The good, the bad and the ugh…ly Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff's greatest hits, biggest flops and -- sadly -- missed opportunities at the NHL Draft over the past eight years
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/06/2019 (1317 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Just imagine, if you will, what the Winnipeg Jets would have looked like without Connor Hellebuyck, Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Josh Morrissey, Jacob Trouba, Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp in their lineup over the past couple seasons.
Not a pretty picture, is it?
What’s notable about all of the above players is they are homegrown, drafted and developed talents. Not a free-agent signing or trade addition to be found among them. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his staff identified them as potential difference-makers, and they’ve all paid off, forming a key part of the core while also setting the stage for future, sustained success.
Now imagine, if you will, what the current Jets would have looked like with the following players also on the roster: Johnny Gaudreau or Jordan Binnington. Shayne Gostisbehere or Colton Parayko. And all of Brayden Point, Viktor Arvidsson and Alex DeBrincat.
Salary-cap issues aside, that’s a pretty lethal lineup. And what’s notable about all of the above players is the Jets had the opportunity to draft them in recent years, only to take a pass.
Such is life at the annual NHL draft, where trying to predict the future career path of teenagers can often be a fool’s game. You win some and you lose some, and the strongest organizations typically have more gems than duds every June.
The Jets have a mostly solid track record, especially hitting on first-rounders, but also unearthing a few diamonds in the rough in later rounds. All told, they’ve selected 58 players over the past eight drafts since the NHL returned to Winnipeg, and several have made significant contributions.
Cheveldayoff will look to continue that trend at the 2019 NHL draft, which gets underway Friday night in Vancouver and wraps up Saturday. He currently has five picks, including the 20th-overall selection obtained earlier this week in the Trouba trade. They’ll also pick 51st, 113th, 134th and 144th, barring any moves on the draft floor to move up or down, or add picks to the pile.
Such is life at the annual NHL draft, where trying to predict the future career path of teenagers can often be a fool’s game. You win some and you lose some, and the strongest organizations typically have more gems than duds every June
Before we get a glimpse of the future, let’s take a look back at the past.
For the sake of argument, I’ve eliminated the previous two years from consideration, on the grounds that it’s too early to make any kind of snap judgments on the 14 players they selected in 2017 and 2018. But there’s certainly enough history to reflect on the years 2011-16 to see where things went right and where they went wrong with the 44 players picked in those six drafts.
Here are what I consider to be Cheveldayoff’s five biggest draft hits. And his five biggest misses.
1. C MARK SCHEIFELE (2011, 1st round, 7th overall)
The first-ever Jets 2.0 draft pick was clearly a huge success. While many fans at the time shrugged their shoulders and said “who?” Cheveldayoff and his company clearly saw something. Only Gabriel Landeskog (second overall) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (first overall) have put up more points than Scheifele, who has developed into one of the elite centres in the game.
Throw in his contract — eight years, $49-million signed in 2016 — and it’s even more of a steal, particularly when you look at the money now being thrown around, such as the seven-year, $50-million free-agent deal Kevin Hayes signed with Philadelphia earlier this week. For what it’s worth, the 26-year-old Scheifele has 226 points in 221 games over the past three seasons (93G, 133A). The 27-year-old Hayes has 147 points in 223 games over that same span (61G, 86A). That is all quite…something.
Scheifele’s selection is even more impressive when you look at some of the flops that followed later in the first round. Colorado picked defenceman Duncan Siemens at No. 11, Chicago selected centre Mark McNeill at No. 18, Toronto picked winger Tyler Biggs at No. 22 and defenceman Stuart Percy at No. 25, and Minnesota grabbed centre Zach Phillips at No. 28. Those five players have combined to play a grand total of 34 NHL games.
2. G CONNOR HELLEBUYCK (2012, 5th round, 130th overall)
You need a strong goaltender to compete, and the Jets found theirs in a late round of the 2012 draft. I’m guessing the other 29 teams who passed over him multiple times that year would like a do-over. Hellebuyck, of course, has really come into his own the past two seasons, especially in 2017-18, when he was named a Vezina finalist and set a record for single-season wins by a U.S.-born goaltender.
Getting Hellebuyck where they did, and his value to the franchise going forward, was a major victory.
3. D JOSH MORRISSEY (2013, 1st round, 13th overall)
They got their star centre and No. 1 goalie in earlier drafts. And they hit paydirt by finding a star shutdown defenceman in Morrissey. Sure, there might have been some good fortune involved, considering Philadelphia whiffed by taking defenceman Samuel Morin two picks earlier. He’s played just eight NHL games while also battling injuries. But you have to be lucky to be good, right?
The Jets also avoided similar mistakes here, with highly-rated (at the time) players including Kerby Rychel, Emile Poirier and Hunter Shinkaruk all going shortly after Morrissey in that first round. Those three have combined to play 66 NHL games.
4. F ANDREW COPP (2013, 4th round, 104th overall)
Like Hellebuyck, this was another late-round prize. And what a find the two-way winger/centre has turned out to be. Consider this: Outside of 11 players selected in the first round, none of the other 211 skaters drafted that year have played more than Copp’s 293 regular-season games.
