Winnipeg Jets have had plenty of hits and some inevitable misses in nine seasons of drafting and developing young players
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/03/2020 (978 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Draft and develop. It’s a mantra you’ve heard for years with the Winnipeg Jets — and it’s more than just cheap talk. It truly is the lifeblood of the organization, which has been built from the ground up since re-locating from Atlanta to start the 2011-12 season.
There have been nine drafts during that time, in which general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his staff have made a total of 63 selections. No team is perfect, but the Jets have had plenty of hits to go with the inevitable misses that come with trying to project what teenaged hockey players might become down the road.
Consider this: At the time the NHL season came to a screeching halt just over two weeks ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe, 13 of those picks were on the active roster.
Forwards Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor, Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp, Jack Roslovic, Mason Appleton and Jansen Harkins; defencemen Josh Morrissey, Tucker Poolman and Sami Niku (injured); and goaltender and Vezina Trophy favourite Connor Hellebuyck.
That’s an impressive core that should help keep the Jets competitive for years to come.
Looking at the current roster, that homegrown talent has been surrounded by relocated Thrashers in Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little; trade acquisitions Neal Pionk, Dylan DeMelo and Cody Eakin; free agent signings Mathieu Perreault, Dmitry Kulikov, Nathan Beaulieu, Anthony Bitetto, Gabriel Bourque, Mark Letestu, Logan Shaw, Joona Luoto, Andrei Chibisov and Laurent Brossoit; and waiver wire pickups Nick Shore, Luca Sbisa and Carl Dahlstrom.
As for the 50 draft picks not currently on the big-league roster, five are out of pro hockey while 16 have moved on to other organizations at various levels, both in North America and Europe. Most of those were simply not signed or later re-signed by the club. A few, like Jacob Trouba, were traded.
The other 29 players remain in the organization, at various stages of their development. Some are already in the AHL, including a handful of players who already have some NHL games on their resumes. Others are still in junior or college or playing in Europe.
They represent the future, with the hope that the next elite centre such as Scheifele, next high-scoring winger like Laine, Connor or Ehlers, next shutdown forward like Lowry or Copp, next top-pairing defenceman like Morrissey and next No. 1 goaltender like Hellebuyck will eventually emerge and keep the franchise pointed in the right direction.
With hockey on indefinite pause right now, it seems like a good time to dip our collective toes in the prospect pool to see just how deep it is. Who’s on the cusp of becoming a regular? Who might be a year or two away? Who might be a year or two away from being a year or two away? And who may never make the cut?
Here, in order of when they were drafted, are snapshots of all 29, including their stats this season.
G Eric Comrie, 24
2013 2nd round (59th)
Manitoba Moose/Tucson Roadrunners AHL: 20GP 10-9-0, 2.56 GAA, .915 SV%
Detroit Red Wings NHL: 3GP 0-2-0, 4.28 GAA. .864 SV%
It’s been quite a year for Comrie, who was put on waivers following training camp, claimed by Arizona, sent to their AHL farm team for conditioning, traded to injury-ravaged Detroit, then eventually re-claimed by the Jets and sent to the Manitoba Moose. Depending on what the Jets do with pending UFA Brossoit in the off-season, competing for the backup role behind Hellebuyck could be in the cards next season.
F J.C. Lipon, 26
2013 3rd round (91st)
Manitoba Moose AHL: 61GP 13G 18A 31PTS
Lipon has established himself as a solid leader who can provide some offence in the minors. He wears an A for the Moose and is good mentor for younger players. He has nine career NHL games under his belt, but none since 2015-16. A pending UFA this summer.
D Nelson Nogier, 23
2014 4th round (101st)
Manitoba Moose AHL: 58GP 1G 8A 9PTS
On the NHL bubble, often getting the call to the big club as extra insurance when the injury bug bites. He has 11 career NHL games so far, but should get some more opportunities in the future. Lost nearly the entire 2017-18 season to injury, so still not a lot of pro mileage on him so far. Nothing flashy. An RFA this summer.
F C.J. Suess, 26
2014 5th round (129th)
Winnipeg Jets NHL: 1GP 0G 0A 0PTS
Manitoba Moose AHL: 57GP 14G 13A 27PTS
Coming along nicely in his second full pro season. The college hockey grad has proven to be a capable top-nine forward at the AHL level and made his NHL debut earlier this year. He’s versatile, able to play centre or the wing, and gets on the body. Some more looks with the Jets are likely in his future. An RFA this summer.
