The Winnipeg Jets hope it was a case of quality, rather than quantity, when it comes to the 2020 NHL draft. And after making a significant splash with their first pick on Tuesday night, the club waded back into familiar foreign waters on Wednesday to add to their prospect pool.
Daniel Torgersson, an 18-year-old left-winger from Sweden, was selected in the second round, 40th overall, on Wednesday. That was followed by countryman Anton Johannesson, an 18-year-old offensive defenceman, with the 133rd selection in the fifth round.
The Jets wrapped up the day by selecting Tyrel Bauer in the sixth round, 164th overall. The 18-year-old blue-liner from Alberta served as an alternate captain of the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League last season.
All three players are longer-term projects who will likely take several years to develop and potentially be NHL ready. The Jets' main prize from this year's annual teenage hockey talent show was Cole Perfetti, picked 10th in the opening round.
The 18-year-old from Whitby, Ont., looks to be the future franchise centre with the Jets along with current No. 1 Mark Scheifele. Perfetti had 37 goals and 74 assists in 61 games last season with the Saginaw Spirit, good for second in Ontario Hockey League scoring, and could make a push for a roster spot with the Jets as early as this coming season, expected to begin in January.
"We got different types of players with every pick. Still excited about the turn of events (Tuesday), and (Wednesday's) picks added different dimensions to the organization at different positions as well," Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said following completion of the draft, which was held virtually owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Torgersson has intriguing size and speed at six-foot-three and 199 pounds, and is currently playing with Frölunda HC of the Swedish Hockey League. He excelled last year in Sweden’s top junior league with 26 goals and 18 assists in 39 games, paving the way to move up to the top men's league in the country, which just began its season. Scouting reports describe him as a power forward with high-end speed who competes hard and frequently wins puck battles.
"He’s kind of a middle-six type of forward, I think that’s where we project him. He skates well, good character, good hockey sense, strong along the boards, can protect pucks well. He’s someone that is going to continue to develop and grow into his body. But he’s a good skater, so that's something that should translate well over the course of time," said Cheveldayoff.
Torgersson was having dinner with his family and agent in Sweden when he learned via television the Jets had drafted him. He spoke a few hours later on a Zoom call with media.
"It's been a really great day. It was a really nice feeling. Really from the first meeting with them I felt it was a great organization. It just feels good," said Torgersson, who was asked if there are any NHL players he tries to emulate.
"No, not really. I try to be myself and do the stuff that I’m good at it. I’m not trying to compare myself to anyone else," he said. "I would say I’m a guy who likes to play with high speed, attack the goal, attack the net. I’m a big guy and to use my body I will get better on the ice and it will help me very much."
Johannesson will suit up this season for HV71 of the SHL, but is still recovering from an injury. At just five-foot-nine and 154 pounds, he wont scare anyone physically, but he's described as a mobile, puck-moving blue-liner who shoots from the left side.
"He’s a real good combination of skill and hockey sense and skating. The upside there, we think, is high. He did slide, so to speak, because of the injury. I had a conversation with him here and it looks like he’s on the mend and everything is okay and we’re hopeful that he is back playing in December. Someone that, with the hockey sense and the skating and the skill package, we think there’s a lot of room for growth," said Cheveldayoff.
Bauer is a much bigger body, at six-foot-three and 205-pounds. The right-shot defenceman had three goals and 14 assists in 60 WHL games last season, which suggests he's more of a defensive, stay-at-home type of defender.
"He’s more on the physical side of the spectrum. Big body, he competes. A good first pass type of guy. Real strong character, high leadership qualities and someone that brings a little sandpaper to the mix as well," said Cheveldayoff.
The Jets have often turned to Europe in recent years when it comes to the draft. Fellow Swedes Simon Lundmark (2019), David Gustafsson (2018) and Arvid Holm (2017) are currently in the system, while defenceman Carl Dahlstrom was obtained on waivers last year.
Finland has also been a hot spot, with Ville Heinola (2019), Henri Nikkanen (2019), Joona Luoto (free agent signing in 2019), Kristian Vesalainen (2017), Santeri Virtanen (2017), Patrik Laine (2016) and Sami Niku (2015) with the organization.
"I think a lot of the programs have taken a grassroots approach in terms of skill development. Starting at a young age I think a lot of them went through a renaissance several years back. It’s served them well," said Cheveldayoff.
"The way the game is played is a skating game, a thinking game, and obviously the skills have to be there as well. Its not to take anything away from the North American game as well, you look at the draft this year, the top end of it was heavily slanted towards Canada, which is great to see."
Cheveldayoff said the Jets explored the possibility of trying to add more draft picks — they previously traded away their third, fourth and seventh-round selections — but couldn't find any takers.
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"After looking at our list we did make some calls to see if there was some teams potentially looking to move down and we could maybe look to move up, we had some players there that were still pretty strong on our board. But the teams that we were I guess targeting decided to pick. So we stayed where we were at," said Cheveldayoff.
"We had some different conversations throughout the draft but with the picks that we had, and we felt strongly with where they were, we’re comfortable with how things unfolded."
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.