5 Jets’ First-Round Draft Targets

The 2020 NHL Draft Lottery was different this year — just like everything else in the hockey and sports worlds — due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the objective of the Entry Draft will remain the same: to select the player who can best bolster your franchise in the future. There’s certainly no shortage of talent in this year’s draft class.

Related: 2020 NHL Draft Guide

It’s likely — but not a 100 per cent certainty for reasons we’ll get into later — that the Jets first-round selection will be a mid-round pick. Here’s a look at five players they could target.

Jets Should Prioritize Forwards Over Defence

Yes, their blue-line was a shambles on many nights this season, but the often AHL-level and depleted d-corp the Jets trotted out 2019-20 will thankfully be a lot better in the future even if they don’t prioritize D at this year’s draft.

Kevin Cheveldayoff Winnipeg Jets
Despite the Jets’ struggles on defence this season, Kevin Cheveldayoff shouldn’t feel any pressure to take a forward with his first-round pick. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Theyhave a number of promising defensive prospects in the pipeline — most notably Ville Heinola and Dylan Samberg — but also Declan Chisholm, Leon Gawanke, and Logan Stanley.

Related: Jets’ 2020 Draft Strategy: Best Forward Available

The intelligent, low-maintenance Dylan DeMelo — should he re-sign — will also go a long way to stabilizing things on the back end. The Jets also have a boatload of cash available whenever the offseason comes, and their first priority will be to add a top-four blueliner.

Ville Heinola Winnipeg Jets
A good number of defensive prospets in the pipeline such as Ville Heinola is just one of the reasons the Jets should go after a forward with their first-round pick. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With the first wave of first-round forward selections — Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor, Jack Roslovic, and Patrik Laine — now established NHLers, the Jets list of up-front youngsters is thin. Aside from Kristian Vesalainen and David Gustafsson, they don’t have a lot in the way of top-six forward prospects and THW’s Josh Bell ranked their farm system 24th back in January.

It’s time for a reload in that regard and it the Jets have plenty of options in a draft that’s heavy on high-ranking forwards.

Jets Could Seek a Ringer Winger

The Jets’ lack of depth at wing is concerning. Aside from Vesalainen, they have mostly lower-tier prospects such as Andrei Chibisov, Joona Luoto, and C.J. Suess. Two wingers are particularly intriguing.

Dawson Mercer

On the right side, Dawson Mercer is a prospect who has been praised for his ability to play in any situation, for his shot, and for his hockey IQ. The second-ranked QMJHL prospect behind consensus number-one pick behind Alexis 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.

Dawson Mercer Drummondville Voltigeurs
Dawson Mercer began his season with Drummondville, putting up 18 goals and 24 assists before being traded to Chicoutimi. (Drummondville Voltigeurs)

“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.

Rodion Amirov

On the left side, another 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.

Rodion Amirov Team Russia
Rodion Amirov at the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament last summer.  (Vincent Ethier/LHJMQ)

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.

Options Up the Middle Abound

While the Jets are more set at centre with Scheifele, Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp, and potentially Cody Eakin should he re-sign (and players who can play both centre and wing, such as Blake Wheeler, Jack Roslovic, and Mason Appleton) they could very well choose to select another man up the middle, as centres are the most valuable of all forwards.

A trio in particular stand out: Dylan Holloway, Seth Jarvis, and Connor Zary.

Dylan Holloway

Holloway, ranked 12th 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.

Dylan Holloway University of Wisconsin
Dylan Holloway just finished his first season at the University of Wisconsin after three seasons in the AJHL. (Greg Anderson/UW Athletics)

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.

Related: Dylan Holloway — 2020 NHL Draft Prospect Profile

Holloway could slide because of the amount of talent ahead of him, and make the GM of a team with a mid-round pick quite happy.

Seth Jarvis

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.

Seth Jarvis Portland Winterhawks
Seth Jarvis of the Portland Winterhawks. (Keith Dwiggins/Portland Winterhawks)

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, you can bet the Jets would love for the Manitoban to make a career in his home province.

Connor Zary

Zary was similarly impressive for the Kamloops Blazers, firing 38 goals and amassing 48 apples in his third WHL season.

Connor Zary Kamloops Blazers
Connor Zary of the Kamloops Blazers. (Allen Douglas)

The left-handed shooting centre is an effective two-way centre who possesses strong playmaking abilities and a high compete level. However, some — such as THW’s Dayton Reimer — have expressed concerns that doesn’t have a a true specialty or defining feature, and that his age (he’s one of the oldest-first year eligible players) has inflated his stats.

Related: Jets’ NHL Draft Days Ranked

Zary may not be as close to NHL-ready as the other four outlined here, but the Jets are nothing if not patient. Their stoic draft-and-develop strategy took a while to bear fruit, but it’s the sole reason they’re a competitor these days.

Jets’ Strategy Could Go Out the Window

Of course, all the scouting the Jets’ staff has done over the past year could be for naught, as who gets the first-overall pick is yet to be determined.

The unthinkable unfolded Friday, as a placeholder team won the lottery. This means each of the eight teams that lose in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers will have a 12.5 per cent chance of having the privilege of drafting first overall. It’ll be the first time in the Draft Lottery’s history that one of the league’s worst seven teams won’t select first overall.

It’s a crazy scenario indeed, and certainly the most dramatic story to come out of the NHL since the COVID-19 season pause in March. It’ll be more than a month until we get to find out who chooses first. There will be a lot of fingernail chomping until then.

While the joy of drafting first overall cannot compare to the joy of hoisting the Stanley Cup — and this author will not suggest the Jets tank in their best-of-five play-in series against the Calgary Flames that’ll hopefully happen this summer — Lafreniere will be a decent consolation prize for one of the early exiters, to say the least.