April 25, 2019

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Jets' 2015 draft shaping up to be a vintage year

Kyle Connor has scored 22 goals this year including two in Boston Tuesday before adding another during a shootout. (Charles Krupa / The Associated Press files)</p>

Kyle Connor has scored 22 goals this year including two in Boston Tuesday before adding another during a shootout. (Charles Krupa / The Associated Press files)

The 2015 NHL draft is the gift that keeps on giving for the Winnipeg Jets.

And the harvest from that productive summer was on full display in Thursday night's 4-3 win over Columbus, when three different players selected by the club managed to beat Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.

Kyle Connor (17th overall) fired his 22nd — the game-winner with 1:14 to play — while Jack Roslovic (25th overall) had his fourth and Mason Appleton (168th overall) his third earlier in the game. That trio has now combined for eight goals in the past five games for the Jets, with Connor having four and Roslovic and Appleton each a pair.

“I didn’t even think about that but it’s pretty impressive for all of the scouts. It just goes to show the job that they’re doing. It’s great when you’re getting the payoff with the guys that you were drafted with," Appleton said Friday after his team held meetings and video review at Bell MTS Place in advance of Saturday's game against the Anaheim Ducks.

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The 2015 NHL draft is the gift that keeps on giving for the Winnipeg Jets.

And the harvest from that productive summer was on full display in Thursday night's 4-3 win over Columbus, when three different players selected by the club managed to beat Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.

Kyle Connor (17th overall) fired his 22nd — the game-winner with 1:14 to play — while Jack Roslovic (25th overall) had his fourth and Mason Appleton (168th overall) his third earlier in the game. That trio has now combined for eight goals in the past five games for the Jets, with Connor having four and Roslovic and Appleton each a pair.

"I didn’t even think about that but it’s pretty impressive for all of the scouts. It just goes to show the job that they’re doing. It’s great when you’re getting the payoff with the guys that you were drafted with," Appleton said Friday after his team held meetings and video review at Bell MTS Place in advance of Saturday's game against the Anaheim Ducks.

"The guys that you’re drafted with, you get to know before you become a part of the organization — or are playing with the Moose or the Jets. You get to know those guys through college hockey, too, and through all of the development camps. It’s nice for the relationships when you come in — and then when you are on the same teams here it helps, for sure."

Mason Appleton (right) celebrates his goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets Thursday. He has contributed three goals so far this season. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)</p>

Mason Appleton (right) celebrates his goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets Thursday. He has contributed three goals so far this season. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

The bounty doesn't stop with those three players. Defenceman Sami Niku (198th overall) is also up with the big club right now, while Jansen Harkins (47th overall) and Michael Spacek (108th overall) are both having strong seasons on the farm with the Manitoba Moose.

The Jets also picked Erik Foley that year with the 78th overall pick, then flipped him last season as part of the trade deadline package that brought Paul Stastny to town.

"The amateur scouts that we have here have done just a miraculous job clearly identifying the higher draft picks and being right on that. There’s lots of evidence that says that’s not as easy to do as you would think. But getting guys out of the middle part of the draft or just after that number, there is a number there, that after they’re pretty much all the same pick," coach Paul Maurice said Friday.

"And we need them over a year’s time to make a pretty strong improvement if we feel we have a chance to contend this year. If we feel we’re a top 10 team those guys have to become older than they are. We’re happy with where those young guys are developing. There’s lots of room to grow. We don’t know what the ceiling for Kyle is but he’s a good operator right now. Those other players that have scored, we think there’s a lot of area they can grow into."

The Jets will look to keep rolling as they welcome a struggling Ducks team to town that has just two wins in the past 16 games (2-10-4) Winnipeg has won two straight — both involving erasing third-period deficits — to sit on top of the Central Division at 33-16-2.

Dustin Byfuglien and Nikolaj Ehlers skated on their own Friday morning as they near returns from injury. Neither will play Saturday, but Byfuglien could be an option when the Jets close out the three-game homestand Tuesday against San Jose.

Defenceman Sami Niku (83) was selected 198th overall in 2015. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

Defenceman Sami Niku (83) was selected 198th overall in 2015. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Maurice didn't name a starting goaltender, saying he was still deciding between Connor Hellebuyck (who has played two straight games, both wins) and Laurent Brossoit.

The Jets dodged another potential injury bullet late in Thursday's game as winger Brandon Tanev took a slap shot near the back of his head from Columbus defenceman Zach Werenski. The play was immediately whistled down as Tanev crumpled to the ice, which had Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella irate given his team was enjoying a power play at the time with the score tied.

"It caught me a little high, but that’s the price you’ve got to pay, especially in the depths of the game, when we needed a (penalty) kill. All of the guys on the ice are looking to block shots and maybe it’s easier for our goaltender when he is making big saves for us all night. Any opportunity you can to put your body in front of a puck, it’s part of the job, especially on the penalty kill," Tanev said Friday.

"It’s more of a quick habit. If the ref sees a player go down with a blocked shot, it’s a habit he blows the whistle. I’m sure other teams would appreciate that same gesture if it were to happen to them."

Maurice had nothing but praise for the energy winger Friday, who has chipped in plenty of offence this year with a career-high 11 goals already.

"(Traditionally) the guy that used to fill that role couldn’t skate. He was tough, grinding (type), block shots, fight, wouldn’t contribute a whole lot offensively but rarely did you have a guy like that who could skate like Brandon. So he’s kind of the new-age grinder. Blocks every shot and is in on the forecheck, and he’s almost always bleeding on the bench, truly," said Maurice.

"There’s something bleeding on him every time he comes back. But his strength is his ability to do it every night. Whatever he gets offensively in so many ways is just a bonus. And he’s capable of it. But he’s unique in that for sure."

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

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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