I've never run an NHL franchise, nor do I suspect the job offers are going to start pouring in any time soon. That's OK. I rather like it here. Still, it doesn't take first-hand experience to realize there's probably no shortage of stress involved in having to keep one wary eye on the present — and the other focused squarely on the future — while operating under the constraints of a salary cap.
That's especially true for a team like the Winnipeg Jets, which relies heavily on the "draft and development" model and will never be mistaken for Las Vegas or Tampa Bay when it comes to the ability to try and fix inevitable cracks in the foundation through free agency. Life in the hockey world can move fast, so you better have plenty of backup plans at the ready just in case. An area of strength can quickly become one of weakness. Depth can be rapidly depleted. And help, if you're not careful, isn't always on the way.
There's been no shortage of reminders about that around these parts in recent years, from Bryan Little's career-ending head injury, Dustin Byfuglien's surprise retirement and once-valuable contributors Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot and Brandon Tanev getting more lucrative free agent deals elsewhere.
To that extent, what just went down at Bell MTS Iceplex over the past five days was of significance for the organization. Based on my up-close viewing, what Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and company saw with their own eyes should have them resting a bit easier at night. The prospect pool, once drained perilously low thanks to a wave of big-league promotions happening in short order, appears to be replenished with some promising young talent.
The fruits of that labour will start to be seen later this week when the 21 wide-eyed players who took part in pro minicamp move on to full Jets training camp. To be clear, the majority won't make the NHL this season. Perhaps never, actually. Most of the Jets jobs are already spoken for, and a good showing against peers in a similar boat is a far cry from doing it against the best in the world on a nightly basis once the puck drops for real.
Still, there's a case to be made that several skaters are on the cusp. Let's dip our toes in the water for a moment and wade through the options that are available.
On the blue-line, a number of players stood out. At the top of that list is Ville Heinola, who makes skating and puck-moving look effortless. He's put on some muscle this summer, and I'm anxious to see the 20-year-old first-rounder get a long look in the six-game preseason slate which kicks off Sunday night at Canada Life Centre. The good news for the Jets is that Heinola is far from the only guy to watch on the back-end, which has gone from bare bones to the backbone of the organization.
Dylan Samberg and Johnathan Kovacevic, who formed an effective pairing for the Manitoba Moose last season, will get their first tastes of NHL preseason action in the next couple weeks. Although they likely start the year on the farm, there's no question they are on Winnipeg's radar. Both have size and smarts and play a defensively responsible game which will only get better with more seasoning. Others to watch include Declan Chisholm, who had a tremendous rookie season with the Moose, and Leon Gawanke, who has spent the past two years with Manitoba and will likely compete for Germany at the Winter Olympics.
As solid as the defence looks up at the NHL level right now with the recent additions of Nate Schmidt and Brenden Dillon to the existing core of Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk, Dylan DeMelo, Logan Stanley and Nathan Beaulieu, Cheveldayoff has now has some other promising pieces waiting in the wings. It's the main reason former American Hockey League defenceman of the year turned perennial healthy scratch Sami Niku was cut loose Monday to go try and find a fresh start somewhere else, with both sides recognizing there's simply no longer any room for him around here
Up front, the Jets have graduated plenty of forwards from the AHL to the NHL in recent years, from Kyle Connor and Jansen Harkins to the recently departed Jack Roslovic and Mason Appleton. But there's another good young crop on the way, based on what was on display at pro minicamp.
Kristian Vesalainen and David Gustafsson are the closest to making the full-time jump to the Jets. I'll be stunned if both aren't on the opening-night roster. First-rounder Cole Perfetti could also enter the conversation this year. We also got a glimpse of some free agent depth signed over the summer to complete for bottom-six roles including former Detroit first-rounder Evgeny Svechnikov, Luke Johnson, Austin Poganski and Mikey Eyssimont, who could be shuttled back-and-forth between both leagues.
No team survives the 82-game regular-season and playoff run with the same 12 forwards and six defencemen, which is a big reason why this five-day session was held. For Jets coach Paul Maurice and his staff, they now have a much better understanding of the options they'll have at their disposal. And for the players, especially those new to the organization, they've gotten their feet wet ahead of getting thrown into the deep end without a life preserver.
Starting Thursday, we really start to see who can swim, and who will sink.
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.