Drafting deftly

Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff & Co. have done a remarkable job with their first-round choices since 2011


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/06/2016 (2354 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

More of the same, please.

If the Winnipeg Jets’ five-year rolling average of entry-draft production should continue at somewhere near the level of the franchise’s first five years of selections, organizational assets should never be a problem.

Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has five drafts under his belt and heads for a sixth Friday and Saturday at Buffalo’s First Niagara Center.

What has been gained from 2011 through 2015 has injected life into a moribund franchise that arrived via relocation in the Manitoba capital. The team has already brought five regulars into its lineup from those five drafts and has six others who have played NHL games.

And that summary comes with a few asterisks.

● As with most teams, the most recent draft has yielded the least, though 2015 is widely viewed as a good haul, including top pick Kyle Connor, a forward chosen at No. 17 who has signed a contract after a 2015-16 season in which he led NCAA hockey in scoring.

● You could argue the number of regulars from drafting is six, either because Nic Petan made the team out of camp last season (and also finished in the NHL) or that goalie Connor Hellebuyck carried the load with 26 games in the middle of the season. One or the other was on the roster for the majority of the campaign.

Also worth noting is that Winnipeg’s average first pick over the five years is 11th place.

The Jets have chosen well in the first round.

Alan Diaz / The Associated Press Left-winger Kyle Connor pulls on a Winnipeg Jets sweater after being chosen 17th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft.

They have centre Mark Scheifele (2011), defenceman Jacob Trouba (2012) and left-winger Nikolaj Ehlers (2014) in the NHL. Defenceman Josh Morrissey (2013) made strides in his rookie pro year and Connor signed after just one brilliant year at the college level. A second first-rounder, slick centre Jack Roslovic, was the 25th pick last year and is headed for a second college season at Miami University in Ohio.

A total of 38 players have been chosen over five drafts by the Jets. Twenty have already become pros and are either signed or have already played in the team’s system.

The positive reviews of what the Jets have done at the draft come from beyond the MTS Centre.

One of the most glowing assessments came just more than a year ago — prior to snatching Connor at No. 17 in last year’s draft — came from The Hockey News, which after polling its league-wide panel of scouts and executives, declared the Jets with the best overall prospect list in its 2015 Future Watch edition.

The cover of that Future Watch edition was purposely a little overboard, touting the Jets the 2019 Stanley Cup champs, accomplishing its mission as a water-cooler tongue-wagger, and not just in Winnipeg.

AP/Andy King / The Canadian Press files Seventh-overall pick Mark Scheifele with GM Kevin Cheveldayoff (left) and then-coach Claude Noel at the 2011 draft.

The magazine’s 2016 edition had Winnipeg still in the top five of the rankings despite Ehlers, Andrew Copp and Hellebuyck moving off the list, considered graduated.

Another prospect-focused pulpit is that of TSN’s director of scouting, Craig Button, who makes it his business to know what’s going on with young players, both about to be drafted or who have been through the process.

Button, the former Calgary Flames GM, is not reserved in his view of the first five years of Jets 2.0.

“I think the Winnipeg Jets have done an outstanding job,” Button said in an interview with the Free Press. “The real key to that is patience.

“You’re drafting 17- and 18-year-old kids that have a tremendous amount of maturing ahead of them when they’re drafted. They’re not ready to come in and help your team and you have to recognize that, that it is a process that takes time.”

Button saluted Jets co-owner Mark Chipman and Cheveldayoff for not trying to fast-forward the development process.

“I don’t want to say painstakingly long or frustratingly long; those aren’t the right phrases,” Button said. “It’s necessary to be patient. And you have to be committed to being patient.”

Having worked the management side of the fence, Button is well-versed in the temptation that exists when it comes to draft picks.

“To me, there’s a very clear focus on what type of players they want,” he said about the Jets. “It’s not just speedy, skilled guys or a 6-3 guy. Then they’re patient with them and I can’t emphasize that enough.

“You can fast-forward the process but all you’re doing is setting yourself up for mistakes.

“It’s really hard to do things the right way because of the pressures.”

Most critiques are made with the highest picks in mind. But often, the true gauge of a scouting staff is being able to uncover players in middle or later rounds.

The Jets have some results to show with that filter, too.

USA Today Sports Jun 27, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Nikolaj Ehlers poses for a photo with team officials after being selected as the number nine overall pick to the Winnipeg Jets in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center. Bill Streicher / USA TODAY Sports

They already have Adam Lowry, a third-rounder of 2011, and Andrew Copp, a fourth-rounder of 2013, on the roster. And the player many regard as the organization’s franchise goalie, Connor Hellebuyck, was chosen in the fifth round of 2012.

On the flip side, no organization avoids flops or busted picks.

In this area, the Jets have made a few regrettable choices, the most prominent of them the 2012 second-round selection of Lukas Sutter. There was also much hand-wringing in Jets’ nation when 2011 fourth-rounder Zach Yuen wasn’t signed in 2013, exposing some lack of understanding that in scouting and drafting, mistakes are inevitable.

The hits and misses, and the time it takes to declare either, make building a system one of the least-attractive jobs for any manager, Button said.

“All the shelves have to be stocked,” he said. “Go through and look at all the different positions… there’s not one shelf in the cupboard for the Jets that isn’t stocked.”

Getting off to a good start in this department was more than helpful, Button said.

CP Vancouver Canucks goalie Eddie Lack (31) stops a shot from Winnipeg Jets' Adam Lowry (17) during the third period of NHL action in Vancouver, B.C. Tuesday, March. 24, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

“Go back and look at 2011, Mark Scheifele was an outstanding pick,” he said. “And then, Trouba ninth? Pretty good pick. Morrissey a year later, I think he’ll be a good, solid NHL player. All of that affords you the opportunity to bring in a player like Ben Chiarot and now you don’t have to play him up the lineup too far.”

That the Jets have drawn from numerous sources with their most successful picks so far speaks volumes for Button.

“I’ll tell you what I love the most about the Winnipeg Jets,” he said. “It’s how open-minded they are. They drafted Ehlers from Denmark, Kyle Connor from the USHL, come right back with Jack Roslovic, draft Jacob Trouba, an American defenceman. To me, they’re not worried… you talked about off the board with Mark Scheifele, but it’s clear they don’t care. They take who they think is best.

“I love the courage and conviction of the Jets. I love their patience. And I love that they’ve made outstanding picks at seven (Scheifele) and nine (Trouba, Ehlers). Go back and look at drafts, and these guys can be real key players for them. And Kyle Connor at 17? That’s absolutely mind-boggling how lucky they got with him. Winnipeg’s not asleep at the wheel.”


CP Jacob Trouba, center, a defenseman, stands with officials from the Winnipeg Jets after being chosen ninth overall in the first round of the NHL hockey draft on Friday, June 22, 2012, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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