As Draft Day 2015 draws closer, the Winnipeg Jets will be looking to compensate for their devastating postseason exit with the selection of the next class of potential NHL superstars.
In previous years, Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his scouting staff have worked their magic to the best of their abilities in the NHL Entry Draft, yielding impressive results.
Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba – the first round picks from 2011 and 2012, respectively – have already cracked the Jet’s roster. This past season, Josh Morrissey and Nikolaj Ehlers, the first-round selections from each of the next two drafts, are proving themselves as NHL-ready prospects.
The Jets currently own two 2015 selections in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft to be hosted in Florida. Their elimination from the Stanley Cup playoffs warranted the 17th overall selection, along with the 25th pick acquired from Buffalo in the Evander Kane trade.
So, amongst the tremendous group of water droplets from the NHL’s fountain of youth, who is the next in line to join this exclusive first-round crop of Winnipeg’s handpicked gems?
While speed and skill are abundant going forward, the pipeline lacks size amongst both forwards and defencemen. Axel Blomqvist, the six-foot-seven Swedish power forward, provides only one definitive forechecking option for the future, while the rest of the skaters up front are noted for their offensive capabilities.
The best option for Winnipeg would be Canada’s World Junior standout Lawson Crouse of the Kingston Frontenacs. However with the six-foot-four, two-way forward being a guaranteed top-ten selection, the Jets would surely have to trade up from 17th overall.
There are two other options in the line of sized forwards in the mid-first round ranks.
If Cheveldayoff can overcome the hindering “Russian Factor,” Evgeny Svechnikov of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles would provide forechecking depth up front, as well as skill and strength while in possession.
Svechnikov, the 17th ranked North American skater, posted 78 points in 55 games in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and rose four spots from his midterm rank.
The second option is American Paul Bittner of the Portland Winterhawks. Though he dropped from 19 to 26 in the final rankings, the left winger plays in a forechecking and soft hands style similar to Adam Lowry.
In terms of adding size to the blue line, Tri-City Americans assistant captain Brandon Carlo would boost physicality in the Jets pipeline.
Dropping from 16 to 25 in the final rankings, the native of Colorado is shy on the offensive side of the game but possesses great mobility, range, and reach with his six-foot-five frame.
The Jets may also turn to one of the NHL’s highest risers in the European pool, Sweden’s Gabriel Carlsson.
Carlsson, the highest-ranked European defenceman, was also rated as the second highest amongst European skaters.
The six-foot-four blue-liner, who played for Linköping of the Swedish Hockey League in 2014-15, imitates the two-way smarts and stealthy frame style of Tampa Bay stalwart Victor Hedman and would reduce the Jets’ tendency to open up too much on the back-check in the years to come.
Although the Jets retain an embarrassment of riches in the goalie department, don’t be surprised should Winnipeg draft another goaltender in Florida.
Prospect development in goal has been excellent, with the recent successes of Connor Hellebuyck, Eric Comrie, and Hobey Baker Award nominee Jamie Phillips.
The goalie class appears weaker this year’s draft compared to previous years, but Barrie’s Mackenzie Blackwood or the KHL’s Ilya Samsonov would still be fine selections for the Jets to continue their coveted goalie output. Both goaltenders lack experience as top junior starters and would greatly benefit from the Jets’ intricate non-rush developmental system.
The 2015 NHL Entry Draft takes place on Jun. 26 and 27 in Sunrise, Florida.