This article was originally written in June, 2014.
In its history, the Winnipeg Jets version 1.0 had some up-and-down moments at the draft table in the first round. They did hit a home-run in selecting Dale Hawerchuk with the first overall pick back in 1981. The Jets also struck gold when Teemu Selanne was available with the 10th overall pick back in 1988.
But for the most part, the Jets record at the draft table was porous. This was a huge reason why the Jets floundered during their first tenure in the NHL, which led to the team being moved to Phoenix in 1996. Here are the five biggest draft bombs in the history of Winnipeg Jets, version 1.0. The list is in chronological order.
Jimmy Mann: 19th Overall (First Round of the 1979 Draft)
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 (great name) of the QMJHL. In his final season in the Q, Mann recorded 35 goals and 47 assists while compiling 260 penalty minutes. Jets GM John Ferguson saw someone who was similar to his playing style, thus he selected Mann in the first round.
Mann quickly found out that scoring in the NHL was far more difficult than in junior. In his first season with the big club, Mann managed a mere 3 goals and 5 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. After nine games, the Penguins cut Mann 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. The Jets could have had Michel Goulet and Kevin Lowe were were immediately selected after Mann. Ouch!
Ryan Stewart: 18th Overall (First Round of the 1985 Draft)
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 that Stewart’s heroics would continue in the NHL. Not a chance. 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 now resides in Denver, where he coaches youth hockey as well as being the director of the Littleton, Colorado Youth Hockey Association. The Jets could have had Joe Nieuwendyk as he was selected 27th overall by the Calgary Flames, but passed on him.
Aaron Ward: 5th Overall (First Round of the 1991 Draft)
Aaron Ward is the reason why I don’t do mock drafts. Why? I thought he would anchor the Jets blue line for the next decade when he was picked 5th overall in 1991 entry draft .So while he did have a decent NHL career, he never became that dominant D-man the Jets or I had hoped for. So while many don’t consider Ward a total bust, he never turned out to be the second coming of Scott Stevens. (I said those words when drafted and that is why I don’t work as a GM for an NHL team.)
A slow and plodding d-man, Ward could never crack the Jets lineup. Not even a stint with The Canadian National Program couldn’t fix Ward’s skating. The Jets grew impatient with Ward’s slow development and dealt the lumbering defenceman to the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for Paul Ysebeart.
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 down Ward 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 till 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.
— Aaron Ward (@NHL_AaronWard) June 12, 2014
Ward retired in 2010, playing 839 career games in the NHL. None of those were with the Winnipeg Jets. Ward is currently an analyst on TSN where he has remained since his retirement.
Sergei Bautin: 17th Overall (First Round of the 1992 Draft)
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 (6-3, 200 lbs) Bautin skated like he was in quicksand. He couldn’t use his physical style of play largely to the fact opposing players were just too fast for him.
Bautin was prone to costly giveaways that usually led to goals for the opposition, which didn’t sit well with Jets fans or the Winnipeg media. After 130 games with the Jets where he recorded 5 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 realized he was terrible and sent him down to their AHL affiliate in Adirondack. After being released by the Red Wings, Bautin signed with the San Jose Sharks. After one game, the Sharks realized Bautin was still brutal and released him where Bautin faded into obscurity.
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. Unlike Sergei Bautin.
Mats Lindgren: 15th Overall (First Round of the 1993 Draft)
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 centre 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, rather than in North America. When John Paddock replaced Mike Smith as the Jets GM, he changed the course of the Jets. Paddock 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 Lindgren’s contract after the 2001-02 season. Lindgren signed with the Vancouver Canucks where a back injury limited him to 59 games with the Canucks, before he decided to retire.
Lindgren appeared in 387 games, tallying 54 goals and 74 assists. The Jets could have had Saku Koivu and Todd Bertuzzi were taken 21st and 23rd overall respectively, but passed on both players. Just another mistake at the draft table.