When Kevin Cheveldayoff was hired as general manager of the Winnipeg Jets in 2011, his first order of business was to replenish a cupboard bereft of young talent. Slowly but surely, Cheveldayoff is stocking the shelves of players either through the draft or via the trade route and meticulously cultivating them until they’re NHL ready. Here are five such players that may (and I strongly emphasize may) be ready to crack the Winnipeg Jets lineup in 2015-16.
The 2014 first round draft pick enjoyed another sensational season with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL, recording 101 points, (37G, 64A) in only 51 games. Ehlers had an even better playoff campaign for Halifax registering 31 points, (14G, 10A) despite the fact the Moosheads were eliminated in the second round by the Moncton Wildcats.
Unless someone goes off in the final, Jets pick Nikolaj Ehlers of Halifax will win the QMJHL playoff scoring crown. He played in 2 rounds
— Ryan Kennedy (@THNRyanKennedy) May 4, 2015
Let us not forget Ehlers’ stellar play at the World Junior Hockey Championships in which he led Denmark to their first ever quarterfinal appearance.
Ehlers is a tremendous skater that also possesses nifty hands which can mesmerize defenders. But his slight frame is a concern. Standing 5-11 and weighing 175 pounds, there are questions if Ehlers could handle the bigger, more physical NHL game.
Another interesting subplot is that Ehlers does have one year left of junior eligibility. The argument can be made that another year in Halifax would hinder Ehlers development. However because he is junior eligible, Ehlers cannot play with the returning Manitoba Moose because of a rule forbidding junior age players playing in the AHL.
It would have been an ideal situation if Ehlers could have played for the Moose. He would develop in a professional environment while not having to deal with NHL type pressure. It would have been great for Winnipeg fans as well because they would have been able to see their potential future star at a reasonable price.
An option for Ehlers could be Europe. Many of the top professional leagues across the pond have players under 20 playing in the top flight. Auston Matthews, the top rated prospect in the 2016 entry draft, signed a contract with the Zurich Lions of the Swiss A League. Could Ehlers follow suit? He would be playing with and against professionals with less physicality. It will depend on how Ehlers performs in the preseason. If he lights it up, he could be wearing a Jets uniform in October.
The 2012 fifth round selection opened many eyes during the recent World Hockey Championships in Prague. Hellebuyck was outstanding between the pipes for Team USA as the Americans captured the bronze medal.
You know who else looks great? Connor Hellebuyck. Wonder how many games he starts in Winnipeg next year.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) May 16, 2015
If people didn’t know Connor Hellebuyck already, they certainly do now. He’s going to make it interesting for the #NHLJets next season.
— Kinsey Janke (@kinseyjanke) May 17, 2015
Hellebuyck went 7-1 in the tournament posting a .948 save percentage, a 1.37 goals against average and two shutouts. His most impressive performance came in the bronze medal game in which the UMass Lowell alum stopped all 38 shots in a 3-0 blanking of the host Czech Republic. This despite the fact Hellebuyck hasn’t played a single NHL game.
The native of Commerce, Michigan had a solid first pro season, posting a .921 save percentage, a 2.58 goals against average and six shutouts with the St. John’s IceCaps.
However, Hellebuyck might be a victim of a numbers game. Both Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson are under contract and barring a trade, are likely to remain with the big club. Hellebuyck will be in Winnipeg this season, but it will be as a member of the Moose at the start. But it either Pavelec or Hutchinson gets injured or struggles mightily, Hellebuyck will be called up quickly.
The 2013 second round draft pick had another excellent season with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. The Delta, B.C. native recorded 89 points (15G, 74A) in a mere 54 games this season. Petan’s dazzling play carried over into the playoffs. Even though Portland were eliminated by Kelowna in the Western Conference Final, Petan led the WHL with 28 points (10G, 18A) in 17 games.
Nic Petan sets a new franchise record with 17-game playoff point streak, on the night he sets WHL record with 88th career playoff game.
— Scott Sepich (@SSepich) May 4, 2015
Petan was also a major contributor for Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships. His 11 points (4G, 7A) was second in the tournament, which included a memorable hat-trick performance against Slovakia in the semifinals.
The biggest attribute Petan has are some of the slickest hands in junior hockey. He is an exceptional playmaker with terrific hockey sense and vision.
However, his small 5-9, 170 pound frame could be an issue. Can Petan withstand the physical pounding in the NHL on a night-to-night basis? Petan also needs to work on his skating as he doesn’t have the speed to go past defenders. He uses craftiness and skill instead.
Petan will most likely start the year in the AHL but if he can produce with the Moose, the Jets will find a spot for him in the lineup.
The 2013 fourth round pick is different than the other players on this list. He’s actually played an NHL game already. Copp suited up for the Jets in their final regular season and recorded an assist in the process.
Andrew Copp with the assist, his first career NHL point and that makes #NHLJets fans very happy — based on applause.
— Jeff Hamilton (@jeffkhamilton) April 11, 2015
Copp has spent the last three seasons at the University of Michigan and has seen his point total improve every year. Copp also has leadership skills as he was captain of the Wolverines last season.
While the Ann Arbor, Michigan native isn’t the flashiest prospect, he isn’t afraid to do the dirty work needed. Copp can kill penalties, take key face-offs and is willing to mix it up along the boards in puck battles.
If the Jets don’t re-sign UFA Jim Slater in the offseason, Copp has an excellent chance of making the roster. He has more offensive upside than Slater which is a plus but be prepared for some rookie mistakes. That said, Copp should be on the Jets in 2015-16.
The 2013 first round pick had a whirlwind of a season…and it isn’t finished yet. Morrissey will be at the Memorial Cup as his Kelowna Rockets won the WHL Championship.
The Calgary native started the season with Prince Albert but was dealt to Kelowna midseason as the Rockets were loading up for a Memorial Cup run. In 47 games played, Morrissey collected 38 points (13G, 25A) which was down from his terrific 73 point campaign in 2013-14. Whether it was adapting to a new team or the pressure of a team expecting to do big things, the Calgary native’s production dropped. But Morrissey was excellent in the WHL Final and is hoping that his strong showing against Brandon will carry over into the Memorial Cup.
— Dave Dawson (@DaveDawson7) May 14, 2015
Morrissey represented Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships and was a prominent member of the gold medal winning squad. Notching a goal and three assists while playing top end minutes, Morrissey showed maturity and poise when it mattered most.
“What I saw was a different player,” Team Canada coach Benoit Groulx told The Hockey News. “It was a more mature, more confident player. He seems ready to take on an important role at another level.”
The Jets do have some issues on the left side on the blue line where Morrissey plays. Toby Enstrom has strong possession numbers, but he can be manhandled physically. Mark Stuart is slowing down and getting older. Ben Chiarot was a pleasant surprise last season and is hoping to take another positive step next season.
Morrissey will likely begin the year in the AHL. Defenceman traditionally take longer to develop and Morrissey will need some time to adapt to the pro game. That said, a strong showing at training camp might move him up on the depth chart very quickly.