Jets Replenish Prospect Pool With Balanced Selections at 2022 Entry Draft 

After selecting just eight players in the past two NHL Entry Drafts combined, the Winnipeg Jets cast a wide net at the 2022 edition to restock their prospect pool and found a balance when it came to both player position and country of origin.

Unlike the past couple of seasons — when Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff traded away picks for rentals — and made just a few selections, he and his crew were in the thick of things in Montreal after a disappointing season that was followed with a new head coaching hire. They made seven selections — the most since 2017 — which included four picks obtained from other teams.

Related: Jets’ Bowness Hire Brings Vast Experience, Defensive Focus

Cheveldayoff and the Jets have always preached a “draft and develop” strategy, with much of their core being home grown. Here, we’ll take a brief look at each player selected and what they could bring in the future to a team currently trying to find its way back to respectability.

Rutger McGroarty — First Round, 14th Overall

McGroarty’s ear-to-ear grin after pulling on the Jets jersey and through his media availability betrayed his excitement of being chosen 14th overall at the first in-person draft since 2019.

The Jets are excited about him too, and they’re hoping the a left-shooting right winger from Lincoln, Nebraska will be the latest U.S. product to blossom into a top-six forward.

‘”It’s unbelievable. Being here, it’s a dream as a kid. Like just being at an NHL draft, coming to any draft you love hearing, ‘We have a trade to announce.’ It’s just a real exciting time and I’m happy to be here,” said McGroarty, who had more than 100 family members and friends in attendance.

“Just to see the crowd all there, all the family and friends that I had, it’s unbelievable. I’m so fired up.”

Rutger McGroarty Winnipeg Jets 2022 Draft
Rutger McGroarty, Winnipeg Jets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

McGroarty served as the captain of the U.S. National Development Program U18 team last season and put up 15 goals and 18 assists in 25 games. He also had eight goals and an assist for nine points in six games at the U18 World Championship.

At 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, McGroarty describes himself as a skilled two-way power forward with high energy and compete levels. He said he models his game after Matthew and Brady Tkachuk, the skilled super-pests who play for the Calgary Flames and Ottawa Senators, respectively. Jets 1.0 fans are of course familiar with their dad, Keith, who was a 1990 first-round selection and 50-goal scorer in the season prior to relocation.

“With creativity, high hockey IQ, a heavy, accurate shot, and a tremendous work ethic in his arsenal, he could be one of the most dynamic players in this draft,” THW’s Matthew Zator wrote in a prospects profile. “While McGroarty is known more for his exploits in the offensive zone, he has shown himself capable of being a presence in his own end of the ice as well. Using his size, smarts, and positioning, he is able to knock players off the puck and quickly transition to offence in the blink of an eye.”

Related: Winnipeg Jets Bolster Prospect Pool With Rutger McGroarty

McGroarty has committed to play at the University of Michigan this fall, where he’ll work on his skating, considered to be the weakest part of his game currently. He will be the fourth Jets’ pick to suit up for the Wolverines as Kyle Connor, Andrew Copp, and Jacob Trouba did so as well.

Brad Lambert — First Round, 30th Overall

This pick has the chance to be a real steal.

It was quite a shock to see Lambert still without a team in the late first round and available to be chosen with the 30th-overall selection the Jets received in the March trade that sent Andrew Copp to the New York Rangers. A year ago, the Finn was considered a top-10 or even a top-five pick, but he tumbled badly Thursday night as he clearly fell out of favour due to a shaky 2021-22 season in Liiga.

Brad Lambert, JYP
Brad Lambert with JYP last season. (Mandatory Credit: Jiri Halttunen)

Lambert — one of the players this author believed the Jets could target with their 14th-overall pick — began 2021-22 with JYP, but moved on in mid-January to the Lahti Pelicans, his hometown team.

Between the two clubs, his point totals weren’t great — four goals and six assists in 49 games — and some pundits noted that switching teams in the middle of the season made him look less than dedicated. Despite not being able to put it all together thus far, he possesses an intoxicating mix of skills and is projected to be an impactful top-six centre down the line.

