© Geoff Brookes
About a year ago, I did a series of blogs on the Winnipeg Jets’ draft picks and prospects. I said that, in order to build a contender for the Stanley Cup, you need to be successful in drafting NHL-calibre players beyond those from the first round of the draft. Otherwise, you’ll never accumulate enough top quality players – playing in the prime years of their careers – to build a cup contender.
The obvious problem with assessing your team’s success in the draft is that it takes a while for players to develop. Even hall of fame players can take a few years to achieve their true potential. (Guy Lafleur averaged 58 points in his first 3 NHL seasons, but then made a huge leap to an astounding 128 points per season for the next 6 years). Even experienced scouts can make wildly different assessments of the same player. Comparing players in different leagues, and at different ages, makes it even more difficult.
So, it’s difficult to assess success in the draft, except with the benefit of time, and some hindsight. We can now say that Mark Scheifele was an inspired choice at 7th overall in the 2011 draft. At the time, he was considered to be “off the boards” at that draft spot. Although he performed very well during 2 subsequent seasons with the Barrie Colts of the OHL, there were still questions raised as to what level he would ultimately achieve in the NHL. In his third year post-draft, his first 20 games with the Jets were very slow, in terms of point production. Finally, at about the 20 game mark of that 2013-14 season, he began scoring at almost a point-per-game rate, and his status as a top 6 scorer for the Jets was never in doubt again. (During some long streaks in recent years, he has been among the top 3 scorers in the NHL!).
With the benefit some more of that kind of hindsight, I have updated my projections and guesses from last year’s blog series.
Known/projected/possible NHL players from Jets 2.0 draft picks, not including 2017:
2011- Scheifele, Lowry
2012 – Trouba(D), Hellebuyck (G)
2013 – Morrissey (D), Petan, Comrie (G), Copp, Poolman (D)
2014 – Ehlers, Nogier(D)
2015 – Connor, Roslovic, Harkins, Spacek, Appleton, Niku (D)
2016 – Laine, Stallard, Berdin (G)
Again, this is a guess, especially for the more recent drafts. The 2013 and 2015 drafts could be the ones that form an extended pool of young players, to make up the bulk of the roster for an NHL contender. Without a couple of draft years with multiple successes (perhaps like 2013 and 2015), it’s hard to build a contending team.
Of course, the main contribution from the 2016 draft was that huge draft lottery win – obtaining a potentially generational scoring talent in Patrik Laine!
For interest’s sake, I’ve listed the players that I’ve now deleted from the “possibles”, that were on my draft prospects list last year:
Kosmachuk (2012) (released)
Phillips (G) (2012), (older, not progressing quickly)
Lipon (2013) (seems to be stuck at the AHL level)
Glover (D) (2014) (injuries, slow development)
De Leo (2014) (a good player, but can he make the NHL?)
C J Franklin (2014) (seems to be developing slowly)
Erik Foley (2015) (seems to be developing slowly)
From the 2016 draft, I left Luke Green off the list. He suffered from a lack of ice time in Junior hockey during the first half of last season. He is a strong-skating, offensive defense man. He is someone to watch as he continues to develop. I also left Logan Stanley off the 2016 list. I am not a critic of Logan Stanley, but I just don’t know that he’s shown enough yet to make the list of “possibles”.
I added Nelson Nogier (2014) back on to the list this year. He looks like he could be a good depth NHL defense man, as he performed very well in a limited stint with the Jets late last year.
That makes 20 players drafted in the first 6 years that look like good bets for the NHL. Of those, 8 are already regular Jets. Beyond the 8 regulars, there are Connor and Roslovic, who seem likely to play for the Jets at least sometime in the 2017-18 season, so let’s call it 10 current Jets. Add maybe another 4 more out of the others – that’s 14. Add that to Marco Dano and Joel Armia, acquired by trade (Lemieux has some development to do still, so let’s leave him out). We’re up to 16 young players – several of whom are already regarded as stars in the NHL.
Yes, the Jets have drafted well enough to contend for the Stanley Cup!
In order to get there, the veterans need to keep their game up long enough for the young guns to fully arrive. Players like Byfuglien, Enstrom, Myers, Wheeler, Little and Perreault have to avoid a drop-off in their play, on the other side of 30 years of age. (Perreault and Myers are close enough to 30 to be counted here.)
Other key factors for the Jets include health, goaltending, team defense, discipline and penalty killing. Newcomers Mason and Kulikov can help the team to overcome some issues here, but the Jets need Buff and Enstrom to play more like they’re 25 again- not like their playing on the back nine.
Josh Morrissey’s amazing rookie year was a milestone for the Jets’ drafting success. With that, they will almost certainly have an enviable string of 6 consecutive drafts with NHL players – and possibly star-level players – from all 6 of their 2011-2016 first rounds. If Connor and Roslovic both ultimately achieve star-level status, the Jets would have a 100% “stars” track record, with first round picks from 2011 to 2015. Stanley could ultimately be an exception in 2016, but then there’s Laine! Not many NHL teams can report that kind of overall success with their first round picks. Hey, no pressure on you, Kristian Vesalainen (2017)!
What’s certain is that this is going to be a very exciting team to watch this upcoming year! There’s nothing like the feeling of watching a team come into its own on the ice, especially young players developing into stars, right before our eyes. As long as the Jets stay healthy, I predict that this will be a golden year in the history of the Winnipeg Jets!