Every year, the Winnipeg Jets participate in a Penticton, British Columbia-based tournament dubbed the Young Stars Classic. The event features the four Canadian teams from the Western Conference — the Calgary Flames, the Edmonton Oilers and the Vancouver Canucks along with the Jets.
The tournament has seen the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Bo Horvat, Connor McDavid and Mark Scheifele suit up among a plethora of other current NHL players. It’s a great way to kick off the hockey season.
The Jets lineup for this year’s tournament is much weaker than years past. Their offence is led by Jansen Harkins and Michael Spacek, who are respectable prospects but certainly don’t drop jaws. Harkins vision and Spacek’s hands are their specialties.
Jansen Harkins scores from the slot and #NHLJets cut deficit to 3-2
— Ken Wiebe (@WiebeSunSports) September 9, 2017
Their defence presents some significant names such as Tucker Poolman and Logan Stanley. Poolman will only dress in the squad’s final contest against the Flames. Stanley has played the opening two games and has struggled thus far.
The case in the crease is what should be grasping fans attention. The Jets decided to bring Mikhail Berdin, Cole Kehler and Jamie Phillips in net. Kehler was invited to camp on an amateur tryout, but in Berdin and Phillips, the Jets invested their time and draft picks.
Mikhail Isn’t a Berdin
The host Canucks were first in line to face the Jets prospects and Berdin, a 2016 sixth-round pick, was their best player. He turned away 35 of 38 shots in the Jets’ disappointing 4-2 loss. This is a big opportunity to kick off his season in style. The exact style, however, has been deemed awkward, yet effective.
The way Berdin carries himself in the blue paint is rather uncharacteristic compared to other netminders. He flops around the crease and plays a very active game. His game includes playing the puck frequently and his right-handedness throws opposing players off.
To understand why you have to know that only three of the NHL’s top 60 goaltenders in games played are righties — ironically, two are Jets’ property in Steve Mason and Michael Hutchinson. The other is Arizona Coyotes’ backup goalie Louis Domingue. The uniqueness and rarity of a right-handed goalie can be both a strength and a weakness.
The 6-foot-2 Russian goaltender spent last season with the Sioux Falls Stampede in the USHL. In 31 games, Berdin picked up 14 wins including three shutouts. His puck-playing abilities were represented by three assists.
Phillips Continues to Develop
For the second game of the tournament, Phillips was given the start against the Oilers. While they don’t have McDavid, Leon Drasaitl or Taylor Hall like previous years, they still have players capable of tickling the twine.
Again, the Jets goaltender was their most valuable player, turning away 35 of the 37 shots he faced in a 3-0 loss. With a .945 save percentage, the loss was far from Phillips’ fault with the team in front of him failing to score a goal.
After four impressive seasons at Michigan Tech, the next step for Phillips was to take his game to the pro ranks. The Ontario native split the 2016-17 season between the ECHL’s Tulsa Oilers and the AHL’s Manitoba Moose.
Phillips appears to be a steal for the Jets, who snuck him under the radar in the seventh-round of the 2012 draft. His game is extremely solid and he keeps it much simpler than Berdin. Not to say one’s style is better than the other, but their respective styles work for them.
Eric Comrie is no doubt the Moose’s starter for this season but hopefully Phillips will earn an elevated role with the club. The best thing for his development is to continue to build his pro experience and work at his craft every day.
The Jets are known for a couple things around the league. Last year, it was the inconsistent goaltending that stole all the headlines. Another popular theme is the Jets prolific scouting and successful drafting in recent years.
Berdin and Phillips compliment another young goaltending duo in the system of Comrie and Connor Hellebuyck. The Jets hope their savvy prospects in the crease continue to prove their drafting is on top while ending the conundrum in the crease.