All is not lost, Jets fans.
It must seem like last season was a cruel April Fools joke by the ‘hockey gods’ – after 15 years of being out of commission, Winnipeg was given a taste of professional hockey goodness, only to have it taken away all over again. But this time around, there are Jets-related stories to follow throughout the fall, to quench your thirst for puck.
A number of prominent Jets have taken their talents overseas, for as long as the lockout drags on. ESPN has recently announced that they will be televising KHL games, which is an interesting wrinkle to this ongoing saga.
We’ll get to the specifics of it all in Part 2 of this series, but today, we’ll be focusing on the North American options – junior hockey, NCAA hockey, and the AHL.
The ‘Frozen Four’ was an exciting watch last season, and it seems destined to repeat in that regard this year. If you have no prior allegiances, you may be interested in making 2012-13 the season you start following the Michigan Wolverines hockey team.
Quality outweighs quantity, at least when it comes to the talent that the Jets organization boasts in the NCAA. Amidst allegations that the Kitchener Rangers had offered him $200,000 to play in the OHL, Jacob Trouba – the 9th overall pick in the 2012 entry draft – went about his business, following through on his commitment to become a Wolverine.
As it turns out, the Wolverines will be a force to be reckoned with in the NCAA – they came in at third on the USCHO Division 1 Men’s Poll (behind reigning champion Boston College, and powerhouse Minnesota), and were tabbed as the number one team by the media. Trouba joins standout defenseman Jon Merrill (of the New Jersey Devils) on what should be a stellar back-end.
Junior Hockey (OHL & WHL)
In case you’re interested in following the path of the best prospect in the Jets’ system, you’ll be keeping track of what’s going on with the Barrie Colts of the OHL. That’s where Mark Scheifele, the 2011 1st rounder, will be making a mockery of opposing defenses. As of right now, he has registered 11 points in 7 games, and it should come as no surprise that he is averaging an assist per game – he’s a spectacular playmaker. In case you were wondering, Scheifele came in at number 28 on Corey Pronman’s ‘Top 100 NHL Prospects’ list.
In case you’re situated moreso in the West, you can’t go wrong with following the WHL this season. Living in Vancouver, I’m perfectly situated to catch a medley of potential future NHLers up close and personal, as their respective teams visit the Giants.
The best Jets prospect in the league affectionately referred to as ‘The Dub’ is Lukas Sutter, of the Saskatoon Blades. He’s a Sutter after all, so it should come as no surprise that his calling card comes in the form of gritty defensive play, and penalty minutes in bunches. His offensive game took a big leap last season, as he saw his point total rise from 19 to 59. Thanks to the scoring surge, he was selected 39th overall by Winnipeg this summer.
There’s also the fact that two of the consensus top 5 picks in the coming entry draft call the Western Hockey League home – Seth Jones of the Portland Winterhawks, and Hunter Shinkaruk of the Medicine Hat Tigers. Obviously hopes are high amongst the Jets and their fans, that the team will build off of last year’s promising season. In the terribly unfortunate circumstance that the season is scrapped altogether, the Jets would have a fantastic shot at winning the weighted draft lottery (given their lack of success in previous seasons). And even if there is a season, it will be substantially shortened, which means that a prolonged slump to start the year means you’re planning for the future. Just something to think about, that’s all.
I’m not going to sit here and try to tell you that the AHL will make up for the lack of NHL hockey this fall. Because it won’t. But the combination of young NHL talent that has been sent down to work on its craft, and the lesser known players who are looking to make an impression in the hopes of getting the call up once the season resumes will provide a fascinating dynamic.
The St.John’s IceCaps ran away with the Atlantic Division last season, making a run all the way to the conference finals of the Calder Cup playoffs before ultimately bowing out to the eventual champion, Norfolk.
Notable players returning from last year’s squad include Patrice Cormier, Carl Klinberg, and Spencer Machacek. On defense, the big name for you to become familiar with (if you haven’t already) is Paul Postma, who is coming off of a tremendous season as an IceCap. Once the lockout is over, he should be given ample opportunity to make the Jets – likely providing the biggest impact on the power play.
The real gem, though, is the 8th overall pick of the 2010 draft, Alexander Burmistrov. Burmistrov has yet to produce in the NHL, but there’s no questioning the talent he possesses. He could prove to be the big beneficiary of the lockout, as he’ll likely see big minutes, in a largely offensive role. Look out if he takes advantage of it, producing the way his talent level indicates he is capable of. It’s very possible that all that’s missing for a breakout is a little jumpstart, and some added confidence.
If I can give you one piece of advice, it’s this – don’t sit around being miserable, cursing the NHL. Sink your teeth into something else, because you’ll be surprised at how much you enjoy it.