F Pavel Kraskovsky, 23
2014 6th round (164th)
Yaroslavl Lokomotiv KHL: 44GP 2G 5A 7PTS
Has played his entire pro career, more than 230 games and counting, in the KHL. And that’s most likely where he stays. The Jets used a late pick to take a bit of a gamble on the big-bodied Russian (6’4, 194 pounds). Winnipeg still owns his NHL rights but never signed him to an entry-level contract, nor has he come to any development camps. Out of sight, out of mind.
F Michael Spacek, 22
2015 4th round (108th)
Manitoba Moose AHL: 45GP 9G 11A 20PTS
A strange year for Spacek, who has struggled offensively with the Moose and seemingly fallen out of favour with the organization, who actually loaned him out to the Ontario Reign (Los Angeles AHL club) earlier this month for reasons not entirely clear. He was briefly called up by the Jets earlier this year but didn’t make his NHL debut.
D Logan Stanley, 21
2016 1st round (18th)
Manitoba Moose AHL: 44GP 3G 7A 10PTS
Many are ready to declare the 6’7 blue-liner a first-round bust. While becoming an NHL regular may be a pipe dream, he’s made some strides at the AHL level in terms of his skating and positioning in just his second pro season, which has been hampered by injury. Remains a long-term project.
D Luke Green, 22
2016 3rd round (79th)
Manitoba Moose AHL: 13GP 1G 0A 1PTS
Just can’t stay healthy. Only 11 AHL games last year, and just 13 this year. Not the way anyone wants to start their pro career. In that sense, very difficult to project what he could be.
D Jacob Cederholm, 22
2016 4th round (97th)
Jacksonville Icemen ECHL: 45GP 0G 7A 7PTS
After splitting an injury-plagued first pro season between the Moose and Icemen, he’s spent the entirety of his second season with the ECHL club. Still has time on his side, but needs to take a step to the next level and push for regular AHL work next season.
G Mikhail Berdin, 22
2016 6th round (157th)
Manitoba Moose AHL: 42GP 20-21-1, 2.89 GAA, .910 SV%
Easily the most charismatic prospect in the organization, the “Birdman” was leaned on heavily early in the year before Comrie rejoined the Moose and more than held his own. His unorthodox style and big personality are fun to watch. Much more seasoning at this level required, but don’t count out a potential NHL future.
F Kristian Vesalainen, 20
2017 1st round (24th)
Manitoba Moose AHL: 60GP 12G 18A 30PTS
Many thought he’d already be an NHL regular, but an unimpressive Jets training camp meant more time in the minors. He’d been coming on offensively of late with the Moose, and remains a work in progress with plenty of potential.
D Dylan Samberg, 21
2017 2nd round (43rd)
University of Minnesota Duluth NCAA Div 1: 28GP 1G 20A 21PTS
Denied a shot at a third straight college championship due to the cancellation of the NCAA playoffs. Is clearly ready to turn pro, expected to sign his entry-level deal with the Jets in the coming months. A potential cornerstone blue-liner for years to come.
D Johnathan Kovacevic, 22
2017 3rd round (74th)
Manitoba Moose AHL: 45GP 4G 8A 12PTS
Enjoying a strong first pro season with the Moose, which includes being an impressive plus-10 on a losing team. The 6’5, 219-pounder has an intriguing mix of size and skill.
F Santeri Virtanen, 20
2017 4th round (105th)
SaiPa Lappeenranta SM-liiga: 35GP 6G 4A 10PTS
Could be the next Finnish skater to join the organization as early as next season. Not putting up big offensive numbers in his country’s top pro league. Had three points in seven games at the World Juniors.
D Leon Gawanke, 20
2017 5th round (136th)
Manitoba Moose AHL: 48GP 4G 22A 26PTS
The German defender has opened plenty of eyes with his play for the Moose this season, including strong point production. Definitely trending in the right direction.
G Arvid Holm, 21
2017 6th round (167th)
Farjestads BK Karlstad SweHL: 31GP 20-10-0 2.27 GAA .914 SV%
His numbers in Sweden this season are impressive. Will be interesting to see what comes next as one of of several netminders in the organizational pipeline.
