Jets Development Camp Impressions: Part Two

The Winnipeg Jets had to be pleased with the showing from their top-tier prospects over the course of their development camp, but a good prospect pool, like a good team, isn’t all about the guys at the top.

The Jets have been lauded for having a system not only full of premier talent but deep, full of potential future players from top to bottom. While many of the players attending development camp will never wear a Jets jersey in an NHL game, there’s reason for optimism surrounding certain players.

In this segment of the development camp rundown, we’ll focus on some of the younger guys who stood out, namely picks from the 2015 and 2016 drafts. You’ll be pleased to note there are quite a few of them, and while development camps are not enough to judge a player by, fans have to be encouraged by the number of players who showed off their skills this past week. Here are a few of the highlights from the young guns.

Erik Foley

Foley may not have come into camp front and centre in the minds of the fans, but he made an impression on those watching nonetheless. Foley’s feet are always moving, and he shows intensity to rival that of Brendan Lemieux. He works hard during the drills and never takes a shift off during the scrimmages. Now, since I haven’t had a chance to see Foley play at Providence College yet, I don’t know if this represents an outlier, but my guess is no, it does not. Foley seems to have a motor that just won’t quit, and he’s developed some scoring touch too.

Foley shoots hard, stick-handles well, and will drop his shoulder and drive the net. He plays bigger than he is, and his never-quit, high-intensity attitude means he might one day make a very effective pest. He’s a long-term project to be sure (every player in this segment will be) but his progression so far has been worthy of praise. Jets fans may even get a chance to see him play for the United States at the WJC this year.

Keep an eye on Foley as best you can, Jets fans. His trajectory seems to be going nowhere but up.

Jansen Harkins

Harkins seemed to take a slight step back offensively this season, though he did finish with more goals. That’s partly a function of playing on a weaker team in Prince George, and something the Jets hope to see corrected next year as he plays what will be his final season in junior. Harkins finished the year with three points in six AHL games, so there was no real need to fear he’d take too many steps back. Still watching him at development camp was going to be interesting.

Harkins didn’t disappoint, though I won’t claim he wowed me, or even that he was as impressive as Foley. Like Foley, Harkins never seems to stop working. He didn’t put up big numbers in the scrimmages, but then he didn’t have Jack Roslovic to work with the way Foley did either. His speed and the constant motion of his feet were both noticeable.

If Harkins hands can keep up with his feet, he could have a monster season in the WHL. Hopefully, he puts up some big numbers, because it would be nice to see another Winnipeg prospect make Team Canada at the WJC. At the very least, expect him to play for Team WHL against the Russians in the Subway Super Series.

Michael Spacek

The first word that comes to mind when describing Spacek is slippery. He’s not the biggest guy, yet he’s surprisingly difficult to knock off the puck. Whether in open ice or along the wall, defenders seem to have tremendous difficulty drawing a bead on him. This means he can carry the puck in the offensive zone for longer than almost any other player in camp. In fact, I’d say the only player there who was better at shielding the puck below the circles was Kyle Connor.

Spacek had a few great moments with the puck, but even though he shoots well he’s distinctly a pass-first player. Given his ability to draw defenders toward him, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and he could make for a great set-up man. He reminds me a little of Mathieu Perreault that way, but Perreault also makes use of his shot, and Spacek would do well to follow suit. It’s not like he can’t shoot. He’s got a sneaky wrist shot, and he’d do well to use it more.

Spacek will likely be back in Red Deer next year, and on a team expected to lose both Connor Bleackley and Ivan Nikolishin he could be asked to shoulder more of the load. He put up decent offensive totals in his first WHL season, though you can definitely see the skew toward assists.

Mason Appleton

Appleton has seemingly gone from, as the Winnipeg Free Press put it, “A long shot to a project.” Jets fans still shouldn’t expect to see him in Winnipeg any time soon, but given that he was drafted as an overager out of the USHL with an average point totals at best, this time last year they might not have expected to see him here on a full-time basis at all.

Appleton, a sixth-round pick in 2015, put up halfway decent numbers for a college freshman, with 22 points in 37 games. Michigan State wasn’t great this season (they were a team Connor victimized at times with the Michigan Wolverines) but Appleton will be going back next year, and he’ll give them some size and a scoring touch.

Appleton had a strong camp I thought, though he wasn’t one of the biggest standouts. He was put on a line with Connor and Lemieux for the first scrimmage and seemed to find instant chemistry with them. Anyone who was worried he might slow the two soon-to-be-pros down worried needlessly because Appleton fit right in. He and Lemieux had a nearly perfect 2-on-1, with Appleton getting the tap in.

Again, don’t expect to see Appleton in Winnipeg, for either the Jets or Moose, for some while yet. He’s the kind of player you need to patient with. It’s looking more and more like that patience could pay off.

Luke Green

Luke Green is all peaks and valleys right now. This week he’d have a great shot through traffic or puck rush one minute and an awful turnover the next. He’s inconsistent, which is just a shorter word for a young defenseman who needs time to develop but has skills.

And there’s no denying Green has skills. He has good shot, which he used to some effect in the QMJHL this year, potting ten goals. At development camp, he got to show off his most impressive skill: his silky smooth, sublime skating. Seriously, so stoked to see such superb striding!

All alliteration annoyances aside (all right I’m done, I swear), Green seemed to join every rush throughout the scrimmages, and his skating allows him to get back into position if the rush is stymied. He needs to work on his decision making with the puck, but there are definitely the makings of an offensive defenseman here. Given time to round out, any player who can skate the way Green does has at least a chance to make the NHL.

That will do it for this segment, folks. It’s looking like what I’d originally intended to be a two-part series when I began will end up being three or even four. These notes, by the way, are based on my firsthand observations, which are limited to the development camp itself. Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed them either way.