Jets’ 2020 Draft Strategy: Best Forward Available

The Winnipeg Jets struggled with their defence a lot this past season, but I am here to tell you it will get better without them taking a defenceman in the first round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.

Related: 3 Jets’ Free Agent Centre Targets

The Jets have a solid group of young, talented defencemen coming up the ranks and should focus their draft around taking the best forward available, at least for the first two rounds.

Forward Depth is Getting Thin

With the majority of the Jets’ top offensive prospects having already graduated to the professional ranks, the cupboards are starting to look very thin up front.

Kristian Vesalainen and David Gustafsson remain the most promising forward prospects the Jets have but there is not a lot behind those two. Vesalainen is also progressing slower than a lot of people anticipated so expect him to take another full season or two in the American Hockey League before making the jump to the NHL.

Kristian Vesalainen Manitoba Moose
Kristian Vesalainen remains a top prospect but likely needs more time to develop. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Gustafsson looked promising in his 22 games with the Jets at the start of the 2019-20 season. The points were not there yet (just one goal in those games) but his defensive play was strong in his limited amount of ice time that was mostly spent at fourth-line centre. However, he could very well be another guy that needs another season in the AHL before being ready to join the Jets fulltime.

Defensive Depth on the Way

Yes, the Jets’ 2019-20 defence was not the prettiest thing anyone has seen lately but there are pieces to build off and more pieces on the way.

Related: Winnipeg Jets’ Top 10 Prospects

Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk, Sami Niku, Tucker Poolman, and Dylan DeMelo (if re-signed) are all solid players that bring something positive to the Jets. They have gained experience all over the Jets’ three defensive pairings this season and they are all under the age of 27.

Dylan DeMelo Winnipeg Jets
The Jets need to re-sign steady defender Dylan DeMelo. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Young prospects Ville Heinola and recently signed Dylan Samberg will be ready sooner than later and they will need a spot to fit into the lineup. One of the five previous names will have to get bumped because Heinola and Samberg have the potential to be top-pairing defencemen down the road.

The Jets also have other strong defence prospects in Declan Chisholm, Logan Stanley, and Leon Gawanke who are likely further away than Heinola and Samberg but still show a lot of promise to possibly join the Jets two-three years down the road.

To sum things up, the Jets are loaded with potential on the backend. We did not see it in 2019-20 as a lot of these guys are not quite ready yet, but we will see it possibly as early as next season and beyond. Their defence will get better and as the years go by it might even surpass their potential upfront.

Related: NHL’s Top Farm Systems – Midseason Rankings

It’s time to re-stock on forward prospects and it starts in Round 1 of the 2020 NHL Draft. Let’s take a look at who the Jets can target on offence.

Forward Draft Targets

The draft order has yet to be set in stone with the NHL hoping to resume play at some point in the coming weeks. But the Jets are likely to be making their first selection in the middle of Round 1. If the NHL does not resume and they order the draft via point percentage, the Jets would select 12th overall. If they order it via the current standings, the Jets would select 17th overall.

Seth Jarvis Portland Winterhawks
Skilled forward Seth Jarvis could be available to the Jets in the middle of Round 1. (Megan Connelly/Portland Winterhawks)

Either way, the Jets will get a top-notch forward prospect at either of those spots in what looks to be one of the deepest drafts in years.

Four names that come to mind for me when thinking about who the Jets should target in Round 1 of the draft include hometown product Seth Jarvis, Connor Zary, Dylan Holloway, and Noel Gunler.

Related: 2020 NHL Draft Guide – Updated

These four players would instantly bolster the Jets’ prospect group at forward and they are all expected to be taken somewhere in the middle of round one.

Jarvis and Zary are both skilled with the puck and boast strong scoring and playmaking abilities. They are both strong penalty killers as well which would bode well with head coach Paul Maurice.

Holloway and Gunler would each bring a bit more size and strength to the table. Both are strong competitors with two-way capabilities. Both drive the net with force and can create offence with their strong vision and passing abilities.

Any of these four prospects would a welcomed addition to the Jets’ forward group. As I mentioned previously, the Jets desperately need to re-stock that cupboard upfront and it needs to start in the 2020 NHL Draft.