A forward? A defenseman? A local? An American? A Finn? The best player available?
Who a team should draft with their first pick of an entry draft is always a big question, and it’s one Jets’ GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has to face prior to next month in Montreal, unless he decides to trade his 14th overall pick away by itself or in a package.
Cheveldayoff has dealt a first-rounder just twice in 11 years, though, and is a staunch adherent to the draft-and-develop strategy. For that reason, it’s worth looking into some of the players he might want to target with his mid first-round selection.
A left-shot centre, Geekie is a compelling Manitoba-born product with a bevy of skill.
The younger brother of the Seattle Kraken’s Morgan Geekie and a native of Strathclair, Manitoba, Conor Geekie a breakout 2021-22 with the WHL’s Winnipeg ICE, recording 24 goals and 46 assists for 70 points in 63 games. He added three goals and eight assists for 11 points in 15 playoff games.
At 6-foot-3, 196 pounds, Geekie has the potential to blossom into a number-one centre who dominates with size and skill ala Pierre-Luc Dubois. His great shot and elite playmaking skills are noted to be a pair of strengths, while his skating and defensive play are noted to be a pair of weaknesses.
Some various comments on Geekie from THW’s Austin Stanovich:
- Uses his massive frame extremely well, his puck protection is magnificent, and he routinely wins puck battles down low and along the boards before turning and creating offence.
- Possesses some of the best hockey IQ in the draft and is routinely the smartest player on the ice.
- His creativity and risk-taking help him generate offence, (but) he could benefit from simplifying his game.
- Just an average skater at the WHL level, making him a below-average NHL skater… Offensively, it makes him a mediocre player in transition who struggles to carry the puck through the neutral zone and gain zone entries.
Opinions on where Geekie could be drafted are quite varied. Some scouts believe he will be selected in the top 10, while others believe he won’t be chosen until the mid-20s.
While the Jets may seem set up the middle, things are actually quite in flux with Mark Scheifele’s future with the team uncertain and Dubois an RFA in need of a new contract after a strong season. Having centres — the forward position with the most responsibility — in the pipeline is always a plus.
Unlike many who enter the draft from juniors and only know playing against opponents around their own age, Brad Lambert has three years experience of playing professional hockey.
The Finn has suited up for three Liiga teams — the top pro league in his home country — since 2019-20. He began 2021-22 with JYP, but moved on in mid-January to the Lahti Pelicans, his hometown team.
Between the two clubs, Lambert’s point totals weren’t great — four goals and six assists in 49 games. 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. Other pundits noted Lambert’s play without the puck needs work, and that switching teams midseason wasn’t the best look.
Still, that Lambert’s played 99 games in a men’s league — which is faster and more physical than a junior league — over three seasons could make him ready for the jump to the NHL sooner than many other draft-eligible forwards.
There’s some disagreement as to whether Lambert will still be available at 14th. Some believe he’ll be chosen in the top five, while others believe he won’t be chosen until the middle of the first round.
The second of three Manitobans on this list, Mateychuk, who hails from Dominion City, is coming off a near point-per-game season as a defenseman.
You read that right — the left-shot blue-liner had 64 points (13 goals, 51 assists) in 65 games for the Moose Jaw Warriors, and one goal and nine assists for 10 points in 10 playoff games. He is projected to be chosen in the middle of the first round.
Mateychuk is a dynamic talent who has been described as a “unicorn” who can be used in all situations. Unsurprisingly given his point totals, he has been praised for his ability to carry the puck into the zone and establish control, to identify and reach dangerous areas, and to move pucks effectively to teammates for scoring chances.
On the defensive side, Mateychuk is noted as being aggressive. “He takes an active role in breaking up passes to halt opposing rushes before they break into his zone,” THW’s Sean Raggio wrote in a 2022 Prospect Profile. “Then, while in his defensive zone, he has been able to obstruct passing lanes and deny with stick-on-stick plays, and also gets out there on the penalty kill.”
Raggio noted Mateychuk can be a bit too risky at times, sometimes making unforced turnovers, and has a tendency to look off his defensive partner to try and make a play himself. His lack of size (5-foot-11, 185 pounds) is also a bit of a knock, but size is a trait that’s been dramatically overvalued in defensemen for a number of years now.
With Ville Heinola and Dylan Samberg both left-shooters, the Jets would be able to be patient with Mateychuk, sending him back to the WHL or to the AHL’s Manitoba Moose for a season or two.
The third Manitoban on the list, the St. Adolphe-born Pickering wrapped up his second year patrolling the blue line for the Swift Current Broncos.
At 6-foot-5, the left-shooting Pickering has reach you can’t teach and should fill in as he matures (right now, he’s just 180 pounds.) But there are plenty of big defensemen who turn out to be liabilities. Much more important than his size is his skill set.
Although Pickering was minus-29 on a Broncos team that won just 25 of 68 games, he has top-four potential and rose substantially through the NHL Central Scouting rankings this year.
The 18-year-old is noted for having excellent feet for a player his size, above-average hockey sense, and noticeable offensive upside, recording 33 points in 62 games. He also excels at carrying the puck out of his own zone and making crisp breakout passes.
He’s considered a “raw talent” with some inconsistencies, and as such, like Mateychuk, would be a longer-term project who needs a few years to develop.
“Still, it’s unfair to talk about the bad aspects of Pickering’s game without also acknowledging that most, if not all of these areas are teachable,” Matthew Somha of Smaht Scouting wrote. “Pickering can be moulded into a top-four defenseman capable of seeing time on a power-play unit and, with enough development, maybe even the penalty kill.”
“All he needs is time,” TSN’s Craig Button wrote in March.
Pickering is generally considered to go somewhere between 15th and 25th overall.
Wrapping up the list is player who, if chosen, would join the ranks of the Jets’ already large “Minnesota Mafia.” Dylan Samberg, Nate Schmidt, CJ Suess, Dominic Toninato, and Blake Wheeler all hail from the North Star State, while Neal Pionk was raised there as well.
Born in Chaska, Minnesota, Snuggerud and has been a star on right wing for the U.S. National Development team for the past two seasons. In 2021-22, he had six goals and 20 assists for 26 points in 26 games.
“On the ice, Snuggerud is an offensive weapon, who has a strong shot that he isn’t afraid to use. While he is known for being a goal scorer, he is developing a solid two-way game, that utilizes his high hockey IQ to make the most out of his ice time no matter where he is on the ice,” THW’s Eugene Helfrick wrote in a prospect profile.
Snuggerud has committed to playing at the University of Minnesota for 2022-23, following in the footsteps of his grandfather James Westby and father Dave Snuggerud, who both also played for the Golden Gophers.
“I really just want to keep the tradition of hockey in my family alive,” Snuggerud said. “Being able to make a name for myself though just comes from how I play out there on the ice and as long as I still enjoy it, well, that means everything to me.”
Snuggerud heading off to college shouldn’t dissuade Cheveldayoff from picking him. Andrew Copp, Kyle Connor, and Connor Hellebuyck all played for U.S. college teams prior to turning pro and all worked out quite nicely.
Picking Snuggerud would be a slight reach as he’s projected to be chosen somewhere between 20th and 35th, but the Jets have a good history of reaping benefits of players who came from similar career paths.
Who do you think the Jets should choose 14th overall at the 2022 Draft? Comment below.
Declan Schroeder is a 27-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.