Unfortunately for the Winnipeg Jets, their ball didn’t fly up the shoot at Monday night’s Draft Lottery.
This author — like NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who was forced to show that he could indeed identify the team logos of the league he runs — can confirm that the New York Rangers won the first-overall pick.
Fortunately for the Jets, however, they’re in a no-lose situation. Because of their quick and disappointing exit in the Stanley Cup Qualifying round — and because of the upsets that led to a bunch of teams with better winning percentages also end up in the Alexis Lafreniere sweepstakes — the Jets will select 10th overall on Oct. 9.
That’s an upgrade of at least six spots over where they’d have selected if they’d beat the Calgary Flames to move on to the traditional 16-team playoffs that began Tuesday.
With such a deep draft, the Jets find themselves with an unexpected opportunity to vastly improve their prospect pool. There will be a boatload of talent available to them when the 10th-overall pick comes around in the long-awaited draft that’ll go down after Stanley Cup champion is crowned.
In late June, we took a look at five Jets first-round targets when it seemed they were destined to have a mid-round pick. Now that their placement is confirmed at 10th, let’s take a fresh look at the players who could be available to them — some of whom might not have been in the mid-first.
Currently, the Jets have a trio of strong centres in Mark Scheifele, Adam Lowry, and Andrew Copp. However, they’ve been searching for a suitable second-line centre to play between Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine for many seasons now and don’t have many top prospects in their system, with David Gustafsson looking more suited a bottom-six role.
The Jets’ need for a centre will be dictated by whether veteran Bryan Little, who suffered a severe head and ear injury in November, can continue his NHL career and whether they plan to re-sign Cody Eakin, the hometown boy who was acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights prior to the trade deadline and was starting to build some chemistry with Ehlers and Laine prior to the COVID-19 season pause.
The Draft is chock-full of strong centres, including:
If the Jets want more homegrown talent — they’ve had only four Manitoban-born players suit up for them since relocation from Atlanta, and those players have played less than 100 games combined — they should look no further than Seth Jarvis.
The Winnipegger and Portland Winterhawk would have reached triple digits in points if not for the CHL season shutdown, as he recorded an eye-popping 42 goals and 56 assists for 98 points in 58 games. He’s raised his draft stock dramatically, going from a projected mid-to-late second-rounder to a consensus mid-first-rounder.
Related: Seth Jarvis — 2020 NHL Draft Profile
A smart, slippery, and superbly skilled forward with an accurate shot, he’d be an ideal player to groom for that second-line centre role.
Judging by chatter on social media, Anton Lundell is the one guy Jets fans want most. They’ve got a thing for Finns, and who can blame them? The last time the Jets took a Finn 10th overall was in 1988 and that player was none other than the Finnish Flash and rookie-season goal-scoring record holder, Teemu Selanne.
The idea of Lundell setting up fellow countryman Patrik Laine for seasons to come is an intoxicating one. The 6-foot-1, 185 pounder spent his 2019-20 season with HIFK Helsinki and recorded 10 goals and 18 assists in 41 games.
He’s backed up that strong production with equally impressive underlying numbers (his 62.8 percent Corsi for leads HIFK), suggesting that he’s been dominant in every zone,” wrote THW’s Chris Faria in March.Chris Faria on Anton Lundell
Faria notes Lundell uses his excellent hockey sense and anticipation to read the play and often scores goals by getting to the open space at just the right time. He also notes his strong frame helps him excel down low and maintain puck possession, and his commitment to smart positioning and defensive play.
With the Jets’ recent track record of selecting players hailing from the Nordic country — Ville Heinola, Henri Nikkanen, Sami Niku, and Kristian Vesalainen in addition to Laine — it’s a safe bet they’ll take Lundell if he’s available.
Hailing from Gatineau, the 18-year-old Lapierre would be a high-risk pick.
Lapierre, ranked 13th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, has been praised for his playmaking, positioning, and the compete level he displays on every shift. However, he also has a history of concussions —being diagnosed with three between February and November 2019 — and was limited to 19 games with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens in 2019-20 as a result. TSN has called him “the ultimate wild card.”
