skater, great vision and the passing plays are my strengths,” Spacek said through a translator.

Mimicking stickhandling and shooting with his hands, he added in English: “And shooting.”

Appleton, who played for the Tri-City Storm in the USHL and is heading to Michigan State in the fall, was selected in the sixth round (No. 168).

“He’s someone our scouts really liked in the later rounds,” Cheveldayoff said. “We were kinda hoping he’d still be there when we went to pick.”

“I’m a two-way centreman, big body, that likes to make hard plays and go to the net hard and is reliable in both zones,” Appleton said.

“Winnipeg is one of the teams that is highest on me. Ever since the Fall Classic, which is the first two games of the USHL (season), I’ve stayed in steady contact with them throughout the season.”

Niku, the lone blue-liner selected by the Jets, does fill an organizational need as a left-handedshooting defenceman. Ranked 71st by International Scouting Services, he spent last season with JYP, both at the junior level and in the elite Liiga, while also playing for Finland at the world junior championship.

“He’s a real smooth-skating defenceman who can move the puck and someone people thought would go a lot higher,” said Cheveldayoff. “He was here at the draft and it’s difficult to be picked in the seventh round as a European. We feel real good about where we drafted him and what he could be as a player.”

The Jets’ eighth and final pick was used on Gennaro. He started slowly for the Raiders, but had 25 of his 31 points from January through to the end of the regular season.

“He had a real, real strong second half this year,” said Cheveldayoff.

“He plays a strong two-way game and with the good size (6-2, 184) combination we project the second half of the year will be what he continues to be as he develops.”

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

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