The Winnipeg Jets prospect pool, though still deep with talent, may not be quite as deep as it once was. Lots of the franchise’s young players have already made the jump to the NHL recently, and the Jets, having seen some success over past two seasons, are not drafting those top-10 ranked players we got so used to seeing.
The Jets, however, are still one of the better teams when it comes to selecting quality players in the later rounds of the draft. As you will see when going through this list, though, the Jets are severally lacking talent in one specific area.
For this top-10 prospect list, the players must have appeared in fewer than 30 games at the NHL level, or be under the age of 26. Sami Niku, Mason Appleton, and Tucker Poolman are all ineligible for this list, otherwise yes, they would be on it. With those rules now covered, let’s get started.
10 – Michael Spacek (C/RW)
2018-19 Team: Manitoba Moose (AHL)
Spacek was drafted by the Jets 108th overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He has played full-time with the Moose for the past two seasons, tallying 79 points in 144 games played over that span.
The 22-year-old is gifted with offensive talent; he has seen a top-six role with the Moose for a while now with a lot of power-play time. His speed and shot are NHL ready, but he still needs time to develop the defensive side of his game. I think with his size, he projects more as a winger in the NHL rather than a centre, especially with the NHL trending more and more towards size down the middle.
I don’t see Spacek making the Winnipeg Jets anytime soon. He might see a call-up or two if injuries occur but look for him to play another full season or two with the Manitoba Moose.
I can also see Spacek being another Nic Petan situation; where he doesn’t find a fit in the lineup over the years and eventually gets traded.
9 – Mikhail Berdin (G)
2018-19 Teams: Manitoba Moose (AHL) / Jacksonville IceMen (ECHL)
Berdin came bursting onto the scene last year with the Manitoba Moose. He appeared in 23 games for the Moose in 2018-19, finishing with a 12-8-3 record. He also recorded a .927 save percentage which is best ever by a Moose goalie in their rookie season.
The 21-year-old recently signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Jets back in May. He boasts a lot of athletic ability and loves to handle the puck. One thing you notice right away when watching Berdin, is his quickness and creativity. The Russian goaltender makes it difficult for forecheckers with his puck-handling skills, making crisp passes to his defensemen and clearing pucks off the glass.
The Jets’ former sixth-round draft pick also isn’t afraid to shoot for open nets, scoring a goal with the Sioux Falls Stampede of the United States Hockey League (USHL) that went viral because of his exuberant celebration.
I think Mikhail has passed Eric Comrie’s potential. I predict he beats out Comrie for the AHL starting job and is the first goalie called up to the Jets if they suffer an injury in goal.
8 – Giovanni Vallati (LD)
2018-19 Team: Oshawa Generals (OHL)
Vallati was drafted by the Jets 153rd overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. He has spent the last three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) with the Kitchener Rangers, and now currently, the Oshawa Generals. He put up 48 points in 68 games last season with Oshawa, as well as seven points in 12 playoff games.
One of his best attributes is his skating. He is a mobile, puck-moving defenseman with nice vision and passing abilities. Vallati has seen a lot of power play time with the Generals and has slowly been working on the defensive side of his game, which he will need to round out to be effective at the NHL level.
The 19-year-old will play with the Oshawa Generals again for the 2019-20 season, as he continues to make significant strides in his development. Look for him to potentially crack the 50-point mark next season and get his shot with the Manitoba Moose in 2020-21.
7 – Leon Gawanke (RD)
2018-19 Team: Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)
Gawanke was drafted by the Jets 136th overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. He has been making some huge strides in his development over the past two seasons with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). Leon put up 57 points last season, a 25-point increase from his 2017-18 season.
The 20-year-old recently signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Jets in May, but still has one-year eligibility left with the Screaming Eagles.
Gawanke has a strong point-shot and a lot of offensive upside. He, like a lot of young defensemen, still needs to work on the defensive side of his game. The German did improve in that area a lot actually, taking his plus/minus from a minus-20 in 2017-18 to a plus-14 in 2018-19.
I see Gawanke playing out his final season in the QMJHL and needing one or two full seasons in the AHL before making the Jets. That doesn’t mean he can’t still become a big part of the Jets’ future. If he keeps trending the way he is currently, I can see him becoming an effective NHL blueliner at some point in his career.
6 – David Gustafsson (C)
2018-19 Team: HV71 (SHL)
Gustafsson was drafted by the Jets 60th overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, and already hastwo full seasons of pro experience with HV71 in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL). Over those two seasons, the Swede has put up 24 points in 81 games played.
Gustafsson projects to be a bottom-six NHL forward – his skating and mobility have been the biggest knock on him since he was drafted in 2018. He does play a strong two-way game, however, and is very strong on face-offs. The 19-year-old saw time on both the power play and penalty kill with HV71 the past two seasons and is described by many as a “workhorse”.
If he can develop his skating both with and without the puck, then I think you will see Gustafsson effectively hold down a bottom-six role with the Jets. I see him being the next Adam Lowry and could replace Lowry in a few seasons time, similar to how Mason Appleton seems ready to replace a more expensive Brandon Tanev.
