Nine first round draft picks.
Since the Winnipeg Jets returned from sunny Hotlanta, they’ve had their hands full restocking the metaphorical pantry. A big part of any draft and develop program is making key selections in the first round, and that’s what we’ll be looking at today, this 9th day of Jetsmas, 2018. We’re going to go in reverse chronological order, because heck your rules.
2017 – 24th overall – Kristian Vesalainen – RW – Finland
Kristian Vesalainen has a big presence, and he’s hard to push around. Listed at 6’4″ and 207 lbs, he’s built like a classic power forward, and has the potential to blossom into one. He plays fast, with great energy, and a solid compete level. His shot and release are considered very strong, and he’s capable of a huge amount of dynamic offense. Hailing from Helsinki Finland, Vesalainen is the most recent of Winnipeg’s three European first round picks. It’s still early to evaluate him much, but he’s currently ripping it up in the KHL for Jokerit, after a brief stint with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose.
2016 – 18th overall – Logan Stanley – D – Canada
If you thought Vesalainen was a big body, prepare to be floored by the towering presence of Logan Stanley. He’s a statuesque 6’7″, and listed at 231 lbs, so he’s a veritable mountain of man on the blue line. Some players of his size seem reluctant to get physical, but that’s not been a problem with Stanley, as he’s not afraid to use the body to clear the crease, or take control along the boards. As with most players with his exceptional height, his development process has been slower, but he’s shown measurable progress. You can catch a peek of Stanley’s work at any Moose game.
2016 – 2nd overall – Patrik Laine – RW – Finland
The highest draft pick Winnipeg has had since its return, and they had the magic of the lottery to thank for it. Slated to pick 6th overall, a little luck pushed them up to number two, giving them the opportunity to draft elite sniper prospect, Patrik Laine. Known for having an incredibly quick and powerful release that is in a league of its own, Laine was able to jump directly onto a young Jets roster and start making contributions almost immediately. Having played hockey as a goaltender until the age of 12, it’s pretty remarkable how quickly he was able to transition to playing forward. In just two and half NHL seasons, he has 101 goals and 161 points in 185 games, and is a crucial component of the Jets top power play unit. A one-of-a-kind hockey talent, Patrik Laine has certainly left his mark already.
2015 – 25th overall – Jack Roslovic – C – United States
The Winnipeg Jets selected Jack Roslovic, a right shot forward from Columbus, Ohio, with the pick they received in the blockbuster deal that shipped Evander Kane to the Buffalo Sabres. He made his Jets debut in his hometown on April 6, 2017, the lone game he played in a Jets jersey that season, despite leading the Manitoba Moose with 48 points. Key aspects to his game include elite straightaway speed, and an excellent eye for playmaking. He’s spent time on the wing, and at centre, and has excelled in both positions. Having made the Jets roster straight out of training camp this year, it’s time for Roslovic to step into a bigger role, and continue to grow into the power forward he’s capable of becoming.
2015 – 17th overall – Kyle Connor – LW – United States
Another of Winnipeg’s draft picks who came up through the American college route rather than the CHL, Kyle Connor has spent time playing both centre and left wing throughout his career, and is capable of playing both at a high level. The list of his accolades prior to joining the Jets organization is long, and includes many Star of the Week nods, MVP awards, the HCA Rookie of the Month multiple times in 15-16, the USHL scoring title with 80 points in 56 games, two World Junior A gold medals, and an IIHF World U18 gold medal for the United States. Known for his explosive speed, soft hands, and patience under pressure, Connor is able to exploit any weaknesses in his opponents and create room for himself, and his teammates, to drive pucks into the net. His skills have translated magnificently into the NHL, and he’s earned himself a consistent spot in the Jets top 6, and top power play unit for his ability to retrieve pucks and drive the net. With his contract expiring soon, Jets fans are looking forward to seeing a longterm deal for KC in 2019.
