With the 14th pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, the Winnipeg Jets selected forward Rutger McGroarty from the US National U-18 team and U.S. National Team Development Program. The Nebraska native is a 6-foot-1, 200-pound forward with skills that should translate to the NHL level. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff made this pick, which was his first of two picks in the first round, with the second being forward Brad Lambert at pick No. 30.
The Jets were awarded that pick due to the Rangers making it past the second round of the 2021 playoffs. With their first-round selections, their forward group in their prospect pool just became one of the deepest and most talented in the NHL. With the likes of Cole Perfetti, Chaz Lucius, McGroarty and Lambert, the team now has one of the most interesting prospect pools in the NHL.
McGroarty Brings Combination of Strength and Skill
McGroarty was a force last season, scoring 35 goals and 69 points in 54 games for the US National U-18 team. In the U-18 World Junior Championship, he scored eight goals in six games. He’s got great hands, a hard shot and is strong enough to drive to the net and shrug off defenders on his way. He’s got great vision, which aids his passing ability. And he’s a great defender who wins more puck battles than he loses, which helps him earn the title of a “two-way forward.”
For a player with all of those tools, why was he ranked in the 20s by most scouts and analysts? He admitted in his post-draft interview that his skating needs work. His top-end speed isn’t necessarily “slow,” but his first few strides are choppy and result in slow acceleration. With NHL skating coaches at his disposal, this is fixable in his years of development before he tries out for the team. If he’s able to workshop his skating to an average NHL level, he projects as a high-end, middle-six forward with the club.
McGroarty was the captain of the US National Development Program and is known to be an upbeat and joyful character. He has an extremely high motor and competes at a high level on every shift. The Jets’ locker room issues have been a big topic of discussion amongst fans this offseason, and adding another leader once he makes it to the NHL level will help the team tremendously.
How the Jets Will Handle His Development Before the NHL Level
McGroarty has committed to the University of Michigan for next season. He will join the most established NCAA hockey program in the United States as last season, Michigan rostered Owen Power, Kent Johnson, Luke Hughes, and many more high-level prospects. He will be stepping into a perfect program to further his game, and the Jets have familiarity there.
Most notably, Kyle Connor, along with former Jets Andrew Copp and Jacob Trouba, are players that have come through the system by way of the Michigan hockey program. Luckily for the team, there may not be a better place for him to further his development.
Having him spend another year or two developing his skills with the Michigan program is what the Jets will do. Whether or not he plays AHL games before coming to the club is yet to be seen, but in the past, the team has elected to let their players develop with the Manitoba Moose before calling them up.
McGroarty Will Represent a New Wave of Prospects in the Jets’ Future
McGroarty is an extremely skilled two-way power forward. If he develops his skating, he has plenty of tools to be an effective forward at the NHL level. Perfetti, Lucius, Lambert, and McGroarty will represent a shift in the teams’ contention window. When these players presumably take the jump to the NHL level, players such as Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, and Adam Lowry may not be playing with the team anymore.
At the very least, these players will be entering their primes while the current Jets roster fades out of it; Scheifele and Hellebuyck each have two years remaining on their respective contracts. What happens after that remains to be seen, but it’s almost a certainty that these prospects will play a big role in whether or not they will contend past that two-year window. McGroarty is a leader, competitor, and extremely gifted hockey player who is the perfect candidate to lead this team for the next decade.
Connor Hrabchak is 19 years old and is currently working towards completing his communications and media degree. He was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He’s been watching hockey ever since they moved back to Winnipeg in 2011, and that has inspired him to write about hockey and attempt to make it into a full-time career.