The Winnipeg Jets have a ton of holes in their roster this season, many free agents were allowed to walk away and few were signed. This gives many of the young players, most of which are competed at development camp last weekend, a chance to make the big club. Now I talked about the surprises form camp earlier this week, but these players are not surprises. These players are ready for the NHL now. They are not necessarily the Jets best prospects or the stars of the future but this list will outline some of the guys who may be able to step in and fill a role this year. Players who are ready for the NHL style and ready to try and carry this team to the playoffs for the second year in a row.
Honorable Mention: Patrice Cormier
Cormier signed a one year $650,000 deal last week and may be looking at his last real chance to make this team. Cormier was a second round pick in 2008 and although he has had a cup of tea in the NHL, he has never impressed. However, with Jim Slater moving on from the organization it may give Patrice Cormier the room to slip in. He will have competition but he has a little experience to lean on to hopefully get the job done for good. Cormier has size and knows how to use it, and despite some tough times due to injury and a lengthy suspension early in his career, he has become a consistent scorer in the AHL.
5. Connor Hellebuyck
Hellebuyck should be higher on this list by pure talent but that is not all that goes into this decision. Hellebuyck has been absolutely stellar everywhere he has played, and there is no sign that his rise will slow down. The problem for the American goaltender is the lineup in front of him. The Jets still have Ondrej Pavelec as their number one goalie, and last years backup, Michael Hutchinson has already proven that he can be a number one as well. As long as those two players are here and healthy I suspect Hellebuyck stays down the hall with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose. However, look for him to push Hutchinson in training camp for the back up position, and if he can get there it is just a matter of time before he gets in the net. If not he will be the starter and carry most of the load in the AHL and wait for an opportunity. What makes Hellebuyck stand out is his size, at 6’4 he is the new breed of NHL goalie. Big and quick, he has proven that he can play. He opened a lot of eyes at the World Championships this year where he was one of, if not the, best goalie in the tournament. It is not a question of if with Connor Hellebuyck, but a question of when he will be in the NHL
— Ed Tait (@EdTaitWFC) July 3, 2015
4. Andrew Copp
Copp has been touted as the Jets most pro-ready NHL prospect for a couple years now by many members of the local media. He even got the chance to make his NHL debut in the teams last regular season game of the season, where he notched his first career point (video below). The time spent with the team and coaching staff is sure to help his cause and by all accounts he was nothing but a perfect professional. Copp will also be in the mix for Jim Slater’s old fourth line center spot, and at this point he probably has the inner track. If he can continue to do what he what he was doing at the end of last season he has a good shot of holding off all other potential suitors to that fourth line center spot.
Lemieux came to the Winnipeg Jets as part of the Evander Kane trade with Buffalo. The son of former NHLer and multiple time Stanley Cup champion Claude Lemieux was a Sabres second round pick who actually never signed his first NHL contract with Buffalo. The Jets took care of that earlier this week signing Lemieux to a huge contract for a rookie. The three year, two way contract was worth $1.125 million and is one of the main reasons I believe the Jets plan to give him every chance to make the NHL roster this season. Lemieux is a chip off the old block playing a eerily similar style to his father. He can score, he plays physical, and he has a huge mean streak. Lemieux can be a valuable NHL player and I believe he would look great along side Adam Lowry. It would be a huge leap for Lemieux who has put in three years in the OHL for the Barrie Colts, but for Winnipeg to throw over a million dollars at him, they clearly have high hopes.
2. Josh Morrissey
Morrissey looked great in development camp for the Jets, especially during Tuesday’s scrimmage where he was clearly in charge every time he took the ice. He took some weight off this year after coming into camp heavy last season. He learned his lesson and was a general on the ice and the best player in camp this year. However, Morrissey will probably not get a real opportunity out of camp. At this point the Jets are pretty stacked on D, with 10 players signed right now. Everyone from last year has returned, and Grant Clitsome may add another piece to the puzzle depending on his ailing back. Morrissey will start next year in the AHL where the Jets hope he continues his development. He is the best prospect they have on the blue line and may be behind only number 1 on this list as the Jets best overall. He will not start there, but if there are some injuries Morrissey will be the first call up, and have his chance at the NHL. Expect to see him in the lineup for at least couple games this season.
1. Nikolaj Ehlers
Though he had a slightly underwhelming development camp, Ehlers is still the Jets number one prospect and probably is penciled in for a spot with the big club this year. It is his spot to lose and he is doing everything he can to make himself a full time NHLer. Size is still a question mark for Ehlers however, the 15lbs he has put on since the end of his season in Halifax goes a long way to solving that problem. As long as this weight does not effect his speed and elusiveness, it will be a huge asset going forward. Ehlers will have every chance in the world to succeed this season and will most likely start on a top line. The Jets hope Ehlers is able to add some offense, but he needs to make sure his defensive game is up to par. The problem is there are only two options for Ehlers this season. He either plays in the NHL, or goes back to Halifax in the QMJHL. It is a rule that complicates things for NHL prospects but it gives Ehlers a better chance at making the club this year. There is no more development for Ehlers in the Q, he needs to make the NHL this year, and he will.
Who knows how this team will shape up come October, with many free agents still available the Jets could still go down that road, but there will be spots open on this years club for a youth movement. Some of these players will play, some may not, and there may be some who I have omitted from this list that could show up. The most obvious player I have not put on this list is Nic Petan and I feel if I don’t mention him, the comments sure will. Petan was great at development camp and showed some fantastic offensive skill. The problem is, I don’t see him displacing any of the current top six, including possibly Ehlers, and I don’t think the Jets will want him playing in a bottom six role. Barring a bad injury, Petan will be in the American Hockey League. The Jets have an enormous amount of skill in their system, and it is just a matter of time before this young talent takes over the team.