F Skyler McKenzie, 22
2017 7th round (198th)
Manitoba Moose AHL: 58GP 9G 14A 23PTS
Feisty, undersized forward has chipped in offensively with the Moose, surpassing the 16 points (8G, 8A) from his rookie season last year. Had a strong training camp with the Jets in the fall of 2018, but was injured prior to the start of this season.
D Croix Evingson, 22
2017 7th round (211th)
Niagara University NCAA Div 1: 0GP 0G 0A 0PTS
Moved from UMass-Lowell to Niagara University last fall but was ruled ineligible to play with the Purple Eagles for his junior season due to strict collegiate transfer rules, resulting in a lost year.
F David Gustafsson, 19
2018 2nd round (60th)
Winnipeg Jets NHL: 22GP 1G 0A 1PTS
Manitoba Moose AHL: 13GP 2G 5A 7PTS
One of the surprises of the season, the teen centre made the Jets out of camp and even scored his first NHL goal. After being loaned to Sweden for the World Juniors, was re-assigned to the Moose and skating in a top-six role.
F Nathan Smith, 21
2018 3rd round (91st)
Minnesota State U – Mankato NCAA Div 1: 35GP 9G 18A 27PTS
The Florida product has put up impressive numbers in his first season of college and is expected to continue down that path for at least another year.
D Declan Chisholm, 20
2018 5th round (150th)
Peterborough Petes OHL: 59GP 13G 56A 69PTS
Monster final junior season for the left-shot defenceman, who will make the jump to pro this fall.
D Giovanni Vallati, 20
2018 5th round (153rd)
Oshawa Generals OHL: 61GP 1G 26A 27PTS
His offensive production has taken a dip this year on a strong, deep Oshawa squad (he had 48 points in 68 games last year). Like Chisholm, had his season end abruptly with cancellation of the playoffs and Memorial Cup.
G Jared Moe, 20
2018 6th round (184th)
University of Minnesota NCAA Div 1: 16GP 7-5-1, 2.46 GAA, .915 SV%
Solid freshman season with the Gophers after moving over from the USHL. He’ll look to take on an even bigger role next year.
F Austin Wong, 19
2018 7th round (215th)
Harvard University NCAA Div 1: 21GP 4G 2A 6PTS
Making the big adjustment to college hockey after three years in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, where he put up 136 points in 155 games, along with a whopping 549 penalty minutes. High-energy player described as a wrecking ball on skates.
D Ville Heinola, 19
2019 1st round (20th)
Winnipeg Jets NHL: 8GP 1G 4A 5PTS
Manitoba Moose AHL: 3GP 0G 1A 1PTS
Lukko Rauma SM-liiga: 29GP 0G 7A 7PTS
Quite an eventful year for the slick, smooth-skating teen. Surprisingly made the Jets out of camp and scored his first NHL goal, then was briefly assigned to the Moose before a mutual decision to go back to Finland, which included representing the country in the World Juniors. Will press for full-time NHL work next year.
D Simon Lundmark, 19
2019 2nd round (51st)
Linkopings HC SweHL: 40GP 0G 3A 3PTS
Not seen as having a lot of offensive upside, but rather a more defensive blue-liner with puck-moving ability in Sweden’s top league. Will he make the jump to North America next year?
F Henri Nikkanen, 18
2019 4th round (113th)
Jukurit Mikkeli SM-liiga: 27GP 0G 3A 3PTS
The youngest Jets prospect, who turns 19 next month. He was limited to just 11 games last year due to injury, which led to falling a bit in the draft. Finding his way against bigger, older skaters in the top Finnish men’s league.
F Harrison Blaisdell, 19
2019 5th round (134th)
University of North Dakota NCAA Div 1: 32GP 2G 10A 12PTS
First taste of college hockey after two years in the British Columbia Junior Hockey league. Depth player on a deep Fighting Hawks squad ranked No. 2 in the nation at the time their season came to a sudden end.
G Logan Neaton, 20
2019 5th round (144th)
UMass-Lowell NCAA Div 1: 3GP 0-2-0, 3.85 GAA, .869 SV%
Not a lot of playing time in his first year with the River Hawks after coming over from the BCJHL, where he put up outstanding numbers. Lots in common with Hellebuyck: A Michigan native now playing for the same school as the Jets No. 1 netminder.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.