Jets Development Camp Impressions: Part One

For the Winnipeg Jets and their fans, it was a week to look to the future.

The Jets prospects displayed their skills before a packed MTS Iceplex for five days this week, including two scrimmages. Optimism always flows fast among teams and fanbases where prospects are concerned, and for the Jets in particular there is reason to feel optimism and pride, as theirs is one of the deepest and strongest prospect pools in the NHL. That’s even without Patrik Laine, the purest goal scorer of the 2016 draft, ever stepping foot on the ice this week.

Many fans flocked to the Iceplex to see their future Jets and Manitoba Moose in action, but for those who didn’t get a chance to see the camp unfold, this is the first of a three-part rundown of the development camp and those who took part. Today we’re looking at the big guns — the prospects that sell the tickets, so to speak, and literally, since the team sold tickets to the first scrimmage on Tuesday night, with the proceeds going to the Winnipeg Jets Hockey Academy.

Kyle Connor

This is the one guy everybody wanted to see. As soon as it was clear Laine wasn’t participating in any on-ice activities, Connor became the man of the hour, and the player on whom all eyes rested. Jets fans who couldn’t attend the camp will be pleased to know that Connor got better as the camp went on.

He started off with an average but unspectacular first day, showing flashes of skill but never really taking a drill over, then was kind of quiet in the first scrimmage on Tuesday. Sure, he put on a stick handling clinic or two, but he didn’t register a point in a game dominated by fellow 2015 draftees Jack Roslovic and Erik Foley.

He followed that up with a terrific showing on Wednesday, where Paul Maurice ran practice and let Connor show off some of his speed and skill, culminating in this beautiful rush.

Connor then proceeded to dominate the scrimmage on Thursday, almost toying with the opposition when he had the puck and setting up Axel Blomqvist not once but twice for a pair of easy goals. Connor looked like a pro playing against amateurs out there, which is what you’d expect since of all the players on the ice, he’s the most likely by far to see NHL time in the 2016-17 season. He seemed at ease, never looking over-exerted yet still dominating the play. While training camp will tell us more about his readiness, development camp showed him in a flattering light.

Jack Roslovic

Much the way Connor was lost in the post-draft lottery hype and the outpouring of love for Patrik Laine, Jack Roslovic was kind of forgotten during the season thanks to Connor’s incredible freshman campaign. Roslovic wasted no time, however, reminding Jets fans that they drafted two stud prospects in the first round in 2015.

Roslovic was strong in the first few days of camp, displaying speed and tenacity that impressed me, but it was in the scrimmage that he truly shone. He had two goals, both of them excellent displays of skill, and added three assists. He potted another goal during Thursday’s scrimmage using a deft little poke-check to create a breakaway, then cashing it in with a nifty backhand-forehand-backhand move.

Roslovic may not have had the amazing season Connor had, or gained quite the same darling status, but if he keeps this up he’ll be a terrific offensive player in the NHL one day. It’s only a development camp, I know, but even so, the kind of goals Roslovic scored can’t be ignored. He had one of the best camps of any Jets prospect.

Brendan Lemieux

That Brendan Lemieux is a good hockey player we already knew. His junior goal totals can attest to that. He shoots well, plays on the edge, loves to park himself in front of the net, and plays physical. All this we already knew as well.

One thing that I saw this week from Lemieux that I didn’t expect, and was pleasantly surprised by, is the relationship he has with his teammates. It’s hard to tell when you’re not in the locker room at all times or in the players heads, but from what I could see, from the way he jokes with his teammates after the whistle and bear hugs them after a session, this is a guy who gets along with his teammates to the same degree he badgers his opponents.

Lemieux might spear a guy in the stomach during a scrimmage or run him into the end wall or nearly fight him as he almost did with Nelson Nogier. After the scrimmage he’ll be the first guy to come up to that player and bro-hug it out. Intense during the play and seemingly friends with everyone after it, Lemieux has the potential to be a real glue guy. His drive and effort level during the games and his ability to keep the team loose can hold a room intact.

Oh, and he’s pretty good at hockey too. The Jets know they’re getting one shoot-first power play threat in Laine. They’ll soon have another in Lemieux.

YouTube player

Yes, he may need to reign in some hot-headedness, but his belligerence (if I may channel my inner Brian Burke… or is that truculence?) is part of what makes him the player he is. His willingness to bull his way to the net, his penchant for parking in the tough areas and his ability to rattle the boards are all part of that belligerence, and I hope the Jets and/or Moose know better than to try and knock it out of him.

Logan Stanley

If Twitter is any indication, I’m about to make a whole bunch of new friends for saying this, but I thought Stanley had a great week. He looked strong on day one, looked very steady in the first half of the first scrimmage, then perhaps got caught trying to do too much at times in the second half. It was the second scrimmage, however, that saw him at his best, and showcased his surprising offensive talents.

Stanley is known for big, heavy shots, the kind that look impressive but often impact the goalie right on the logo and get swallowed straight away. There’s also a concern that he can’t get his softer, more useful shots through traffic (or his hard ones for that matter). Now, it’s only a development camp, but Stanley allayed those concerns at least in part on Thursday with two beautiful wrist shot goals.

That was Stanley’s first goal. The second was a simple yet effective dangle to the slot from the point, followed by a top-shelf wrister. Again, I know this is only a development camp, but hey, it’s better than him not scoring goals. He surprised me with his ability to take well-placed (yet still hard) shots. If he puts that wrister to work in Windsor this year, improved point totals will surely follow.

Now, Stanley wasn’t necessarily drafted for his ability to put the puck in the net. If you’re wondering about the other side of the puck, Stanley looked solid there most times. He broke up numerous 2-on-1s in both scrimmages and drills with his reach, and he threw his weight around. He wasn’t picking on little guys either. Two of his biggest hits were on Louie Rowe and Blomqvist, just about the only players in camp besides Matt Ustaski who could look Stanley straight in the eye without tilting their necks.

If you came to camp hoping to see some justification for the Jets trading up to get him, you likely came for the wrong reasons, since you won’t get a proper dose of that until the season starts. If, however, you came to see if the knocks on him were well founded, you likely left pleasantly surprised. I know I did.

Stanley is a bruiser, yes, and he uses his size effectively, but he’s not the lumbering, offensively defunct pre-lockout era defender some Jets fans feared. I’ll reserve judgement until I have more of a sample size, but what I saw this week impressed me.

Now please, put down the pitchforks.

I kid, but mentioning Stanley on Twitter I felt like the cartoon villain who lights a match in a dark room only to discover he’s surrounded by dynamite. Mentioning Stanley seems to be a sure way to start a debate (which, I have to say, was pretty reasonable for the most part). Hopefully Stanley quiets that debate with some excellent play in Windsor this season.

That should about do it for this segment, folks. Next time I’ll look at a few of the later round picks who really stood out to me, including recent draftees Luke Green and Jordy Stallard.