While reviews on Kevin Cheveldayoff can be described as mixed at best, the General Manager of the Winnipeg Jets has a few accomplishments under his belt.
He’s done exactly what he said he would do, and that is build on the Jets core that existed from the Atlanta Thrashers through the draft.
It was risky, but Cheveldayoff looks to be improving the Jets NHL roster while also improving the prospect cupboard.
Usually the two are considered inverses of the other. Still, the Jets set franchise records last year in their second appearance in the playoffs, all while building up one of the most competitive prospect group in the NHL.
ESPN’s prospect guru Corey Pronman ranks Jets sixth (warning: paywall) in the NHL, after being seventh the year prior.
Moving up one position may seem like a marginal gain, but it is impressive given the Jets drafted 17th in the draft.
Essentially the Jets drafted at a position worse than the average team, but accumulated talent better than the average team. In part this improvement extends from returns on the Zach Bogosian and Evander Kane deal, but the Jets also drafted well relative to position.
They went high on upside and offensive talent, a strategy that is well supported by historical statistics.
It’s an under appreciated point, but in many ways prospect depth acts similar to a zero sum game. If your team is not replenishing talent at a rate above league average, then your organization is falling behind in the long run.
This is why we see teams go through “rebuilding” when they wish to reset their talent and assets.
Despite not rebuilding, the Jets have built a highly regarded prospect pool.
While the Jets do not carry talents along the lines of Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, they remain competitive via a glut of depth.
The Jets forward groups are one of the deepest in the NHL and full of players who likely should have been drafted higher.
Nikolaj Ehlers had an exceptional season that few have garnered in the QMJHL, yet still took his game to another level in the playoffs. Nic Petan has been one of the top play makers in the WHL for three years in a row. Andrew Copp spent just over two seasons as the University of Michigan’s top line centre and already has a NHL game under his belt.
Only about 24% of CHL players end up graduating to the AHL or better, yet the Jets are graduating all those eligible with Petan, Jimmy Lodge, Axl Blomqvist, and Chase De Leo next year.
In less than 6 months the Jets bolstered this top-end forward group with legitimate talents in Joel Armia, Kyle Connor, Jack Roslovic, Jansen Harkins, Michael Spacek, Erik Foley and Brenden Lemieux.
And that’s just at forward.
The Jets also have an impressive goaltender crop. Connor Hellebuyck contests many lists for top goaltending prospect in the world, while Eric Comrie would be the best goalie prospect on a good chunk of the NHL’s teams.
The one area of weakness though for the Jets could be their defensive group.
Josh Morrissey looks to be a bonafide potential top-four defender. After that there is a bit of a gap.
Jan Kostalek, Sami Niku, Jack Glover, Tucker Poolman, Brenden Kichton, and Marcus Karlstrom are not just the depth prospects but all of their defensive prospects after Josh Morrissey.
The NHL is a difficult league to gain the edge over the competition. To move the organization forward both at the NHL level and in organizational depth with prospects is a whole other accomplishment.