Jets Fans Will Warm to Logan Stanley

When the Winnipeg Jets selected Logan Stanley 18th overall on June 24th, trading up to get him no less, the reaction from their fanbase was, shall we say, mixed.

The Jets, already playing with house money after getting Patrik Laine 2nd overall, decided they were going to draft a steady defenseman next, and once Dante Fabbro was taken at 17th by the Nashville Predators, they decided they weren’t going to risk the next best defender on their list slipping through their fingers. They paid a steep price for the 18th pick, giving up the 22nd pick, which likely would’ve yielded a solid player in its own right, and the 36th, which was used on Pascal Laberge of Victoriaville.

Some Jets fans were, to put it mildly, nonplussed.

So, on the one hand you have the people already declaring the Logan Stanley pick a bust, which seems unfair given that he’s been a Jet for all of two days. On the other hand you have people holding up Kevin Cheveldayoff’s draft record and saying they trust his pick no matter what, which is also unfair given that Cheveldayoff, while strong on the draft floor, has not been infallible (see Sutter, Lukas).

The chief frustration on the part of those disappointed in the Stanley pick seems to come from the fact that the Jets traded up to get him, and did so at no small expense to themselves. It’s possible that Stanley might still have been available at 22nd, and then the Jets could’ve used the 36th pick on somebody else, whether Laberge like the Flyers did or on another defenseman like Kale Clague, both of whom would’ve been available.

Even if Stanley had been gone, the Jets could still have gotten a really good player at 22nd. Max Jones was still on the board, for one, and my regular readers will know I’m a big fan of Riley Tufte, who went to Dallas instead.

But the Jets decided Stanley was their guy, they weren’t going to risk him being off the board at 22nd, and they were going to swoop in and get him before somebody else did. While some Jets fans are grumbling about the move — and will be until Stanley makes his NHL debut and possibly sometime after that — and while the players taken at 22nd and 36th, German Rubtsov and Laberge, will be forever in Jets fans’ minds the way Sean Couturier was for years, it’s not all doom and gloom.

One day, Jets fans, I think you’re going to like Logan Stanley.

Defense First

At present, no one is confusing Stanley with Mike Green, or even 79th overall pick Luke Green. He is not, as yet, an offensive defenseman.

His five goals in 64 games shattered no records and raised no eyebrows, though it’s worth pointing out that most scouts feel his offensive game is improving. I’ve heard the argument that almost no defensemen with such poor junior stats turn out to be solid NHLers, but you don’t have to look very far to find an exception. Tyler Myers, in his draft year, posted a whopping 19 points, exactly one goal and one assist more than Stanley in one more game.

The next year, no longer growing into his frame and dealing with the awkwardness of adjusting to such a massive body, Myers blossomed, putting up 42 points and making his presence felt on a Canadian World Junior team that captured gold in Ottawa.

While I’m not going to predict the same leap in statistics for Stanley, it’s wrong to say that it’s never been done. And much like Myers, Stanley was still getting to know to his own size for much of this year. Some people think he might still not be done growing, a scary thought for a kid who’s already 6’7”.

Yet, even if Stanley’s numbers don’t climb very much, he’s still going to be a solid NHL player. Defensively responsible and improving his skating all the time, Stanley can be dominant in his own zone, a place the Jets have often struggled in their tenure in Winnipeg. Stanley is the kind of player who can throw an opposing forward off the puck, clear the front of the net, then make a good breakout pass. He might not score a ton of goals (though he’s got a hard enough shot that he could pot a few), but he’ll prevent his share of them.

Like Ken Wiebe, I also saw Stanley play with the U18s, but my first look at him was during the pre-tournament games in Winnipeg. What I saw was a big, strong, project. In other words, a player with a lot of tools who needed time to refine them. His skating was good for a big man, his quickness needed work, and his physicality was refreshing. It’s common nowadays to see defenseman of that size defend mainly with their sticks. While Stanley can and does use his stick to break up plays, he’s just as comfortable using his shoulders.

I believe some Jets fans see or hear the words “shutdown defender” and immediately think of Mark Stuart. They fear the team traded two promising picks to land a player eerily similar to one they feel the team is about to phase out. If that is your worry, allow me to put it to rest.

Stanley is not a shutdown defender in the slow, shot-blocking, heart-and-soul-but-lacking-skill mould. He does block shots, and he is nasty to play against, and yes, he is the type of player you put out against the other teams best forwards. That, in the literal sense, makes him a shutdown defender.

Stanley has many hallmarks of a more modern shutdown defender, however. He makes a good first pass, skates well despite his size and can take puck or man with equal effectiveness. And his skating will only get better; how many players have had their skating knocked in their draft years only to become successful NHL regulars? He’s still developing, and there are a lot of unpolished parts to his game that will need time to be fine-tuned, but he will have that time.

There’s always an opportunity cost when drafting in the late teens, especially when the draft lists get muddied. There’s always the fear of a player you passed on turning into a star. Personally, my first thought was for one of Kieffer Bellows or Julien Gauthier when the Jets traded up. I’m not sorry the Jets took Stanley, however, and if the Jets and their fans are willing to give him the time he’ll need, they won’t be sorry either.