Decision time for Connor

Could star prospect benefit from another year at Michigan?

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Five takes on the Winnipeg Jets as they get ready for their final homestand of the season...

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/03/2016 (2437 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Five takes on the Winnipeg Jets as they get ready for their final homestand of the season…

1. KYLE CONNOR HAS GONE…

dark over the last few days, as the University of Michigan and the Jets opt to give him some breathing room while he makes a critical decision in his hockey career — opt to turn pro or go back to the Wolverines for one more season.

The debate seems like a slam dunk to some, who point at his prolific point totals (71 points in 38 games) and wonder what he has left to prove at the college level. It’s a valid argument, countered by those who think another year of physical maturation with the Wolverines might help him be even more pro ready at this time next year.

Aaron Lavinsky / Star Tribune via AP files Jets prospect and Michigan standout Kyle Connor (right) is among several Michigan players who could be lacing up their skates in the NHL next season.

Something Connor must be weighing while he mulls over the pros and cons of signing with the Jets: just what would he be going back to next year in Michigan?

Coach Red Berenson’s future there is uncertain — he is 76 and had hinted this past season would be his last. He also told the Detroit Free Press Tuesday he might like to return.

“There’s no question… the start of the year, I was pretty much resigned to the fact this would be the last year,” said Berenson “But as the year went on, it got better and better. I thought it made more sense and it was working.

“I don’t want to be in the way, that’s the other thing. If I’m going to coach, I want to coach.”

But the questions about the Wolverines go beyond that. Change is a given in the NCAA, where players are graduating or choose to move on, and the Michigan lineup Connor went to battle with every night is already undergoing a dramatic makeover.

The Columbus Blue Jackets announced Tuesday the signing of 2015 first-round draft pick Zach Werenski and the defenceman selected nine spots ahead of Connor in last year’s draft will report immediately to the Lake Erie Monsters in the AHL.

Defenceman Michael Downing has also chosen to leave early and sign with the Florida Panthers, while senior forwards Boo Nieves (New York Rangers) and Justin Selman (St. Louis Blues) have signed pro deals. As well, Connor’s two linemates on the vaunted CCM line — J.T. Compher and Tyler Motte — are said to be contemplating signing with Colorado and Chicago, the clubs that drafted them.

2. NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT…

the Jets were engaged physically and mentally and solid for most of Monday’s overtime loss in Philly and in a season when they’ve been all over the map, that has to been seen as progress, even if it is a teeny-tiny sample size.

The No. 1 line of Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers was especially dominant in combining to score both Jets goals, register a whopping 15 shots on goal and firing 26 total shots toward the Flyers net.

The point earned, however, had the folks eyeing the draft-lottery standings cursing afterward. Winnipeg is now 26th overall, ahead of Columbus, Vancouver, Edmonton and Toronto.

The Jets are back in Winnipeg now for their final homestand of the season — Ottawa tonight, followed by weekend visits from Chicago and Minnesota — and the rest of the schedule could be daunting. The Jets finish the season with three road games in California — Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles — against three teams trying to lock down the top spots in the Pacific Division.

That’s potentially good news if you’re spending a chunk of every day messing around on the draft-lottery simulators. To that end, yours truly took 10 turns on tankathon.com’s simulator and the Jets landed the top pick once — it was also the only time they managed to finish in the Top 3. The average draft position on the tankathon simulator when I ran it was sixth.

On nhllotterysimulator.com, it took me 11 tries before the Jets came out on top. Edmonton had the first pick four times, Toronto twice, with Arizona, Montreal and Columbus also landing No. 1.

3. SO, LET’S ALL ASSUME THAT…

Ondrej Pavelec will be in the fight of his life to retain the No. 1 goaltending job with the Jets next season — count me among the thousands who are enamoured with Connor Hellebuyck’s game — as he heads into the final year of his contract.

Maybe, then, as much as so many others are using this recent stretch of games to audition for spots and showcase their abilities to play certain roles, the same applies for the veteran Czech. He’s trying to hang on to something here with the Jets and his last three games — a 2-0-1 record with a shutout and a .957 save percentage — is his best chunk of work this season. He gets an ‘A’ for that, even if the draft-lottery watchers are taking his name in vain for his timing.

4. NOT SURE HOW THEY CAN SELL THIS ONE…

but the Flyers are sure under the microscope for having Claude Giroux in the lineup Monday against the Jets. In case you missed it, Giroux was hit hard by Martin Hanzal of the Arizona Coyotes Saturday night and looked to be unconscious on the ice

A couple of days later, not only was he was back at work as the Flyers look to lock down a playoff spot, he was scoring the game-winner in OT. The optics just aren’t good for the league, the Flyers and the NHL Players’ Association, which has to be looking out for their guys, too.

5. AND, FINALLY, THIS JIMMY VESEY STORY OUT OF NASHVILLE…

has got to be scary for NHL GMs, especially someone like GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Jets, who have four of their eight draft picks from last year now in college (Kyle Connor, Michigan; Jack Roslovic, Miami/Ohio; Erik Foley, Providence College and Mason Appleton, Michigan State).

Vesey, who just finished his fourth year at Harvard and was a third-round pick of the Predators in 2012, has opted to forgo signing with Nashville to become a free agent in August. Noteworthy in this is not only is his father, Jim, a scout with the Toronto Maple Leafs, his brother, Nolan, is also a Leafs draft pick.

On top of that, Vesey apparently told Predators assistant GM Paul Fenton three times three weeks ago he was going to sign in Nashville.

“I spoke to him directly after the (Beanpot Tournament) consolation game at the Boston Garden, outside the locker room, and asked the player three times if he was signing with us,” Fenton told Sportsnet’s Hockey Central at Noon. “I said I realized he was in a tough position here, that I was asking him this, but we needed to know from a lineup standpoint and our trade-deadline plans as to what he was going to do.”

Just recently, the Preds were denied a meeting with Vesey’s camp, prompting Nashville GM David Poile to suggest the prospect was getting bad advice.

“Honestly, we’re not closing the door on this,” said Fenton. “We still want the player. We’d like to talk to the player.”

It’s the player’s right, of course, but teams that invest so much in scouting, monitoring and helping develop a player such as Vesey are then left with nothing.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

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