Winnipeg Jets’ First-Round Draft Misses Since 2016

Hindsight is 20/20 and can be a bitter pill to swallow or a reason for joy. This is especially true of the NHL Entry Draft when there is always a chance that a player slips through the cracks and becomes another team’s gem. When looking back on past drafts, many general managers (GM) could either be grinning from ear-to-ear, or shaking their fists in disgust.

Related: Meet the Winnipeg Jets’ 2019 Draft Class

There is no perfect formula for scouting and evaluating prospects at 18 years old. One player might seem like an absolute steal only to be surpassed by the player drafted after him. If it were simpler, scouting staff might not hold such instrumental importance. Unfortunately for the Jets, they are no exception and have missed out on a few great players.

Rick Bowness Winnipeg Jets
Rick Bowness Head Coach of the Winnipeg Jets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Whether your team has missed with their selections, like the Bruins in the 2015 Draft, or select a player like Kyle Connor, who will ultimately impact the roster’s production for the next decade-plus. The art of drafting is like a game of chess, each GM is your opponent and trying to gain the upper hand.

Here are the players that the Jets missed out on, which were selected with the next pick dating back to the 2016 NHL Draft.

Pierre-Luc Dubois

In the 2016 Draft, the Jets drafted Finnish sniper Patrik Laine with the second-overall selection, while the Columbus Blue Jackets selected big Canadian centre Pierre-Luc Dubois third overall.

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It turned out that the Blue Jackets were seeking a sniper and the Jets wanted a do-it-all centre, so they opted to swap the two top-three selections.

Dubois has played six seasons in the NHL, split between the Blue Jackets and Jets, with 129 goals and 302 points. Laine split his time between the Jets and Blue Jackets through his 462 career games with 198 goals and 379 points. However, Dubois’ impact outweighs Laine’s as he is effective in all three zones, while Laine is more of an offensive weapon, due to his shot and poise on the power play.

Ryan Poehling

It’s tricky to compare a winger to a centre, so comparing the Jets’ 2017 selection, Kristian Vesalainen to Ryan Poehling is a little difficult. However, in terms of production, be it on the stats sheet or at both ends of the ice, both players have been underwhelming.

Ryan Poehling Pittsburgh Penguins
Ryan Poehling, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Poehling played most of his career with the Canadiens before being shipped over to Pittsburgh, along with Jeff Petry in a trade that saw Mike Matheson and a 2023 third-round pick coming back the other way.

Both Poehling and Vesalainen have been overwhelming given their draft stock, but Poehling has spent the most time at the NHL level and has been more productive than Vesalainen. The latter spent the 2022-23 season split between the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) and Finnish Liiga, and while he did put up almost point-per-game statistics with HIFK, the former is playing against stiffer competition in the NHL with a sustained role.

Samuel Poulin

Ville Heinola was the Jets’ 2019 first-round draft selection. He is a fluid skater, and his edge work allows him to make shifty moves to evade defenders. Should he hit his ceiling, the Jets will have a nice one-two punch with Josh Morrissey in terms of puck movers.

Samuel Poulin Penguins Draft
Samuel Poulin, Pittsburgh Penguins, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Pittsburgh Penguins nabbed Samuel Poulin with the 21st-overall selection, and statistically, he has stood above Heinola. Heinola’s game is predicated on pushing the pace and supporting his forwards in transition. Poulin is a big-bodied power forward with a nose for the net and a knack for stickhandling through defenders before slipping a nifty pass to a teammate or using his quick release to challenge the goaltender.

He transitioned from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) to the professional level with the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins in 2021-22. In his debut AHL season, he played 72 games, putting up 16 goals and 37 points. He made his NHL debut in 2022-23, recording one point through three games, before taking a personal leave of absence.

Yaroslav Askarov

The Nashville Predators selected Russian goaltender Yaroslav Askarov with the 11th-overall selection in the 2020 Draft, one selection after the Jets chose Cole Perfetti. He was the top-ranked goaltender and with good reason. His play heading into the draft cemented his ranking, and the Predators were hoping he would be one of the next great Russian puck-stoppers. He posted a 2.00 goals-against average (GAA) and a .920 save percentage (SV%) in one game with the Kontinental Hockey League’s (KHL) SKA St. Petersburg and went on to the Supreme Hockey League’s (VHL) SKA-Neva St. Petersburg and finished with a 2.45 GAA and .920 SV%, to go along with a 12-3-3 record.

Yaroslav Askarov Nashville Predators
Yaroslav Askarov, Nashville Predators (Photo by Vincent Ethier/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Askarov made his transition from the KHL to North America for the 2022-23 season, playing one game with the Predators, then he was sent down to their AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, posting a 26-16-5 record before going 6-6-0 in the AHL playoffs. While skill forwards who drive the play are very important; much like Perfetti, a number-one goaltender is the most important piece for a successful Stanley Cup contender. While both players’ careers are still early on, Askarov, for the time being, stands ahead.

A Method to Their Madness

Although there will never be a perfect draft, each GM remains game for the challenge. That drive to try and yank an elite talent away from a division rival, and reign supreme in the quest for Lord Stanley keeps the competitive juices flowing. The 2023 Draft will be no exception, as the upcoming one could potentially alter the trajectory of a franchise. So, the internal planning for the next draft steal is well underway and the goal remains the same, get the next NHL star and prevent the next team from selecting the superior talent.

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