VANCOUVER — A Swedish defenceman. A Finnish forward. A centre with dual Canadian and British citizenship. And an American goalie.
The Winnipeg Jets cast a wide, international net on Saturday in their annual summer talent search, adding four more prospects to the pipeline as the 2019 NHL draft wrapped up in Vancouver.
"It’s kind of how the draft lays out in front of us. We’re not really checking passports, we’re not sitting there saying we need to draft out of here or out of there. It’s about having an open mind," general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said on the floor of Rogers Arena.
While several teams swung a number of trades to dump salary and move up or down in the draft, Cheveldayoff stood pat. The Jets were active earlier in the week when they shipped Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers for Neal Pionk and the 20th-overall pick, which they used Friday night to select Finnish blue-liner Ville Heinola.
Rounds two through seven were held Saturday, with the Jets having three picks of their own and another obtained from Philadelphia earlier this month in exchange for the rights to pending free agent Kevin Hayes, who the Flyers then signed to a long-term extension.
In the second round, the Jets used the 51st pick to select defenceman Simon Lundmark. The 18-year-old from Stockholm has good size at 6-2, 201 pounds and played 29 games in the top Swedish men’s hockey league last season, registering three assists. He also had 17 points in 25 games with the U20 team before moving up.
"Two-way defenceman. Big size and great mobility. Also very good hockey sense. And a great passing game," Lundmark said when asked to describe his game. He had a strong idea the Jets were interested in him, meeting three times during the draft combine.
"It’s a great city. Great fans and they’ve got some good players as well," he said. "It felt amazing (to get picked). A dream come true."
Cheveldayoff said Lundmark was a player they had much higher on their own internal list and were happy he was still available at the time of their pick.
"You have to make different decisions at different points in time about whether you want to try to move up or risk that pick not being there. We were very happy he was sitting there. He’s a good size defenceman, can skate and move the puck well, playing in a men’s league over there, he’s going to fight for his ice time. With the development path, he should be in great shape there," Cheveldayoff said.
In the fourth round, 113th-overall, the Jets selected a player once thought of as a potential first-rounder, only to have his stock fall due to injury. Henri Nikkanen, 18, was limited to just 11 games last year due to a tailbone ailment that is now in the rear-view mirror.
A native of Nikkeli, Finland, he is 6-4 and 200 pounds and projects as a potential power forward.
"We’re hoping that’s an example of an undervalued type of pick where he falls because of injury and if you happen to have had viewings on him at the right time and get a good feel for it, that you take that opportunity," Cheveldayoff said.
Perhaps the most intriguing pick of the day came in the fifth round, 134th-overall, in the pick the Jets got from the Flyers. Harrison Blaisdell, 18, was born in England, raised in Regina, played last season in the British Columbia Junior Hockey League and is headed to Grand Forks this fall to play for the University of North Dakota.
Blaisdell — whose father, Mike, was drafted 11th-overall by the Detroit Red Wings in 1980 and played 343 NHL games before ending his career in the United Kingdom — had 33 goals and 25 assists in 51 regular-season games with the Chilliwack Chiefs.
He also won a gold medal for Canada West at the 2018 World Junior A Challenge tournament.
"I’m super grateful. Winnipeg is a great spot, close to my home and close to North Dakota. It’s going to be awesome. I’m super excited," said Blaisdell, who oozes personality as he speaks and is also quite a character on the ice.
"The style that I play, I play with a bit of flash and a little bit of grit, so I think I kind of give the people what they want, I guess," he said with a chuckle.
Blaisdell, at 5-11 and 181 pounds, didn’t hesitate when asked which NHL player he tries to model his game after.
"For me, I try to play almost like a Brad Marchand style. Some of the stuff he does, I don’t necessarily agree with, but I respect him as a player. He’s an unbelievable player. He plays that gritty style and has the flash with it. That’s always been a guy that I’ve really looked up to," he said,
And he admits there were times he would cross the line on the ice, as Marchand has been known to do.
"It was something that, earlier in my life, I didn’t really know how to control. I was a little over the edge sometimes, so I’ve gotten better with it as the years have gone on," he said.
The Jets will be able to monitor Blaisdell closely as he plays next season just a couple hours down the highway.
"He’s on a real good development path. He’s got skill, plays a real compete game, plays wing and can play centre so there’s a lot of versatility in his game," Cheveldayoff said. "There’s no question. The energy, the character, the compete, the passion."
Blaisdell said coming from a hockey family, with a father who knows what it takes to get to the top, has helped the cause.
But the real work is still ahead.
"I chose UND because, for me, I went down there and saw the facilities and it’s an unbelievable place. It gives me an opportunity where I have a few more years to develop into the player I want to be and transition into pro really easily," he said.
With the club’s final pick of the day, the Jets selected goaltender Logan Neaton 144th overall.
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The 20-year-old from Michigan spent last year with the Prince George Spruce Kings, leading them to the BCHL title and a Doyle Cup victory over the Alberta champion Brooks Bandits. He had an incredible 48-9-4 record over the regular-season and playoffs.
The 6-3, 190-pound Neaton — whose father, Patrick, played nine NHL games with Pittsburgh — is headed to UMass-Lowell next fall. That’s the same NCAA school where Connor Hellebuyck got his game ready for the NHL.
"He’s a big goalie, he’s still growing into his body, the weight needs to catch up and grow some strength. Obviously we feel very, very comfortable with the developmental path he’s on there and the job they’ve done in that organization," Cheveldayoff said.
All five draft picks are expected to be in Winnipeg for development camp, which gets underway at Bell MTS Iceplex next Tuesday with on-ice sessions that are open to the public.
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.