Not many players have shot up the NHL draft rankings quite like Brett Howden in recent months.
Howden wasn’t exactly an unknown in the lead up to the WHL playoffs. After all, he was ranked 22nd on NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters, a five-place jump from 27th at the mid-term. Since then, he’s done nothing but assert himself as a top prospect for 2016.
So, here’s a strange-but-true fact: the Winnipeg Jets have drafted just one Manitoba-born player in their five seasons of existence. They took MJHL goaltender Jason Kasdorf in 2011, who they later traded to Buffalo, but that’s about it. In fact, only a bare handful of Manitoba-born players have ever played for the Jets.
While nothing is set in stone yet, and a lot can change between now and the highly-anticipated draft, Howden could be the player to break that trend, and become the first Manitoban the Jets ever draft in the first round.
Howden was actually born in Oakbank, not Winnipeg, and played his midget hockey with the Eastman Selects, but really, for Howden, the Manitoba-connection is more of a feel-good story if the Jets draft him. He’s going in the first round of the draft either way.
Howden has put up back-to-back 20-goal seasons in the WHL with Moose Jaw, and wore an assistant captain’s A with the Warriors this season. He finished with 64 points in 68 games, not eye-popping numbers but certainly not numbers to be ignored. He has a 6’2 frame on which he’s already packed 192 pounds according to eliteprospects.com, so, much like his brother Quinton, his size won’t hold him back. All indications are he has Quinton’s work ethic and leadership too, which no NHL team would ever turn their nose up at.
#24 Brett Howden @B_Howdy21
Was outstanding for Canada at 2016 World U18 tournament – big power forward w/soft hands
— ISS Hockey (@ISShockey) April 26, 2016
A big power forward with soft hands, you say? And Winnipeg has a pick right around where he’s slated to go (ISS has him ranked 24th overall, and as mentioned NHL Central Scouting has him 22nd among NA skaters). This could be a match made in heaven for the Jets.
A Big Player in the Big Games
Howden was already firmly established as a top-tier prospect for this year’s NHL draft, but his stock has really risen in the last month and a half or so. He was one of Moose Jaw’s best players in the playoffs, posting 15 points in 10 games before the Warriors bowed out to a stacked Brandon Wheat Kings squad that’s buzz-sawing their way through the WHL playoffs. Howden shone in the playoffs and likely boosted his draft stock with that alone.
@MJWARRIORS move into 2nd round of the WHL Playoffs taking down PA. 2016 NHL Draft prospect Brett Howden draws rave reviews: 3-8-11 in 5.
— DraftBuzz Hockey (@draftbuzzhockey) April 2, 2016
Not content to stop there, Howden then joined Team Canada at the U18s in North Dakota, where he made an immediate impact, scoring the opening goal in his first game with the team. He shone right through to the end of the tournament, scoring Canada’s only goal in the shootout heartbreaker against Sweden and being named one of Canada’s top forwards in the tournament. When you consider that this forward group included Tyson Jost, who broke Connor McDavid’s U18 points record, that’s a major feather in Howden’s cap.
— Brad Elliott Schlossman (@SchlossmanGF) April 24, 2016
Howden finished the tournament with eight points in six games and was one of Canada’s best forwards. His draft stock has clearly gone up in the minds of many scouts, and it would be no stretch (assuming, of course that he is still available) for the Jets to use their second of two first-round picks on the Oakbank native.
As much as it would be a feel-good story to have a Manitoba native slip on a Jets jersey on June 24, the practical perks of adding Howden to the Jets deep prospect pool almost outweigh the sentimental ones. This is a big, strong, power forward with soft hands a nose for the net, a willingness to go the dirty areas and a reputation as a leader despite his young age. This is a player who will be a pro, one way or another, and the Jets could make excellent use of him.
Howden would almost certainly need seasoning before pulling on a Jets jersey in a real game. This is not a player who will make the jump to the NHL at 18 (most likely). He will return to Moose Jaw for at least one, likely two more seasons, and may need time in the AHL after that. Howden is a much more long-term project than whoever the Jets take with their first selection, especially if it’s a lottery pick.
And yet, all signs indicate he’ll be worth the wait. If Jets fans are looking for a feel-good story with a practical element to it, they should hope the Jets scoop up Howden in Buffalo. Because if they don’t, you can bet somebody else will; Howden won’t be waiting long to hear his name called at the draft after the season he’s had.