There will be better and less risky players available at 10th overall. Even without the injury concerns, Lapierre would be a reach, as THW’s Brandon Share-Cohen wrote in April his “lack of high-end ability in one specific area make the likelihood of him being taken before 20th overall unlikely.”
The Jets have a mixed history when it comes to going off the board: they did so with their first-ever pick in 2011 by taking Mark Scheifele instead of Sean Couturier, and that’s worked out rather well, to say the least.
They also did so in 2016, when they took towering d-man Logan Stanley 18th overall, and which hasn’t worked out nearly as nicely.
Zary was impressive for the Kamloops Blazers in 2019-20, firing 38 goals and amassing 48 apples in his third WHL season.
The left-handed shooter is an balanced two-way player who possesses strong playmaking abilities and a high compete level. However, some have expressed concerns that his age — he’s one of the oldest-first year eligible players and thus has an advantage over younger players in juniors — has inflated his stats, and that he doesn’t have as much potential to reach superstardom as some other players who might be still by the mid first-round.
Regardless, THW’s Dayton Reimer described Zary as a player modelled after the Vancouver Canucks’ Bo Horvat who often plays in high-danger situations and possesses a strong defensive game that made him a Blazers’ penalty kill mainstay.
Related: Connor Zary — 2020 NHL Draft Profile
Penalty killing prowess should be something the Jets consider when making their selection, as their PK was subpar for most of the regular season and in the Qualifier, too.
On Left Wing
The Jets are strong on left wing with Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers both locked up long term and possessing the top-six spots. However, a pair of players in particular would further bolster the Jets on that side.
A well-rounded player worth a long look is Russian Rodion Amirov. The left-winger spent his 2019-20 between three Russian Leagues — the KHL, MHL, and VHL — putting up 11 goals and 16 assists between the levels. He is ranked fifth among European skaters by NHL Central Scouting.
Amirov has been touted as a great skater and forechecker with a second-to-none work ethic and ability to play both power play and penalty kill. “He boasts a rare combination of skill and two-way acumen that a lot of 18-year-old forwards don’t possess,” THW’s Matthew Zator wrote in an April draft profile.
Holloway, ranked 12th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, is an Albertan-born product who spent his 2019-20 season with the University of Wisconsin Badgers, recording eight goals and nine assists for 17 points in 35 games. The season prior, he recorded 88 points for the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Okotoks Oilers.
Holloway plays a high-octane game with a physical edge, and he’s been noted for his good vision as a playmaker and his attention to detail.
“Holloway’s vision and decision-making away from the puck is still what makes him a top prospect and a complete player overall, one that general managers and scouts would love to see. He’s always engaged in puck battles and never backs down when challenging the opposition,” wrote THW’s Peter Baracchini in March.
A player with a bit of an edge could be just what the doctor ordered for the Jets, whose overall lacking of grit came up as a topic of discussion of late. They didn’t exhibit much pushback back much after the Flames took out Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine in Game 1 and overall, let their opponent impose their will throughout the four game series.
On Right Wing
Right wing is where the Jets have the least organizational depth. Aside from Kristian Vesalainen, who is developing much slower than many thought or hoped, they have mostly lower-tier prospects such as Andrei Chibisov, Joona Luoto, and C.J. Suess.
Three right wingers are particularly intriguing:
Dawson Mercer — who can play centre as well — has been praised for his ability to play in any situation, for his shot, and for his hockey IQ. He is ranked 10th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting.
The second-ranked QMJHL prospect behind Lafreniere, the 6-foot, 180-pound Mercer began his season with the Dummondville Voltigeurs before being traded to the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, and tallied 24 goals and 36 assists for 60 points in just 42 games between the two clubs. He also represented Canada at the 2020 World Juniors.
“The offence is there. If he can buckle down and continue to build on his abilities away from the puck, Mercer could be an incredible pick for a team who finds themselves with a mid to late first-round selection,” THW’s Andrew Forbes wrote of Mercer in March.
The very definition of a late riser, Jack Quinn’s draft-stock is at an all-time high as the once depth forward emerged as a star this season.
The 18-year-old completed his second season with the Ottawa 67’s in 2019-20, and it was a coming out party for him as he potted 52 goals and added 37 assists for 89 points to finish third in team scoring.
