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Jets fill cupboard in Montreal

Add two defencemen, two forwards and a goalie on second day of draft

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MONTREAL — Danil Zhilkin left his home in Moscow at the age of nine to come to Canada for what was supposed to be a short trip. He and his family never returned. A minor hockey team in the Toronto area loved what they saw during a tryout and convinced them to make the Great White North a permanent stop.

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MONTREAL — Danil Zhilkin left his home in Moscow at the age of nine to come to Canada for what was supposed to be a short trip. He and his family never returned. A minor hockey team in the Toronto area loved what they saw during a tryout and convinced them to make the Great White North a permanent stop.

Now, nearly a decade later, Zhilkin has a new hockey home with the Winnipeg Jets. The club selected the 18-year-old forward in the third round on Friday, 77th overall.

“At that age, I don’t really remember much,” Zhilkin, who is now a Canadian citizen and prefers to go by Danny, told the Free Press moments after hearing his name called inside the Bell Centre. “It was hard to speak English at first. I think it took me two or three years probably to learn because I knew zero English when I came over here. Incredible experience and obviously this is a step in the right direction.”

RYAN REMIORZ / THE CANADIAN PRESS The Jets took American forward Rutger McGroarty 14th overall on Thursday.

Zhilkin, who trains in the off-season with former NHLer Gary Roberts and is 6-1, 189 pounds, has spent the past two years in the Ontario Hockey League, posting 23 goals and 32 assists in 66 games with the Guelph Storm last season.

“Hard work and determination and staying with the grind and battling adversity. If you work hard, everything will take care of itself,” Zhilkin said of his keys to success so far. He played for Canada at the World Under 18s, helping them to win gold against Russia.

Winnipeg had seven picks in the 2022 NHL draft, including two in Thursday’s opening round. They took American forward Rutger McGroarty 14th overall and Finnish forward Brad Lambert 30th.

The organization turned to the blue line on Friday morning, taking Swedish defenceman Elias Salomonsson with the 55th-overall pick. Salomonsson, who turns 18 at the end of August, is 6-1, 183 pounds and shoots right. He had 11 goals and 11 assists in 35 games with his Swedish junior league team last year. He also won gold with the national under 18 team

“I had a good meeting with them at the Combine, felt good there. I had a good feeling about Winnipeg when they had the pick there. So glad they took me,” he said.

Salomonsson is signed for the next two years in the top Finnish men’s league.

Winnipeg used its fourth-round pick to bolster the blue-line depth as well, picking American defenceman Garrett Brown. The 18-year-old from California, who is 6-2 and 178 pounds, was selected 99th overall. He’s a right shot who spent the past two years playing with Sioux City of the USHL. He had four goals and 12 assists in 62 games last year. He’s headed to the University of Denver this fall to play college hockey and is the son of former NHLer Curtis Brown.

The Jets went back to international waters for the sixth-round pick, taking Swedish winger Fabian Wagner 175th overall. The 18-year-old is 6-0, 181 pounds and had 38 points in 43 games with Linköping HC J20 last year.

The final selection in the seventh-round, 207th-overall, was goaltender Domenic DiVincentiis. The 18-year-old from Ontario had a 14-8-1 record in 27 games with the North Bay Battalion of the OHL. His 2.59 goals-against-average led all rookie netminders in the league.

“I’m speechless right now. It was a roller-coaster of a couple days. It all worked out in the end. I couldn’t be happier being a Winnipeg Jet,” said DiVincentiis. He actually knows McGroarty well, having played together on some youth elite teams (they won tournaments together in Spain and Philadelphia) and also being roommates.

“All the early morning games with spring hockey, the winter, you’re waking up at six in the morning as a 10-year-old kid. Dad and mom are driving you to the rink just having those conversations to have fun out there, enjoy your time. They always brought it up that the draft will come quicker than you know. It happened right now. It’s a dream come true.”

Winnipeg Jets director of amateur scouting Mark Hillier spoke at the conclusion of the draft, offering his take on the various selections.

-On McGroarty:

“Great character kid, He hasn’t wiped the smile off his face, it’s from ear to ear. Everybody says how high his character his, his grit and determination. But also he scored 50 goals in the combined seasons and events this year. Really happy with adding a guy of his grit and character with his combined skill level and goal-scoring ability.”

Jason Franson / THE CANADIAN PRESS files The Jets like the speed their second first-roound pick, Brad Lambert (left), brings to the table and have high expectations for his ongoing development.

“A better skater with the puck on his stick, and he’s a determined kid with a great work ethic. He’s going to put in the work to get better. He had the plan laid out when we talked to him at the combine. At Christmas time when they had a break he went to Toronto and worked on it with Barb Underhill. He’s got the plan for the rest of the summer. Nothing to my eye that’s technically wrong with his stride. He’s just got to get a little quicker. I’m confident that he will.”

-On Lambert:

“I think he’s the best skater with the best speed, He didn’t have a good year, that’s no secret. It wasn’t a good development year in the league over there. So we’re just looking forward to him next year. We told the kid not to worry about what happened last year, we believe in you, we took you. You’re going to start here and hopefully he has a great development year coming up.”

-On Salomonsson:

“I think he’s a really good skater. I’d call him almost an elite skater, a puck moving defenceman. He plays with an edge and some sandpaper to him. Hard hitter, doesn’t have a high end on the skill but decent stats. He’s got a good shot. I think he’s going to be a guy that takes care of his own end first, moves the puck and plays hard.”

-On Zhilkin:

“He’s a big, strong kid. He’s a good skater, has some upside on the skill side and good speed at the centre ice position.”

-On Brown:

“An interesting kid. A really good skating defenceman. A puck mover. We think he’s just starting to scratch the surface. It took him a while to establish himself in the USHL this year. He got better and better as the season went on. He won a championship. I think he had a big growth camp a few years back. He went to Spokane’s camp (in the WHL), I believe and he was a 5-9, smaller defenceman. I know he told us that now he’s just under 6-3. Won a championship there in Sioux City and he’s going to go back to Sioux City next year and then on to Denver, so we like the development path there.

-On Wagner:

“He’s a centreman. He’s probably played some wing but we see him as a centreman. A left-shot centre, 5-11. Really smart, I would say hockey sense is his best asset. A two-way guy. Really responsible defensively but can chip in offensively. There’s good value here.”

-On DiVincentiis

“He got better and better as the season went on, he got playoff games off the older goaltender and it looks like he might be the No. 1 there next year. Our goalie coach Drew McIntyre put in a lot of work with him and he really likes the player. We had him ranked quite a bit higher and we’re happy we got him here in the seventh round. We like there’s really good upside there.”

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

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.

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Updated on Friday, July 8, 2022 6:18 PM CDT: Updates earlier webbie to final version.

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