It’s been a bit of a crazy four days in the hockey world as the NHL handed out awards, filled out the roster of it’s 31st and newest franchise with actual players, discussed possible changes to the game, saw a handful of deals being made and drafted 217 players.
With the 2017 NHL draft done and things seeming to calm down as general managers now take a step back and prepare for July 1 and the start of free agency, this seems like a good time to look back over these last four days as it relates to the Winnipeg Jets.
1 – The Jets were one of only two teams to not lose anyone under an actual contract for the 2017-18 season to the Vegas Golden Knights by somehow convincing them to select Chris Thorburn. I’ll talk about the ‘cost’ of what that took in a moment, but of all the names that were thrown out there as possible “losses” – Dano, Enstrom, Lowry, Perreault, Armia – none of them were ideal. Thorburn is a unrestricted free agent and could actually sign right back with the Winnipeg organization (note I say organization as in, he’s a good fit for the Manitoba Moose at this point and nothing more). I am willing to bet there are a bunch of other NHL clubs that would have gladly given up a handful of spots in a first round to make sure the players they had stayed put.
2 – It was amusing to see the insecurity of Toronto Maple Leaf fans as they tried their best to troll Winnipeg fans the moment Auston Matthews won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. I don’t think there was or is a single Jets fan who didn’t accept if not outright agree that Auston was the better overall rookie this season. Maybe if Laine hadn’t ended up injured midway through the season, maybe if Lanie’s defensive game improved a bit more earlier on and maybe if Paul Maurice actually gave Laine decent ice time on the power play, things would have been different, but those things did happen so it wasn’t. For what it’s worth, the guy who was last year’s runner-up to the Calder won MVP this season, so Laine may turn out ok afterall.
3 – I know a handful of Jets fans bemoaned the loss of draft position, especially when players like Timothy Liljegren and Juuso Valimaki were still available at 13, but if there was ever a year to drop position in the first round and still get a decent player, this was that year. This draft really didn’t have any players that were of the blue-chip “can’t miss” variety, but there are at least a dozen or more players picked in this first round where the probability of a good, long NHL career is very possible. The Jets first round pick; Kristian Vesalainen falls into that category. He’s a big forward who can skate well and plays a smart game. Rick Nash’s name has been paired up with Vesalainen’s a few times this weekend as a comparable player and the thought of power forward type like Vesalainen in a couple of seasons being put on a line with prime Mark Schefiele and coming-into-his-prime Patrik Laine should get your heart racing.
4 – Between rounds one and two the Jets re-signed Ben Chiarot which is perfectly fine, so long as all the Jets want to do is keep him around for bottom six duty. At 1.4 million AAV though, that doesn’t suggest the Jets feel that way completely. Here is hoping the Jets are going to give the 26 year old a chance to prove he belongs early in the season, but are willing to stash him and that salary away in the press box or AHL if he turns out to be Mark Stuart 2.0
5 – Defenseman Dylan Samberg will be a project for sure. He was a finalist this year for Minnesota’s top high school player of the year and is an athletic 6-3 defender who has all the tools needed to be a top four defenseman in the NHL if developed right. He needs to work on his first few strides when skating but once he does get to top speed can absolutely fly on the ice. A few reports had him as a potential 3rd round pick, but the Jets may not have been willing to risk losing him by waiting one more round.
6 – Johnathan Kovacevic taken in the third round is considered a bit of a late bloomer and was actually passed over in last year’s draft. His overage freshman year with Merrimack College obviously caught some eyes. As Garret Hohl on Twitter pointed out, think Tucker Poolman 2.0 with this kid.
7 – Jets fans should really like the pick of Santeri Virtanen in the 4th round. It could prove to be an absolute steal down the road. A shoulder injury had him miss most of the season, but he impressed scouts in a few different junior and under-18 tournaments. He has good size at 6-2, can skate fairly ok and has a great shot. His two-way game is what a few scouts have raved about and he could absolutely be in the mold of a Mark Dano / Joel Armia type, especially on the penalty kill.
8 – Leon Gawanke and Croix Evingson were also a pair of big, lanky d-men picked in the 5th and 7th rounds respectively. Both have been noted to be strong at passing and moving the puck but maybe not so much as good in terms of overall speed and skating ability. In total the Jets drafted four defensemen this year and did a good job filling up that cupboard which before this weekend looked a little barren on defensive prospects. None of the picks the Jets made this weekend were going to help the club immediately, but in a season or two when it may be time to part ways with the likes of Enstrom or even Byfuglien, one or two of these names you hear today will step in.
9 – Goalie Arvid Holm taken 198th overall had a lot of fans and prospect watchers alike going “uhh, who?” .. Big guy at 6’4″ and 213 pounds, the initial look at his stats this past year (.904 save percentage in 26 games played with Karlskrona HK of the Swedish junior league) made many wonder if the Jets saw something in him that no one else really did. Turns out, they might have as Manitoba Moose goalie coach Rick St Croix spoke highly of him and liked what he saw.
10 – Skyler McKenzie is a super fun pick and maybe my personal favorite of the entire Jets draft. He had a breakout year offensively for the Portland Winterhawks (42 goals and 84 points), and while he was undersized at 5-7, he sure doesn’t play like it. He is 19 and that along with the fact he’s only had the one great year in junior along with his size is maybe why his draft stock didn’t rise up past the seventh round. If he can continue to develop his game, continue to be an abrasive presence on the ice, he could be an option for a Jets bottom six forward role.