Positive vibes are coming out of MTS Centre lately and the latest two signings should have Jets fans excited for the future.
Not the future as in the 2013-14 season, mind you, but possibly for 2014-15 and beyond.
Two of their later round draft picks – JC Lipon (third round) and Brenden Kichton (seventh round) – were both signed to entry-level contracts early this week.
Surprising to me is the fact the Jets were able to land these two talented players when they did in the 2013 Entry Draft.
First of all, Kichton, 21, is the least of the two surprises. Originally drafted in 2011 by the New York Islanders in the fifth round, the Spruce Grove, Alberta native was expected to garner an entry-level contract quickly by the Isles, but when the price dipped too low for the likes of Kichton, there were no further negotiations and back into the draft pool he went.
When Kichton was originally picked, he had come off an 81 point season with the Spokane Chiefs in his third full season. With a career high 23 goals from the blueline, what scared the Isles is not apparent – could have been his size 6’0, 190 pounds or perhaps the fact that they already had a glutton of young defensive prospects in their system – Travis Hamonic, Calvin de Haan, Jared Spurgeon, Anton Klementyev.
Spurgeon came into a similar problem that Kichton did.
Spurgeon and Kichton were teammates in Spokane in Kichton’s first two seasons and was the Chief’s leading scorer on the blueline.
Selected in the sixth round, 156th overall in 2008, Spurgeon was not signed to an entry-level contract and played out the last two seasons of his WHL career with Kichton as his younger teammate.
In 2010-11, he was invited to the Minnesota Wild’s training camp and was awarded a three-year entry-level contract.
The fact the Islanders lost out on Spurgeon and now Kichton isn’t surprising given the team’s track record, but Kichton isn’t just another defenseman that has been passed over and not signed to a deal.
He has a chip on his shoulder and wants to prove to the Islanders they were wrong.
In an interview with Buzzing The Net’s Kelly Friesen on Yahoo! Sports, Kichton flat out said, "I want to prove them wrong."
"You never wanted to be doubted and I guess they didn’t believe in me. I’m going to Jets camp…and I want to make an impression and go on to have a good career with them."
Talk about a chip on the shoulder, Kichton was awarded with his three-year, entry-level contract on August 28th – worth $1.86 million.
In 333 career games in Spokane, Kichton collected 67 goals and added 201 assists.
Even the Winnipeg Free Press’ Paul Wiecek asks if Kichton could possibly be the steal of the 2013 draft – "Ever wonder how it could be that a guy who was the top defenseman in the Western Hockey League last season, averaging better than a point per game for the Spokane Chiefs, was still available to the Winnipeg Jets with the 190th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft?"
For JC Lipon, the story isn’t as complicated, but still raises questions about why he was chosen so late in the 2013 Draft.
Signed on August 29th to a three-year, entry-level contract worth $2.1 million, Lipon was a steal of a pick 91st overall, but I was surprised he had dropped so far down after a 2012-13 season that saw him play in the World Juniors and also collect 89 points and 115 penalty minutes in 61 games with the Kamloops Blazers.
True, Lipon is 20 years old and could be considered a late bloomer (Kichton was 19 when drafted the first time) but his skills and grit are something many teams could have seen as an immediate impact coming into their franchise.
First of all, the speedy forward from Regina, Saskatchewan has played four years in the WHL – he is ready for another challenge. Is it possible he could be playing professional in the AHL with the St. John’s Ice Caps in 2013-14?
It could be possible that both he and Kichton could be AHL bound, which not only bolsters the Jets organizational depth pronto, but also gives the Ice Caps two talented young players under 22.
In 248 games as a Blazer, Lipon collected 61 goals and added 127 assists. His 2012-13 season being his best with 36 goals and 53 assists for 89 points in 61 games. Add to the package his grit – 374 penalty minutes in those 248 games – and Lipon at 6’0, 180 pounds could be a potential grinder/agitator the Jets need (along with Anthony Peluso?)
In 2012-13, Lipon was invited to the Colorado Avalanche’s training camp, but was not allowed to attend due to the NHL lockout. Despite being looked over for two rounds, Lipon states in an interview with Greg Harder of the Regina Leader-Post, "This year it was nice to know after your season was done that you had done enough (to get noticed)."
Notice is what the Winnipeg Jets did and they topped two good drafts in 2011 and 2012 with a very good draft in 2013.
Take notice of Josh Morrissey but don’t forget the Jets selected Kichton and Lipon – two players who will make immediate impacts.
And don’t be surprised if they show up in Jets blue in 2013-14.