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KEN WIEBE: Jets looking to restock the shelves: Trade back into first round provides opportunity

Winnipeg Jets forward Kristian Vesalainen turns back up ice during NHL preseason action against the Minnesota Wild in Winnipeg on Mon., Sept. 17, 2018. Kevin King/Winnipeg Sun/Postmedia Network
Winnipeg Jets forward Kristian Vesalainen turns back up ice during NHL preseason action against the Minnesota Wild in Winnipeg on Mon., Sept. 17, 2018. Kevin King/Winnipeg Sun/Postmedia Network

VANCOUVER, B.C.  -   — When it comes to first-round selections, the Winnipeg Jets have mostly enjoyed success since the franchise relocated from Atlanta in 2011.

Most of the guys chosen in the first 31 selections have either made a contribution or are progressing nicely — and yes, that includes defenceman Logan Stanley, who is coming off a strong campaign as a rookie pro with the Manitoba Moose.

Kristian Vesalainen, the Jets’ most recent first-rounder, appeared in only five NHL games last season before exercising an out-clause to return home to play in Finland, but he’s going to be on the opening-day roster this fall.

After not having a first round pick in 2018, the Jets traded back into the first round on Monday night, re-acquiring the 20 th overall selection — which they originally used as part of a package to obtain centre Kevin Hayes — in the deal for defenceman Jacob Trouba.

When looking at the return, which also included pending restricted free agent blue-liner Neal Pionk, it seems obvious the Jets made a first-round pick a priority.

“We felt it was important for us to try to get back into the first round if there was an opportunity to do that,” Cheveldayoff said during a conference call earlier this week. “The coincidental side of it is it’s our pick. We wanted to try to get as high as we could. We were looking for something in return that would fit with our needs moving forward.”

What was the appeal with the prospects that are expected to be available in the bottom third of the first round?

“It’s a really interesting draft, once you get past the ones everybody’s talking about on the top end, I think it really spreads out,” said Cheveldayoff. “There are players we’re going to see at 20 (that) we’re going to have higher on our list.

“There could be teams that go in a direction of a forward or a defenceman, and when you get into the 20s, as we are, you have to expect the unexpected. Given the combines and how the list has fallen out in our own estimation, we feel pretty confident we’re going to get a pretty good player there.”

Trying to figure out who that player might be for the Jets is difficult given the team’s draft history.

Since 2011, the Jets haven’t really stuck to a pattern of which leagues they prefer to choose from in the first round.

Of the nine guys the Jets have chosen in the first round since the franchise relocated from Atlanta, three players were from the USHL (including two players from the United States National Development Team Program), two from Finland (one played in the SM-Liiga in Finland and the other played in the Swedish Hockey League), two from the Ontario Hockey League, one from the Western Hockey League and one from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

It’s cliché to say, but the Jets basically have stuck to the best player available mantra.

Patrik Laine basically fell into the Jets lap after they moved up to No. 2 in the NHL Draft Lottery in 2016.

Other than that, there have been times when it seemed like the Jets went a little bit off the board with their pick and others when a guy ranked higher by many of the pundits slipped down to them.

The NHL Draft remains an inexact science, but it’s a fallacy that the only players who make a big impact are taken in the top half.

There are value selections throughout and even recent history shows someone chosen 20 th overall might not need long to jump into the NHL lineup.

Just over a week ago, Robert Thomas, who was chosen 20 th overall in the 2018 NHL Draft, helped the St. Louis Blues capture the 2019 Stanley Cup.

Although a wrist injury prevented Thomas from suiting up in Game 7, he played an important role on the Blues third line throughout the stretch run and the playoffs and was also part of the power play as well.

Thomas is a natural centre but was used on the wing for much of the campaign.

His skill set was on display and his potential as a game-breaker is evident already and he just finished his rookie season in the NHL.

When it comes to the 20 th pick in 2019, about the only thing that seems close to certain is that the Jets are unlikely to draft a goalie there.

There is a nice collection of centres, wingers and defencemen who could make sense for the Jets.

