While the NHL spotlight was fixated on Connor McDavid as the inevitable number-one pick, the Winnipeg Jets welcomed eight prospects at the 2015 NHL Draft. For the third time in Thrashers-Jets history, the franchise owned two picks in the first round of the draft and did not disappoint with their selection of USHL stars Kyle Connor and Jack Roslovic.
Fellow Americans Erik Foley and Mason Appleton arrived on the second day of the draft, along with Jansen Harkins and Matteo Gennaro of the WHL, as well as Europeans Michael Špaček and Sami Niku.
Here is a complete breakdown of the Jets 2015 draft selections.
Youngstown Phantoms left winger Kyle Connor was picked with the 17th position and will continue his hockey career with the University of Michigan Wolverines this upcoming season.
Connor possesses soft hands, dynamic speed, and an instinctive scoring touch – highlighted with back-to-back 74-point seasons in the United States Hockey League. However, his size and forechecking are still of concern.
At six-foot-one and 177 pounds, Connor is far from NHL maturity and will need to hone his physical play as well as body mass before progressing in the Jets pipeline.
With the 25th pick, acquired from the Evander Kane trade, the Jets selected US U18 Developmental Team graduate Jack Roslovic.
A linemate of Auston Matthews, a projected top pick in 2016, Roslovic is positionally sound and finds open ice very well without the puck.
Perhaps his best attribute is his playmaking ability, punctuated by his 46 assists in 57 games with the developmental team this past season. Roslovic is committed to the Miami University RedHawks for the upcoming season. Both players selected in the first round are expected to star in the NCAA. Do not be surprised if either or both are named to the U.S. National World Junior Team for the 2016 tournament.
From the WHL’s Prince George Cougars, Jansen Harkins became a steal of a pick upon his selection at the 47th position. The 15th ranked North American forward has a set of quick hands combined with an outstanding IQ in the offensive zone, making him lethal on the attack.
Don’t be deceived by his 30 career goals in the WHL; Harkins’s ability to drive the puck to the net easily gives him the potential to be a goal-scoring machine one day in the NHL.
The son of Prince George General Manager Todd Harkins, a second round NHL draft selection in 1988, Jansen joined the Cougars in 2012. He was selected by the WHL club with the second overall selection of that year’s bantam draft.
It’s not difficult for the second generation Harkins to find his hockey inspiration. Every time he hits the ice, Jansen has in his heart his brother Nicklas, who was diagnosed with mucopolysaccharide disease (MSD), a joint developmental defect, at the age of five.
It’s expected that Harkins will return to Prince George prior to the upcoming campaign. Since he already donned a Canada jersey in two previous tournaments, look for Harkins to be involved with Canada’s 2016 World Junior plans.
He looks to be the most NHL-ready of the draft class, but it would be premature for Harkins to earn himself an AHL call-up.
At the 78th position, the Jets selected another USHL standout, Erik Foley. Although his six-foot frame can be misleading, Foley has the potential to develop into a dominant power forward.
He’s not afraid to be a physical presence, get into the dirty areas around the net and find open ice very well to position himself for a pass. Having finished only his freshman season, Foley’s inexperience is a major restriction for the progression of his hockey career.
Junior hockey with Cedar Rapids is surely the route for Foley for the upcoming campaign, possibly with World Junior commitments to Team USA.
His inexperience in junior could be the deal-breaker in holding down a position with the Americans, despite performing in this season’s Ivan Hlinka tournament.
Michael Špaček, the fifth-ranked European prospect, was selected by Winnipeg at the 108th position. Developed by the Czech Republic ranks, he stood out at the U18 and junior levels, yet failed to show the high level of production in the country’s top league.
Špaček has shown he has the creative skills on the puck to become a playmaker in the NHL. Despite playing a satisfactory offensive game, his consistency as a senior Czech player and eventual adjustment to the North American game are the two major hurdles in his way to appearing in the NHL.
Since he has already appeared in one World Junior Championship, expect him to wear the Czech colors at the 2016 edition of the tournament.
For the next little while, Špaček will have his nation in his plans. He will continue to develop his game in the Czech Elite League and represent the country at the 2016 World Juniors before continuing in North America.
The Jets forfeited their 2015 fifth round selection as a condition pick to the Carolina Hurricanes, in a deal to acquire forward Jiří Tlustý. Originally, the pick was agreed to be a sixth round selection, yet turned into a fifth rounder when the Jets made the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With the 168th pick, Winnipeg selected Tri-City Storm center Mason Appleton. Although relatively unknown and unranked in Central Scouting, he is a casual point-producer with 40 points in 54 games as a USHL rookie last season.
While Appleton’s offensive game is satisfactory at the junior level, he possesses decent defensive upside and could one day fill the role of a two-way forward. Yet, his speed and skating ability appears to be of some concern and needs to be addressed.
Committed to Michigan State University next year, Appleton possesses the potential to be a diverse player in the NCAA. However, the odds are against him to blossom into a high-end prospect and must prove his worth within the following seasons.
Winnipeg held an extra seventh round selection, acquired from the Eddie Pasquale trade to Washington in June of last year.
Defenceman Sami Niku from the Finnish Elite League was selected with the 198th pick. Although relatively undersized at six feet, Niku is a skilled mobile blueliner with a shot that combines both power and accuracy.
While his defensive upside continues to emerge, Niku’s power and quick release gives the Jets a new dimension in their pipeline with a potential power-play anchor.
With their final selection at position 203 Winnipeg picked Prince Albert Raider Matteo Gennaro, a cousin of former NHLer Fernando Pisani.
The six-foot-two centre experienced an improved season offensively, doubling his output from that of the previous campaign, yet his potential is fairly unknown. A former teammate of 2013 first rounder Josh Morrissey, Gennaro recorded 31 points in 72 games this season.
Niku will likely play in Finland for the upcoming season and should be featured in the 2016 World Junior Championships. At only 176 pounds, Niku will begin adding mass to his six-foot frame as his physical game continues to develop.
For Gennaro, the 2015-2016 season will be a defining year as it is determined if he can fulfill a higher role offensively in the WHL.