© Geoff Brookes
Much has been written since last Saturday night, when the Winnipeg Jets won the second spot in the upcoming NHL entry draft this June. Among the many good articles, there is Scott Cullen’s excellent summary of the Jets’ exciting prospects and young stars, at TSN.ca:
But the significance of this event for Jets fans goes beyond the glowing descriptions of likely second overall pick, Patrick Laine of Finland. It goes beyond prospect reviews and depth charts.
Since the Jets returned to Winnipeg in 2011, fans have been troubled by a question that was seldom voiced aloud:
Would the Jets ever have a legitimate superstar in this Jets 2.0 era?
Yes, the Jets have legitimate stars like Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien, but would we ever be able to call a superstar our own?
The problem is that, apart from the relatively low odds of winning a draft lottery, the only other way to draft a superstar is to get a “sleeper” pick later in the first round, where you have to hope that an under-appreciated talent remains unpicked. (The Jets might have “stolen” such a talent in Kyle Connor, but that remains to be seen). Without a last place finish in the NHL, it hasn’t been possible to get a top 2 pick in the entry draft.
That changed dramatically on April 30, 2016 – the first ever NHL draft in which all of the top 3 NHL entry draft picks would be selected by lottery. And in that lottery, the Winnipeg Jets won the second overall pick in the 2016 draft!
The last time the Winnipeg Jets (1.0) had a top 2 pick in the NHL draft was 1981, when they picked superstar Dale Hawerchuk.
The year before the Jets drafted Hawerchuk (1980-81), they earned only 9 victories – the second fewest ever in an NHL season. In that season they set the all-time record for NHL futility, going 30 straight games without a win. They finished last in the NHL with 24 points between them and the next team in the standings. Tanking wasn’t even on the table. Years later, General Manager John Ferguson said that he fired head coach Tom McVie during that season – out of compassion.
With Hawerchuk in the lineup, the Jets improved their record by 48 points in the following season. They went on to have many great seasons with “Ducky” – although they could never defeat the Edmonton Oilers in the playoffs. Hawerchuk went on to coach the Barrie Colts of the OHL, including current Jets star Mark Scheifele.
The only other Jets 1.0 draft pick that achieved superstar status was Teemu Selanne. The Finnish Flash was drafted by the Jets in 1988, tenth overall, but chose to play in Finland until 1992, when he set the NHL rookie scoring record with the Jets. Perhaps the Jets benefited from other teams being reticent to pick Selanne, based on his intention to play in Europe for a few years.
But now we have the possibility of an NHL superstar for Jets 2.0! Of course, only time will tell, but highlights of Laine’s goals have Jets fans very excited! He appears to have the breakaway speed and great shot that is associated with that other Finnish superstar from Jets 1.0! We can only hope, and watch with anticipation.
But one question has been answered. Chuck has said that it’s a “karma” moment, where the Jets dedication to building a team the right way, and pushing hard for wins down the stretch last year, may have actually led the Jets to this happy place. What we know for sure is that this talented young Jets team will be adding the second overall pick in this June’s draft.
And Jets fans will embrace this karma, and celebrate. We have drafted well so far in Jets 2.0 history, as well as making trades for some good prospects. We all knew we needed that superstar (or two) – like the Black Hawks with Toews and Kane – to put us over the top; to build that critical mass of young talent to explode into on-ice victories. With no disrespect to stars like Wheeler, Scheifele, Ehlers and Byfuglien, we need that superstar – that “Selanne” kind of talent – to seal the deal for success.
Until the draft, my friends –
Go Jets Go!!!!