It won’t take much longer to find out who that player is going to be, but it’s important to remember that player won’t likely be an NHL player or contributor until the 2020-21 season or perhaps even later.

To maximize the return in the deal for Jacob Trouba and given the challenges the Jets are going to face for the next few years as it relates to the salary cap, the pressure is on the scouting staff to find another player who can step in and be an NHL regular.

It’s not a new concept for a franchise known for drafting and developing players.

But after trading those first-rounders in 2018 and 2019, replenishing the cupboards is more important than ever for the Jets — especially when you consider they have only four other picks during the final six rounds on Saturday.

Recent history of 20 th overall picks in the NHL Draft (amateur team at time of draft, NHL career totals)

2018, Los Angeles Kings, C Rasmus Kupari, Karpat, SM-Liiga, no NHL stats

2017, St. Louis Blues, C Robert Thomas, London Knights, OHL, 70 GP, 9 G, 24 A, 33 P, 14 PIM

2016, Detroit Red Wings, D Dennis Cholowski, Chilliwack Bruins, BCHL, 52 GP, 7 G, 9 A, 16 P, 16 PIM

2015, Minnesota Wild, C Joel Eriksson Ek, Farjestads BK Karlstad, SweHL, 148 GP, 16 G, 21 A, 47 P, 46 PIM

2014, Chicago Blackhawks, C Nick Schmaltz, Green Bay Gamblers, USHL, 179 GP, 34 G, 71 A, 105 P, 32 PIM

2013, Detroit Red Wings, RW Anthony Mantha, Val d’or Foreurs, QMJHL, 217 GP, 68 G, 67 A, 135 P, 137 PIM

2012, Philadelphia Flyers, C Scott Laughton, Oshawa Generals, OHL, 272 GP, 31 G, 48 A, 79 P, 146 PIM

2011, Arizona Coyotes, D Connor Murphy, USNDP, USHL, 386 GP, 20 G, 56 A, 76 P, 219 PIM

2010, Pittsburgh Penguins, F Beau Bennett, Penticton Vees, BCHL, 200 GP, 24 G, 40 A, 64 P, 52 PIM

2009, New Jersey Devils, C Jacob Josefson, Djurgardens IF Stockholm, SHL, 315 GP, 20 G, 44 A, 64 P, 84 PIM

History of Winnipeg Jets first-round selections

2019, Pick traded to New York Rangers as part of package for C Kevin Hayes, re-acquired along with D Neal Pionk for D Jacob Trouba

2018, Pick traded to St. Louis Blues as part of package for C Paul Stastny

2017, 24 th overall, LW Kristian Vesalainen, Frolunda HC (SweHL), 5 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 P, 0 PIM

2016, 2 nd overall, RW Patrik Laine, Tappara Tampere (SM-Liiga), 237 GP, 110 G, 74 A, 184 P, 92 PIM

2016, 18 th overall, D Logan Stanley, Windsor Spitfires, OHL, No NHL stats

2015, 17 th overall, LW Kyle Connor, Youngstown Phantoms, USHL, 178 GP, 67 G, 61 A, 128 P, 38 PIM

2015, 25 th overall, F Jack Roslovic, USNDP, USHL, 109 GP, 14 G, 14 A, 28 P, 6 PIM

2014, 9 th overall, LW Nikolaj Ehlers, Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL, 298 GP, 90 G, 109 A, 199 P, 100 PIM

2013, 13 th overall, D Josh Morrissey, Prince Albert Raiders, WHL, 223 GP, 19 G, 58, 77 P, 99 PIM

2012, 9 th overall, D Jacob Trouba, USNDP, USHL, 408 GP, 42 G, 137 A, 179 P, 297 PIM

2011, 7 th overall, C Mark Scheifele, Barrie Colts, OHL, 448 GP, 151 G, 220 A, 371 P, 180 PIM

2019 Winnipeg Jets draft picks

1 st round, 20 th overall (trade with New York Rangers to re-acquire their original pick)

2 nd round, 51 st overall

4 th round, 113 th overall

5 th round, 134 th overall (trade with Philadelphia Flyers)

5 th round, 144 th overall

kwiebe@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/WiebeSunSports

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019


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