The Jets recently signed the 6-foot-1 centre to a three-year, entry-level contract.
5 – Logan Stanley (LD)
2018-19 Team: Manitoba Moose (AHL)
Stanley was drafted by the Jets 18th overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He played his first full season with the Moose in 2018-19, finishing with 22 points in 73 games played.
The 6-foot-7 defenseman brings a lot of physicality to the lineup; he does well to use his size to his advantage in the defensive zone. His mobility and puck-handling under pressure are what he needs to improve most to make it to the NHL.
I think he made some nice strides with the Moose last season, but he will definitely need another season or two in the AHL before making the jump to the NHL. Some fans are already calling the 21-year-old a bust, but I think that is too quick to judge. Stanley will get his shot in the NHL eventually; there is no doubt about that. I think if he keeps progressing like he slowly has, he could become a regular defenseman for the Jets at some point.
4 – Declan Chisholm (LD)
2018-19 Team: Peterborough Petes (OHL)
Chisholm was drafted by the Jets 150th overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. He has spent the past two seasons in the OHL with the Peterborough Petes, tallying 68 points in 114 games played. He has made some really nice strides over the past season, putting up 28 more points than the year prior and playing a more prominent role.
The 19-year-old plays a solid two-way game on the backend; he has strong skating abilities and is capable of playing in all situations on the ice. Declan also possesses great puck-moving abilities and could turn out to be a very effective player for the Jets down the road.
Chisholm was signed to an amateur tryout deal by the Moose back in April but was later released without seeing any game action.
The 6-foot-1 defenseman will return to the Peterborough Petes for his final season in 2019-20. He has grabbed a lot of people’s attention over the past 12 months, if he continues the way he is, he will be with the Jets sooner rather than later.
3 – Ville Heinola (LD)
2018-19 Team: Lukko (Liiga)
Heinola was recently drafted by the Jets 20th overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. He spent the 2018-19 season with Lukko of the Finnish Elite League (Liiga), where he put up 14 points in 34 games played, while also adding four points in seven playoff games.
The 18-year-old is a mobile, puck-moving defenseman with raw offensive talent. He projects to be a top-four defenseman in the NHL with strong power-play capabilities, his vision and shot make him a lethal threat in the offensive zone.
The Jets have consistently been able to find solid players in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft over the years, let’s hope Heinola is another one.
The Finnish defenseman is still another year or two away from the NHL. He recentlysigned his three-year, entry-level contract with the Jets, but he could go back to Finland for one more season, rather than playing for the Moose in the AHL.
2 – Dylan Samberg (LD)
2018-19 Team: University of Minnesota-Duluth (NCAA)
Samberg is my top-ranked defenseman in the Jets prospect pool, he was drafted by the Jets 43rd overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. He has played the past two seasons with the University of Minnesota-Duluth of the NCAA, where he has put up 32 points in 81 games played over that span.
The 20-year-old is a big specimen, listed at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds. He plays a physical game and has strong puck-moving abilities. His skating and hockey sense are also strong and he boasts endless potential. I really think this kid will become a stud in the NHL. He has all the abilities to become a top-pairing defenseman with power play and penalty kill capabilities.
Samberg recently committed to the NCAA again for the 2019-20 season, so Jets fans will have to wait to see him play in Winnipeg.
The Jets will have another opportunity to sign him next summer, should he return to the NCAA for his fourth and final year, he will become an unrestricted free agent in 2021.
1 – Kristian Vesalainen (LW)
2018-19 Teams: Jokerit (KHL) / Manitoba Moose (AHL) Winnipeg Jets (NHL)
Vesalainen is the Jets’ top prospect, he was drafted by the Jets 24th overall by the Jets in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. He spent last season with the Jets, Moose, and Jokerit. During his time in the KHL, he put up 17 points in 31 games played, he also tallied 13 points in 22 games with the Moose last season.
The 20-year-old is a big winger with a lot of offensive talent. He plays tough along the boards and boasts a powerful shot.Look for him to make the Jets opening night lineup like he did last season, only this time I think he sticks with them for longer, if not the entire season.
Vesalainen has all the tools to become a top-six forward in the NHL and will almost certainly be just that for the Jets in another season or twos time. Expect for him to be bounced around the bottom-six this season, with a few looks here and there on the top two lines.
There you have the Jets top 10 prospect list, it is very deep with defensemen and lacking with forwards as you can see. The Jets will have some interesting choices to make in another season or two when some of these young defensemen are ready to make the jump to the NHL.
Related: Jets NHL Draft Days Ranked
Might they trade some of them for forward prospects? I doubt it, but the jets will definitely have to address their lack of forward prospects in the coming NHL Entry Drafts or via trade.
Ryan is very passionate about the game of hockey and loves being at the rink. He is a current regional scout in his home province of Manitoba and a graduate of SMWW. He has played the game since the age of five at many different levels and is always looking to find new ways to stay involved. In his free time when he isn’t busy at the rinks or writing articles/reports, Ryan enjoys spending quality time with his wife and daughter. Follow him on Twitter @Goet91.