“His speed is incredible. He’s a player that can beat defenders one-on-one with the puck and he allows himself to operate at top speed,” THW’s Andrew Forbes wrote in a prospect profile. Forbes also noted his impressive instincts, playmaking skills, and an ability to see the game at a high level.

“He’s such a dynamic player that often he leaves his teammates out of the play which can cost him at times. That could be a major reason as to why consistency has been an issue for the young Finn,” Forbes continued.

Cheveldayoff was able to take a flyer with Lambert, considering the 30th-overall selection was something of a bonus first-rounder. He only had it because the Rangers made the Eastern Conference Final and Copp played in more than half of their games in the first two rounds.

Brad Lambert Winnipeg Jets
Brad Lambert fell into Cheveldayoff’s lap at 30th overall. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Lambert said he didn’t care where he was chosen and believes he can rebound.

“At the end of the day I might have fell to 30, but I can go back up just as quick. I think I have the skill and speed. I think I have one of the best skill sets in the draft. I believe in my skill,” he said. “The only thing that matters is what I do from here on forward. Anyone in this draft can be a boom or a bust. Work ethic and stuff like that is what is going to get you to be a boom player.”

Brad Lambert on falling to 30th overall

Lambert may not go back to Finland for 2022-23 as he is not under contract. His WHL rights are owned by the Seattle Thunderbirds, but as an international, he could also play for the Manitoba Moose in the AHL.

Elias Salomonsson — Second Round, 55th Overall

With the 55th overall pick the Jets selected another European who fell in the rankings from a year ago.

This selection also came in the Copp trade; the Jets had the choice to take either the Rangers’ 2022 first-rounder (which the Rangers received from the St. Louis Blues) or the Rangers’ 2023 first-rounder, and they chose the former.

The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Salomonsson, just 17 years old, was ranked as one of the top defensemen in the 2022 draft in many pre-season rankings after an excellent 2020-21 season with Skelleftea AIK and Skelleftea AIK Jr. of the Swedish Hockey League.

Salononsson’s “talent level is undeniable (and) he has all of the tools to be an effective, puck-moving, top-four defensemen at the next level,” wrote THW’s Austin Stanovich in a prospect profile. The strongest aspects of his game are his skating ability, passing skills, strong shot from the point, and poise under pressure. He is also noted to have a bit of a nasty streak.

Salomonsson had 11 goals and 11 assists for 22 points in 35 games for Skelleftea AIK Jr. in 2021-22, and also played in the IIHF U18 World Championships. He’s been described as “a poor man’s Erik Karlsson” by at least one outlet but concerns surrounding his defensive game caused him to tumble down the rankings.

Stanovich noted Salomonsson’s positioning and ability to read the game in his own zone need improvement, as does his gap control in one-on-one situations. “If he can improve his decision making and positioning, he has the tools to be a good defender… (but) right now, the idea of Salomonsson is more impressive than the player himself,” Stanovich wrote.

The Jets currently have a number defensive prospects knocking on the door for full-time work in 2022-23. Salomonsson will need plenty of reps, but could provide the Jets a heady mix of skills a few years down the line.

Danil (Danny) Zhiklin — Third Round, 77th Overall

Danil (Danny) Zhilkin spent the 2021-22 as the Guelph Storm’s first-line centre and recorded 23 goals and 32 assists for 55 points in 66 games.

He didn’t get to play in 2020-21 due COVID-19 cancelling the OHL season, but was given an A rating on NHL Central Scouting’s Players to Watch list last November, which allowed him to enter this draft. In his rookie 2019-20 Storm season, he had seven goals and eight assists in 60 games.

Danny Zhilkin, Guelph Storm
Danny Zhilkin, Guelph Storm (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

Born in Moscow, Zhilkin is noted as a mature player who uses high-end speed to generate high-danger changes, either with a pass or with a shot — a “transition monster,” as one outlet put it. He is also said to possess already-NHL-calibre levels deftness and deceptiveness, and strong defensive awareness.

In addition, the left-hander has been proficient in the dot, ranking 12th in faceoff win percentage in the OHL among players who have taken at least 100 face offs.

“It’s very evident just by watching him that he’s ahead of the curve at this point from a lot of prospects; he really plays a mature game,” wrote NHL Central Scouting’s Joey Tenute in November.

