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This article was published 25/6/2019 (615 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Logan Neaton is following a similar path to one treaded by the Winnipeg Jets’ top goalie Connor Hellebuyck, although he contends it’s not by design.
The newest member of the team’s netminding fraternity is proud to call the state of Michigan home, just like Hellebuyck. He had his name called in the fifth round of the NHL draft this past weekend, just like the former Vezina Trophy candidate. He’ll suit up this fall for the University of Massachusetts (Lowell) River Hawks, just like the main guardian of the Jets crease.
The two even train together during the off-season. And, like Hellebuyck, Neaton’s got the goods that just can’t be taught — he’s just shy of 6-4, 195 pounds.
One of four goalies at Winnipeg’s annual development camp, Neaton says he holds Hellebuyck in high regard, but the resemblance of their development paths is more coincidence than anything else.
"It wasn’t something where I was necessarily trying to follow in his footsteps. (We are) very different goalies, very different styles," he said Tuesday from the Jets’ locker room at Bell MTS Iceplex.
"Obviously (Hellebuyck) has had so much success and grown so much as a goalie since a lot of you probably saw him in his first development camp in Winnipeg. He’s a phenomenal goalie, but I wouldn’t say we necessarily play similar. But when there’s a goalie of that calibre out there, you want to kind emulate what he does and take away things from his game to make yourself better."
Neaton, 20, slipped through two previous drafts without being plucked, but a decision to head to the West Coast and play big minutes with the Prince George Spruce Kings of the B.C. junior league paid dividends. He registered 32 wins in 47 starts with a 1.92 goals-against average and .914 save percentage, and helped guide the Spruce Kings all the way to the national junior A championship final in late May.
That thrust the son of former minor-league defenceman Patrick Neaton on the radar screen of NHL scouts, although he didn’t wing it back to B.C for draft day Saturday in Vancouver.
"It’s actually a pretty good story. I was actually on family vacation. I talked to my adviser about sticking around, in case anything happened to pan out at the draft, and he said, ‘No, if you prepare for it, it’s less likely to happen,’" he said. "Our family friends have a little cabin in Kentucky and we go out there every summer and spent a little bit of time there.
"I was on the dock, just relaxing with my family. Obviously, it’s the best feeling in the world to get drafted, especially to an organization like Winnipeg. It’s a dream come true."
Neaton said it’s been a boon to his development to work closely with Hellebuyck.
"Honestly, just how he carries himself, how to be a pro, what time he gets to the rink, how he prepares, how he thinks the game. A lot of people underestimate his efficiency, his patience and how he reads the game. For any goalie, if you can do those three things you’re going to be successful," he said. "He’s an extremely intelligent goalie, just how he reads plays, how he watches plays develop. He does a great job of understanding what’s going to happen before it happens."
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Henri Nikkanen also skipped the draft in Vancouver, but not because he was on vacation. In fact, the 18-year-old Finn preferred to continue his on- and off-ice training at home rather than sit in the stands and wait to be selected.
The 6-4, 200-pound centre was once pegged as a likely first-round pick, but was limited to just nine games with Jukurit Mikkeli of the top men’s league in Finland because of a nagging lower-body injury.
"It was really frustrating because I had really big expectations for the season, and the injury came slowly. It didn’t come in one game or anything like that. I was away for a long time, but it made me stronger mentally, of course, because of the comeback I’m going to have here," said Nikkanen, who models his game after the Minnesota Wild’s long-serving captain and responsible, two-way centre Mikko Koivu.
"It’s important. I feel like I have improved my both ways of playing during the last seasons. It’s really important to be a good centre that you can play both ways. I’m good at it.
"I’m really happy the Jets picked me and I think I’m going to have a bright future," added Nikkanen, who is under contract for one more season in Mikkeli, which is also his hometown.
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The Jets have 41 players listed on their development camp roster, although several of them didn’t skate Tuesday.
Logan Stanley, a 2016 first-round pick who played 73 game with the Manitoba Moose last year, and fellow blue-liner Johnathan Kovacevic, a third-round pick in 2017 who played three seasons with Merrimack College (Massachusetts) and scored a goal in his only appearance with the Moose, are nursing injuries.
Up front, forward Skyler McKenzie, who played for Manitoba last year, is also injured, while forward C.J. Suess, who had an impressive Jets camp and started strong with the Moose before suffering a season-ending injury in mid-December, is expected to join the group today.
So, too, will 25-year-old Russian forward Andrei Chibisov, who inked a free-agent deal with Winnipeg earlier this month. But forward David Gustafsson, a second-round pick last summer, won’t skate this week.
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).