Copp seems to only be getting better each passing season, becoming the versatile forward every team needs. As a restricted free agent this summer, he’s set to cash in, too.
5. LW KYLE CONNOR (2015, 1st round, 17th overall)
There’s no doubt 2015 will go down as one of the best drafts the Jets have had. Once again, they got a bit of help when other teams ahead of them left Connor on the board in favour of some questionable picks — Denis Gurianov went 12th to Dallas, Jakub Zboril 13th to Boston, Zachary Senyshyn 15th to Boston. So far, those three have played 24 combined games and scored two goals.
Connor has scored 65 goals over the past two seasons alone, including a Calder Trophy nomination as top rookie in 2017-18, and has given the Jets one of the top offensive lines in the league along with Scheifele and Blake Wheeler.
The Jets also grabbed Jack Roslovic (25th), Mason Appleton (168th) and Sami Niku (198th) that year. Give them all a few more seasons and they may rocket up this list.
1. D BRENNAN SERVILLE (2011, 3rd round, 78th overall)
The first-ever defenceman taken by the Jets 2.0 never developed, his pro career quietly ending in 2016 after a brief stint in the ECHL. Serville never saw any NHL action and played just 15 games in the AHL after his four-year collegiate career at the University of Michigan wrapped up.
What makes this one sting even more is who else was still available at the time the Jets picked Serville at 78. Among some recognizable names are Stanley Cup champion Jordan Binnington, picked by St. Louis in the 88th position and Calgary superstar Johnny Gaudreau, who went at 104.
Outside of the Scheifele pick, and getting Adam Lowry in the third round at 67, this draft didn’t bear much fruit for the Jets. D Zach Yuen (119), F Austen Brassard (149), G Jason Kasdorf (157) and D Aaron Harstad (187) combined to play one NHL game, courtesy of Kasdorf (with the Buffalo Sabres).
2. C LUKAS SUTTER (2012, 2nd round, 39th overall)
The Jets were likely excited at getting a player from the Sutter clan, essentially hockey royalty. But this one quickly fizzled, with the Jets never even tendering Sutter a contract offer. Once again, there was plenty of good talent available when they hit the podium — C Chris Tierney went to San Jose at 55, D Damon Severson to New Jersey at 60, D Shayne Gostisbehere to Philadelphia at 78 and D Colton Parayko to St. Louis at 86.
Sutter played a grand total of 17 AHL games and 40 ECHL games before calling it a career, eventually returning to school and playing one season at the University of Saskatchewan.
3. D JACK GLOVER (2014, 3rd round, 69th overall)
Once again, another miss on a blue-liner at a spot where plenty of blue-chip prospects who panned out were still available. The two biggest names would be Brayden Point, who went to Tampa Bay with the 79th pick, and Viktor Arvidsson, who Nashville grabbed with the 112th selection.
The Jets actually had multiple chances to land Arvidsson, bypassing him again with the 99th pick (Chase De Leo) and 101st pick (Nelson Nogier). With 102 goals so far in 278 regular-season games, he now gets to terrorize Winnipeg on a regular basis with the rival Predators.
The only thing saving 2014 from being a complete bust was getting Nikolaj Ehlers ninth overall. In addition to Glover, De Leo and Nogier, C.J. Suess, Pavel Kraskovsky and Matt Ustaski have combined to play 14 NHL games. And only Nogier and Suess remain in the organization, with the Manitoba Moose.
4. F JANSEN HARKINS (2015, 2nd round, 47th overall)
Sure, maybe we’re just getting a bit picky here, considering how good the 2015 draft was. But it’s noteworthy that Harkins has yet to play an NHL game, while the six players taken immediately after him are all seeing action including Dallas’ Roope Hintz (49th) and Minnesota’s Jordan Greenway (50th). St. Louis also grabbed defenceman Vince Dunn at 56, and wouldn’t the Stanley Cup champ look good on Winnipeg’s blue line right now?
5. D LOGAN STANLEY (2016, 1st round, 18th overall)
Too early to deem this a bust? Perhaps. But Stanley might still be a year or two away from seeing NHL action. And of the 12 players taken after Stanley that summer, seven have already played games at the highest level.
Once again, you have to look at what else was available at the time, and one significant name stands out. That would be emerging superstar Alex DeBrincat, who went 39th overall to the rival Chicago Blackhawks. His 41 goals last season would have led all Winnipeg scorers, by the way. Ouch.
This one is a sore spot for many, as it’s believed the Jets fell in love with Stanley’s size (currently 6-7, 231 pounds) while many clubs, including the Jets, overlooked DeBrincat because of his size (currently 5-7, 165 pounds). But given the shift to a speedy, skilled NHL, that logic seems to be seriously flawed.
There are no do-overs in professional sports, which is part of what makes it so compelling. And it’s always fun to debate what might have been. No doubt all of the armchair general managers out there will get plenty more fodder this weekend in Vancouver.
Let the second-guessing begin.
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.