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This article was published 27/4/2017 (1132 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Kevin Cheveldayoff and the bird dogs who make up his amateur scouting crew have already done the bulk of their work — on this continent and across the pond — to prepare for the 2017 NHL Draft.
The Winnipeg Jets general manager, just back from the world under-18 hockey championship in Slovakia, is still getting some final looks at players whose names the NHL club could call out during the two-day draft in Chicago in late June.
The organization will have a game plan in place, one based on the rather safe assumption the Jets will have the 12th overall selection in the first round June 23. The odds — prior to Saturday’s NHL draft lottery (CBC, 7 p.m.) — indicate Winnipeg has a 76 per cent chance of drafting in that spot, based on its 20th-place finish in the 2016-17 season.
The Jets’ chance of snagging the top pick overall is just 2.7 per cent, while the odds of getting the second or third pick are just 2.9 per cent and 3.2 per cent, respectively. They’ll need a miracle to win the Nolan Patrick sweepstakes, the projected No. 1 pick who was raised right here in the Manitoba capital and wowed NHL organizations with his body of work with the Brandon Wheat Kings.
Cheveldayoff said Thursday the organization relies on the hard work of its scouts — rating literally hundreds of draft-eligible players on their size and strength, skating, skill and hockey sense, and character — and not on a machine randomly spitting out numbered ping-pong balls.
The organization has a solid track record of first-round selections — Mark Scheifele (2011), Jacob Trouba (2012), Josh Morrissey (2013) and Nikolaj Ehlers (2014) — and that needs to continue because, as he points out, there are no mulligans for misfiring at the draft table.
"It’s not one of those things where you get to say, ‘OK, I got my baseball draft coming in a couple of months anyway, so it doesn’t really matter. I’ll be better at that one,’" said Cheveldayoff. "This is real, it’s not fantasy hockey.
"You wish you could corner the market on all the top players available, but you can’t. That’s what makes it exciting."
A year ago, Winnipeg had a 7.5 per cent chance of springing from the sixth draft position all the way up to the top spot, and a 7.8 per cent chance of rising to the second rung. Jets’ fans need only look at the 36 goals racked up by Patrik Laine, the Finnish rookie with the rifle of a shot, to know that draft lottery miracles can happen.
This year, however, the math looks really bleak for the Jets, who worsened their lottery odds with a late charge, posting seven straight wins to complete the campaign.
Participants in the draft lottery include the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, who begin their inaugural season in the fall, and the 14 clubs that did not qualify for the playoffs.
The league’s worst club, the Colorado Avalanche (22-56-4), has just slightly less than an 18 per cent chance of winning the first overall pick and can select no lower than fourth. The Vancouver Canucks have a 12 per cent chance of obtaining the top pick. Vegas, meanwhile, has been given the same lottery odds (10 per cent) as the 28th-place team, the Arizona Coyotes.
If a team below the Jets hits the lottery jackpot, Winnipeg would slide down a spot.
Cheveldayoff said while the 2017 draft class doesn’t include instant superstars like Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews or Laine, that’s not to say there are no potential impact players to be discovered.
"If you expect a guy to come in here next year or the year after and make an impact, I think you’re gonna be disappointed because this is not that type of draft," he said. "The reality is the thought process has to be letting those drafted players develop.
"You’re trying to resist that urge to say, ‘Wow, he’s playing at 18 and 19, he must be a great player.’ You have to resist that urge and try to do what’s right for the player for the long term, because, ultimately, that’s what’s right for your organization for the long term."
Even before the youngsters have their big day, there’s another huge date looming on the calendar: the expansion draft, June 21 in Las Vegas. The Golden Knights will select one player from each team to fill out a 30-player roster, although first- and second-year players are exempt.
Cheveldayoff said he has not finalized his protected list and is expecting plenty of conversations with other GMs once the order of selection for the amateur draft is finalized Saturday night.
"That is a jumping-off point for a team like Vegas who then knows what they’re picking," he said. "Once that is certain I do believe that you’re gonna start seeing, maybe behind the scenes, a lot more things that start to get real.
"Having said that, would we be open to moving (something), sure. We’d be open to moving a pick for the right situation. Now, if you win the lottery, obviously the asset value of that pick does change."
The Jets have an abundance of skill up front, and also have 2015 first-rounders Kyle Connor and Jack Roslovic waiting in the wings. But most feel what the club lacks is a true gem of a prospect on defence.
When it’s Cheveldayoff’s turn to make the club’s first-round selection, terrific young blue-liners such as Cale Makar of the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, Callan Foote of the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League or Sweden’s Timothy Liljegren could be there for the taking.
But the Jets GM said it’s difficult to select a player based on current need, because those needs can change dramatically from season to season.
"The hard part is that you want to gain depth in all parts of your organization," he said. "When you’re drafting these 17- or 18-year-olds, you’re really looking at what they’re going to be like four years down the road, so you’re not exactly sure what your needs and wants and desires are going to be at that point.
"Sometimes if you stray away from just taking the best player possible, you could end up outsmarting yourself."
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).
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Updated on Thursday, April 27, 2017 at 4:50 PM CDT: Updated
4:56 PM: Quote fixed.