For months now, even before the NHL draft lottery, the apex of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft order has seemed immutable. Most everyone expects Auston Matthews to go first, then Patrik Laine, then Jesse Puljujarvi.
Hold on though. While Laine remains the consensus pick to go second overall, all it takes to throw a wrench into the expected draft order is for one team to think a bit differently. And the Winnipeg Jets may be that team that thinks a bit differently, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.
On Wednesday night McKenzie tweeted that he wasn’t “nearly as confident” about Winnipeg “automatically” selecting Patrik Laine with the No. 2 overall pick, as he was about the Toronto Maple Leafs selecting Auston Matthews. Not a huge surprise there. McKenzie’s follow up tweet did make it sound like Jets brass is genuinely exploring their options with the second overall pick though:
I am not saying WPG won’t take Laine but I am saying, IMO, Jesse Puljujarvi may be a legit consideration at No. 2 for the Jets.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 23, 2016
What should we make of this? Let’s unpack it after the jump.
Because of his big shot and bigger personality, Laine is the more exciting prospect from a fan’s perspective. Of course, we all know that a big personality can be seen as a negative in hockey circle. When compared with Jesse Puljujarvi though, Laine has been the better offensive player throughout this past season and that’s why he should still be expected to get picked second on Friday.
Before any of our loyal readers – many of whom have spent the past few months getting rather attached indeed to the idea of Laine wearing the Jets 2point0 sweater next season – start panicking, we should note that Jets management wouldn’t be doing their due diligence were they simply to select the player all of the independent scouting experts say should go off the board at No. 2 without forming their own take on the matter.
And Puljujarvi is really, really good. He may not have Laine’s scoring touch or his physical edge, but he’s got NHL size and is a ridiculously skilled forward in his own right. He’s also probably the better two-way winger at this stage in his development, as Jeremy Davis convincingly argued back in mid-April.
In my view it’s prudent for NHL teams to err toward selecting the player with more offensive upside at the apex of the draft. In this case, that would be Laine. The Jets have fared decently well at the draft when they’ve bucked the consensus though – I recall Kevin Cheveldayoff being widely criticized for selecting Mark Scheifele ahead of Sean Couturier, for example, a decision that looks pretty good these days – and there could be any number of factors influencing their suspected doubt in deciding between two top prospects.
I will say that this situation reminds me a bit of the Ryan Murray talk that broke out ahead of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, when the Edmonton Oilers seemed to be waffling at the last minute on selecting either him or Nail Yakupov. In that case, as we know now, those rumblings weren’t just a smoke screen, there was a genuine difference of opinion within that organization about who to select first overall.
The Jets’ indecision about selecting Laine or Pujlularvi might be like that, or it might be a pure smoke screen. When it comes to an organization in the lead up to the NHL draft, after all, if they’re not lying, they’re not trying. .
We’ll have to see what Cheveldayoff says when he faces the media for his pre-draft availability this morning in Buffalo because obviously it’s difficult to really analyze a decision that hasn’t been publicly made yet. The Jets executive is expected to meet with the media at 12:30 EST and I’d think he’ll be asked about this at length. Stay tuned.