This article was originally written in June, 2014 and updated in March, 2020.
The Winnipeg Jets 1.0 were hit and miss when it came to selecting players in the first round. They did hit a home run when they selected Dale Hawerchuk with their first and only first-overall pick in 1981, and also struck gold when they snagged Finnish Flash Teemu Selanne 10th overall in 1988.
But for the most part, their record at the draft table was porous. This was one of the reasons they floundered during their first tenure in the NHL and only progressed past the first round of the playoffs twice in 18 campaigns. Here are the five biggest draft bombs in Jets 1.0 history, in chronological order.
Jimmy Mann: 19th Overall, 1979
The first-ever draft choice for the Jets turned out to be a colossal bust. Jimmy Mann was a rugged right winger for the Sherbrooke Beavers of the QMJHL, and in his final season in the Q, recorded 35 goals and 47 assists while compiling 260 penalty minutes. Jets general manager John Ferguson saw someone who was similar to his playing style, thus selected Mann in the first round.
Mann quickly found out that scoring in the NHL was far more difficult than in juniors. In his first season with the big club, Mann managed a mere three goals and five assists in 72 games. Where he did shine was in the pugilistic department. Mann led the NHL with 287 penalty minutes, the first rookie to lead in that department since Dave “The Hammer” Schultz in the 1972-73 season.
Mann’s most “memorable” moment happened in his third season. In a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Mann sucker-punched Paul Gardner, knocking him out cold. Gardner suffered a broken jaw and a concussion as a result from Mann’s attack. The NHL suspended Mann for 10 games and was arrested by Winnipeg Police. Mann received no jail time, but did end up with a criminal record for his actions, as he pled guilty to assault charges.
The Jets grew tired of Mann’s antics, which led them to trade the fighter to the Quebec Nordiques. Mann stayed with Quebec for parts of three seasons before being released after the 1986-87 season. Mann had one last crack with the NHL — ironically with the Pittsburgh Penguins — but after nine games, the Penguins cut him loose and he never played in the NHL again.
Mann’s career totals are rather horrible. In 293 career games, Mann recorded 10 goals, 20 assists, 895 penalty minutes and one criminal record. To add insult to injury, Jets could have had either Hockey Hall of Famer Michel Goulet or six-time Cup champion Kevin Lowe, as they were selected immediately after Mann.
Ryan Stewart: 18th Overall, 1985
When Ryan Stewart became available withe the 18th overall selection, the Jets quickly scooped him up before other suitors could have the chance. Why? Stewart was a goal-scoring machine with the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League. During his time in Kamloops, Stewart recorded seasons of 31 and 33 goals in his first two seasons of junior hockey. Stewart also scored two huge goals for Kamloops in the 1984 WHL finals — his overtime winner in Game 6 against the Regina Pats forced a seventh and deciding game. In Game 7, Stewart scored the winning goal late in the third period, giving Kamloops its first WHL championship.
The Jets were hoping Stewart’s heroics would continue in the NHL, but they didn’t. Stewart only played in three games for the Jets, scoring one goal before becoming a distant memory. A battle with chronic tonsillitis hindered Stewart’s development, thus he never caught on with the big club. Stewart later moved to Denver,, where he coached youth hockey as well as acted as director of the Littleton, Colorado Youth Hockey Association.
Aaron Ward: 5th Overall, 1991
The Jets were hoping Aaron Ward would anchor their blue line when they chose him fifth-overall in 1991. While he did have a decent NHL career and skated in 839 career games, he never became a dominant d-man nor suited up for the team that drafted him.
Not even a stint with The Canadian National Program could fix the plodding Ward’s skating. The Jets grew impatient with Ward’s slow development and dealt the lumbering d-man to the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for Paul Ysebeart before the Ontario product’s junior days were over.
Ward did make the Red Wings lineup in the 1993-94 season, where he ended up playing for parts of seven seasons. A shoulder injury slowed him down and the Wings traded him to the Carolina Hurricanes in 2001. Ward played in Raleigh for four seasons, before signing with the New York Rangers as a free agent. After 60 games with the Rangers, Ward was traded to the Boston Bruins to help shore up their blue line.
Ward stayed in Boston until 2009, when he was traded back to Carolina in the offseason. Ward played another 60 games for Carolina before being traded to the Anaheim Ducks at the 2010 trade deadline.
Ward retired in 2010 and served as aa TSN analyst until 2015, when he was let go after being charged with assault in a domestic incident (the charges were later dropped.) In 2019, he worked for ABC, covering the Hurricanes’ playoff run.
Ward now works for SportsMEDIA Technology, which provides puck-tracking statistics, scoring system services, data-driven virtual graphics to the NHL.
Sergei Bautin: 17th Overall, 1992
When the Jets selected Sergei Bautin with the 17th-overall pick, it sent shockwaves through the draft floor at the Montreal Forum. GM Mike Smith referred to Bautin as the “Jack Tatum of Russian hockey. “ Many Jets fans wished he would have stayed in Russia.
Bautin laboured in the NHL as he couldn’t keep up with wingers who flew right by him. Despite his size, 6-foot-3, 200-pounds, Bautin skated like he was in quicksand. He couldn’t use his physical style of play because opposing players were just too fast for him.
Bautin was prone to costly giveaways that usually led to goals for the opposition. After 130 games with the Jets in which he recorded five goals and 25 assists, Bautin was traded to the Detroit Red Wings along with Bob Essensa for Tim Cheveldae and Dallas Drake.
Bautin only played one game for the Red Wings before they sent him down to their AHL affiliate in Adirondack. After being released by the Red Wings, Bautin signed with the San Jose Sharks and played one game there before being released again.
The Jets could have saved themselves some considerable heartache if they would have taken Jason Smith instead. The 18th-overall pick played 1,008 games in the NHL and was a reliable, stay-at-home defenceman for five teams.
Mats Lindgren: 15th Overall, 1993
Mike Smith’s European experiment continued in 1993, when he selected Sweden’s Mats Lindgren with the 15th-overall pick. A big centre, Lindgren was thought to be a solid two-way player with size and strength. He didn’t play a single game for the Jets.
Lindgren stayed in Sweden after he was drafted, where he felt more comfortable honing his game. When John Paddock replaced Mike Smith as the Jets GM, he changed the course of the team and dealt Lindgren, along with Boris Mironov and a first round draft choice to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for rugged defenceman Dave Manson.
Lindgren eventually cracked the Oilers lineup in the 1996-97 season, and stayed with Edmonton until the 1999 trade deadline, where he was shipped to the New York Islanders in exchange for goalie Tommy Salo.
A shoulder injury slowed down Lindgren’s progress and the Islanders decided not to renew his contract after the 2001-02 season. Lindgren signed with the Vancouver Canucks, where a back injury limited him to 59 games. After that, he elected to retire.
Lindgren appeared in 387-career games, tallying 54 goals and 74 assists. The Jets could have had Saku Koivu or Todd Bertuzzi as they were taken 21st and 23rd overall respectively.
Jets Much Better at the Draft Table These Days
Luckily, the second incarnation of the Jets have had much more success when choosing first-rounders than the first. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has been a wizard at the draft table since the team relocated from Atlanta in 2011.
Many of the Jets’ 10 first-round picks thus far comprise their core and are either emerging or established stars, including Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Patrik Laine, Josh Morrissey, and Mark Scheifele. They’re a far cry from players such as Mann, Stewart, and Lindgren, to be certain.