Quinn possesses a lethal shot, but “is much more than just a shooter, though,” THW‘s Chris Faria wrote in June. “He also possesses an excellent set of hands, high IQ on both sides of the puck, and has turned his once lacklustre skating into a strength. He’s a threat every time he has the puck, isn’t afraid of getting to the dirty areas around the net, and is a better playmaker than his stats might suggest.”
While it’d be surprising if Quinn fell to 10th, it’s 2020. Anything can happen.
This author’s on record that the Jets should prioritize forwards over defence at the draft.
Although their blue line was razor thin in 2019-20 and mostly depended on fringe guys and waiver wire pickups, they’ll have Ville Heinola and Dylan Samberg in the fold next season, and also have plenty of money in the offseason — despite the flat cap — to either re-sign Dylan DeMelo, add a top-four defenceman in free agency (there are dozens of UFA options,) or even do both.
Regardless of if you agree on that, one thing we everyone can agree on is there are a number of potential top-tier blue-liners who might be available, including:
After winning the WHL championship with the Prince Albert Raiders as a 16-year-old rookie in 2018-19, Guhle enjoyed a breakout sophomore campaign, recording 11 goals and 29 assists in 64 games before the season was cancelled.
The 6-foot-2, 185 pound left-handed d-man has shown off excellent skating and smooth pivoting that allow him to transition seamlessly from offence to defence, an accurate wrist and slap shot, good gap control, physicality, and strong positioning.
Related: Kaiden Guhle — NHL Draft Profile
Just 18, he’s a longer-term project who likely would spend another season or two in the WHL before turning pro. But that alone wouldn’t preclude the Jets from drafting him: they are nothing if not patient.
The Jets have been successful when it comes to drafting American skaters, snagging Kyle Connor, Andrew Copp, Tucker Poolman, Jack Roslovic, and Jacob Trouba.
If the Jets were to select Jake Sanderson — who is ranked the second-highest North American defenseman by NHL Central Scouting — he’d be the third player to come from the U.S. National Development Team (Trouba and Roslovic were the first two.)
The son of former NHLer Geoff Sanderson, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Sanderson has the pedigree and a number of assets at his disposal: great awareness, the ability to transition seamlessly from offence to defence, and leadership qualities (he captained the U.S. National squad in 2019-20), among many others. He’s been described as “the prototypical modern-age defenceman” who can control play.
Sanderson would be a longer-term project as he’s committed to the University of North Dakota for 2020-21, from whence Poolman also came. Given his potential, the left-shot defenceman could be well worth the wait.
“Braden Schneider presents a toolkit that oozes NHL potential as your quintessential two-way defenseman,” THW’s Jeb Biggart wrote of Brandon Wheat Kings’ standout Brayden Schneider.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound defenceman player top-pairing role for the Wheat Kings’ in 2019-20 and recorded 42 points in 60 games.
However, where Schneider really shines is without the puck, with his stick and board play, gap control, and defensive poise some of the major reasons he’s ranked ninth among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting.
There are two things Schneider is not afraid to do: throw his big frame around and jump up in the play.
If those sounds a little like the hallmarks of the utterly unique Dustin Byfuglien’s game, you’d be right. However, Last Word on Hockey’s Benn Kerr notes “he is not one to get out of position looking for a big hit” and “does a good job of knowing when to join the rush and provide an extra option.” Schneider is less reckless than “Big Buff”, but still a potential game-chancer.
It’d be absolutely shocking if the Jets took a goaltender with their first-round pick. Of the eight netminders they’ve selected, all have been from the fifth round or later with the exception of Eric Comrie, and the Vezina-nominated Connor Hellebuyck — a fifth-round pick 2012 selection — has the Jets’ crease firmly locked up for the long term.
However, for what it’s worth, the top two goaltenders as ranked by NHL Central Scouting are the Guelph Storm’s Nico Daws and Russian product Iaroslav Askarov.
Jets Must Get This Pick Right
With so many good players potentially available and but a single pick, it’s imperative Cheveldayoff and his staff get this one right and turn over every stone to determine who will bolster the club the most.
With the Jets’ prospect pool becoming much shallower in recent years, the 2020 Draft is a great opportunity to accelerate the reload that’s needed. They can’t squander it.