2014 – 9th overall – Nikolaj Ehlers – LW – Denmark
The 2014 draft was an exciting one, with players like Kapenen, Nylander, Draisaitl, Ekblad, Pastrnak, Reinhart, Fiala, and more all ranked extremely highly, with teams jostling for position to claim them. Though Ehlers was certainly expected to go in the first round, many seemed surprised that Winnipeg selected him as high as ninth overall. It seemed like a potentially risky choice, but the speedy Danish winger has been a refreshing and appreciated piece of the puzzle. When asked about why he picked Ehlers, Cheveldayoff said he had become more of a fan while watching him, and that “any time he got the puck, you felt like something was going to happen”. Ehlers’ ability to skate at incredible velocity, and a deadly shot, combine to make him a handful for defensemen to contain. He comes by his hockey talent and knowledge honestly, as his father Heinz Ehlers was drafted 30 years ago by the Rangers, and has spent a great deal of time coaching in international competitions after playing 16 pro seasons in Europe. Since joining the Jets in the 2015-16 season, Ehlers has played over 265 games with over 75 goals, over 100 assists, and almost 700 shots. A dynamic and exciting member of the top 6 forward group, and versatile enough to play with almost anyone, we can certainly call this draft pick a win.
2013 – 13th overall – Josh Morrissey – D – Canada
The 2013 entry draft had a few exciting defensive prospects in Nurse, Ristolainen, Jones, and Pulock, but the Winnipeg Jets had eyes on a particular Canadian prospect by the name of Josh Morrissey. Coming into the draft after a 47 point season with the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL, and with an impressive resume of U18 medals from international competitions, he was known in junior hockey for being a true offensive defenseman with a chippy, energetic style that plays bigger than his 6’0″ frame. In his pre-draft scouting report, International Scouting Services head scout Ross McLean said that “he is exceptional on the PP but needs to improve his five-on-five defensive ability and get stronger physically to continue to be effective at the next level” and he did just that. After being drafted, Morrissey completely reinvented his game and learned how to be a reliable defensive defenseman, eventually earning the trust of head coach Paul Maurice against the top lines on opposing teams. He has since filled out his frame with a bit more muscle, and can hold his own against larger opponents on the ice. Considered one half of Winnipeg’s top D pairing, and the undisputed strongest player in the organization for LHD, Josh Morrissey has been a dynamite addition to what used to be a pretty shaky back end.
2012 – 9th overall – Jacob Trouba – D – United States
The second ever first round pick of the relocated Winnipeg Jets was for American born RHD Jacob Trouba. This was a deep year for defense, with names like Rielly, Lindholm, Dumba, Pouliot, Ceci, Murray, and Reinhart all projected to be drafted early. Trouba committed to playing with the University of Michigan until 2012-13, before joining the Jets the next season on a 3 year entry level contract. He’s won gold for the United States twice at the World U18s, and was named the top defenseman on the World Junior Championships after winning a gold there as well. Since joining the NHL, Trouba has played over 350 games for the Jets, scoring almost 150 points, and logging a healthy chunk of ice time. Now part of the team’s top pairing with fellow first rounder, Josh Morrissey, Trouba is being relied on to stop the opponents’ best players, and participate in special teams. While there have certainly been some bumps and bruises in the relationship between Trouba and the team during the last few years, including a public statement about a request for trade and struggles with contract negotiations, there is no doubt that Trouba has blossomed into a solid NHL defenseman, and one the Jets hope will stick around in years to come.
2011 – 7th overall – Mark Scheifele – C – Canada
This brings us to the most emotionally charged of all the first rounders discussed so far, the first ever pick from the freshly reinstated Winnipeg Jets, Mark Scheifele. The first prospect to have his named called up, and handed the shiny new jersey, his selection holds a special place in the hearts of many Jets fans. At the time, Scheifele was not expected to go in the top ten. His draft ranking described him as a “safe choice”, explaining that he has size, skating, and hockey sense, but no one seemed to see anything particularly remarkable about him. When his name was called at 7th overall by the Jets, there was a flurry of confusion at this seemingly off-the-wall selection. It’s been a good few seasons now, and that “reach” of a pick has blossomed into one of the strongest two-way centres in the game, and a true franchise cornerstone. For years we watched him awkwardly fall on the ice with hilarious frequency, jokingly nicknaming him Bambi. Once he got stronger, and started finding his confidence, we joked about him being the blacksmith for hitting so much iron in the form of posts and crossbars. All those growing pains have more than paid off. Now an assistant captain and a core part of the team leadership, with almost 400 games played and over 130 goals and almost 200 assists, Bambi is a force of nature on the ice. In the 2017-18 playoffs he seemingly put the team on his back and willed them to victory multiple times, generating 20 points in 17 post-season games, and absolutely proving to any remaining naysayers that he was well worth the reach of a seventh overall pick.
Nine talented players selected in the first round, and not a single one of them considered a bust. Something to truly be thankful for as we gather around with friends and family to catch a Jets game this holiday season.