This selection came as part of the return in the blockbuster Jan. 2021 trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets that saw Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic swapped for Pierre-Luc Dubois.

Garrett Brown — Fourth Round, 99th Overall

With the final double-digit pick of the draft, the Jets selected their second American in defenseman Garrett Brown.

The 6-foot-2, 178-pound San Jose product spent 2021-22 with the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers, recording four goals and 12 assists in 62 games along with a plus-nine rating and 24 penalty minutes. He also had one assist in 10 playoff games as the Musketeers won the Clark Cup.

The right-shot blue liner will return to Sioux City for 2022-23. His father is Curtis Brown, who played 736-career NHL games between 1994-2008 with the Buffalo Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks, and San Jose Sharks.

This selection was the return in the March 2022 trade that sent Bryan Little’s contract and the signing rights of former prospect Nathan Smith to the Arizona Coyotes.

Fabian Wagner — Round 6, 175th Overall

Cheveldayoff selected his second Swede of the second day — and his seventh since 2017 — by plucking centre Fabian Wagner from the SHL’s Linköpings HC.

Wagner, a left-shooter who can also play wing, was nearly a point-per-game player in 2021-22, recording 12 goals and 26 assists for 38 points in 43 games for Linköpings’ J20 squad. He also played eight games for the main squad and in the U18 World Championship.

Kevin Cheveldayoff Winnipeg Jets
Including Salomonsson and Wagner, Cheveldayoff has drafted seven Swedish players since 2017. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

“Fabian Wagner is the type of player that casts a spotlight on why scouting is an under-appreciated labor. With 38 points in 43 games this season playing in Sweden, he was one of the most exciting players to watch at the J20 level,” THW’s Devin Little wrote in a prospect profile. “He possesses good hands which lead to good stick work, and he’s not afraid to put both to work on any given shift. He has all the traits of a quality playmaker: he has good play recognition in the offensive zone, he can make plays in transition, and he has the ability to create time and space for himself and his teammates.”

Related: Fabian Wagner – 2022 NHL Draft Prospect Profile

Draft analyst Steve Kournianos believes the Jets “got a major sleeper” in Wagner. Cheveldayoff has shown the ability over the years to get value out of late-round selections, with Mason Appleton, Mikhail Berdin, and Connor Hellebuyck all being chosen in the fifth round or later.

“Jets with a great pick in my opinion at 175,” Kournianos tweeted. “Anyone who watched that fun team knows how important he was. Fast, aggressive, neutral-zone shark with top-line playmaking skill.”

Domenic (Dom) DiVincentiis — Round 7, 207th Overall

Cheveldayoff rounded out the day by taking a goaltender, Domenic (Dom) DiVincentiis.

The Bolton, Ontario product spent his rookie OHL season with the (relatively) nearby North Bay Battalion in a backup role to Joe Vrbetic and recorded some impressive numbers for an 18-year-old. He posted a 14-8-1 record, 2.59 GAA, and .907 SV% in 27 regular-season appearances, and recorded two assists for good measure. He also appeared in six playoff matchups as the Battalion advanced to the third round.

Domenic DiVincentiis North Bay Battalion
Domenic DiVincentiis, North Bay Battalion (Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

DiVincentiis, who won the F.W. “Dinty” Moore Trophy as the rookie goaltender with the lowest GAA, catches left and has decent size, standing 6-foot-2 and weighing 183 pounds.

“He’s an athletic goaltender who is excellent on his skates and enables him to go post-to-post or dart out to the top of the paint quickly,” wrote OHL Writers’ Dominic Tiano in May. “His technique is also very good. He is square to shooters, stays tall in his net and I like how he gives opponents little to no room when in the reverse-VH. While he is no Mike Smith, he handles the puck pretty well.”

“Like any goaltender at this level, DiVincentiis doesn’t come without some warts – or more fairly, things to work on,” Tiano continued, saying his rebound control, ability to fight through traffic, and puck tracking all need improvement.

DiVincentiis is the first goaltender the Jets have selected since 2019, when they took Logan Neaton in the fifth round, 144th, overall.

What do you think of the Jets’ 2022 draft class? Comment below!