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Future Watch – Winnipeg Jets: Finding Balance

If the Jets, teeming with young talent, claim a Cup, they can draw a straight line to the Moose as a reason why.

B- / 18th overall

Talent development in the AHL is of paramount importance for the long-term success of NHL organizations. But AHL clubs have to balance their roles in developing the next generation with winning games in the present. “You learn to keep the line in the sand as close as you can to the middle,” said Winnipeg Jets assistant GM/Manitoba Moose GM Craig Heisinger. “Development and winning, to a certain degree, they go hand in hand, but guys still have to play. If your team wins but your young players don’t play, they don’t develop.” So far so good, as the Moose continue to groom high-end young talent for the contending Jets.

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1. Kristian Vesalainen (32nd overall)
RW, 19, 6-3, 207 – Jokerit (KHL)
31–6–11–17–0
2017 draft, 24th overall
Vesalainen was a camp surprise and had his NHL arrival earlier than expected. But a demotion to the AHL saw him exercise an out clause and head to the KHL. The Jets would have relished the opportunity to watch his development in house, but his departure will give him the chance to add depth to his game. “He’s a big guy that has the ability to play a little physical, shoot the puck,” Heisinger said. “He needs to learn to have some penalty-killing ability, not just be a power-play guy.”
FW18| No. 2 - NHL | 2020-21

2. Dylan Samberg (73rd overall)
D, 20, 6-4, 215 - Minnesota-Duluth (NCHC)
29–6–7–13–25
2017 draft, 43rd overall
Samberg has built upon a terrific freshman NCAA campaign, and the offensive growth has been evident. After posting one goal and 13 points in 42 outings last season, Samberg has added a goal-scoring touch. That he’s showing offensive upside – and performed well in his second WJC, winning silver with Team USA – is a positive. He needs to work on his skating. Samberg has the physical attributes to take the next step, but mobility is a necessity at the highest level.
FW18| No. 3 - NHL | 2021-22

3. Sami Niku (77th overall)
D, 22, 6-1, 176 – Manitoba (AHL)
20–3–9–12–14
2015 draft, 198th overall
Niku’s performance in the AHL indicates he’s ready, but a crowded Jets blueline has made it difficult for him to get reps. His time with the Jets has been limited to use as an injury replacement or bottom-pair hand. But playing on the farm will help Niku as there are strides to be made from a physical standpoint. “He can skate, move the puck – he’s got offensive instincts and the ability to defend,” Heisinger said. “He’s probably light on power and strength, but that’ll come with maturity.”
FW18| nr - NHL | 2019-20

4. Mason Appleton
RW, 23, 6-2, 193 – Manitoba (AHL)
22–8–11–19–10
2015 draft, 168th overall
The expectation with Appleton when he departed Michigan State to turn pro was he would spend a few seasons marinating in the AHL. But he stunned by winning AHL rookie of the year. His progression has been impressive. “It caught me off guard,” Heisinger said. “I wouldn’t have predicted that development curve as quickly.” Yet Appleton isn’t done growing. While he possesses speed and smarts, if he’s to make the leap from skilled role player to top-six talent, his shot and finishing ability must improve.
FW18| No. 10 - NHL | 2019-20

5. Logan Stanley
D, 20, 6-7, 231 – Manitoba (AHL)
55–5–7–12–58
2016 draft, 18th overall
Stanley’s imposing frame makes him impossible to miss, but he’s more than a big body. He obliterated previous career-best totals in the OHL last season and is exceeding expectations and logging important minutes as a first-year pro. Stanley’s transition to the AHL has been aided by his impressive mobility. His frame does present its challenges. “You need to be an elite-conditioned athlete, especially with his size and frame,” Heisinger said. “That’s the one area for us that we continue to harp on.”
FW18| No. 8 - NHL | 2020-21

6. Tucker Poolman
D, 25, 6-4, 216 – Manitoba (AHL)
33–3–15–18–6
2013 draft, 127th overall
Mobile for a big guy. Hard shot. Regular shift in AHL helping him fine tune.

7. Eric Comrie
G, 23, 6-1, 180 – Manitoba (AHL)
20–15–2, 2.73, .917
2013 draft, 59th overall
Has seized starting role in minors with best numbers of career. Moose’s top player.

8. David Gustafsson
C, 18, 6-2, 187 – HV71 (Swe.)
32–1–9–10–10
2018 draft, 60th overall
Well-rounded pivot’s ceiling is likely as all-situations bottom-six forward.

9. Johnathan Kovacevic
D, 21, 6-4, 207 – Merrimack (HE)
31–4–14–18–14
2017 draft, 74th overall
Junior possesses good size and hockey sense, but skating needs work.

10.Mikhail Berdin
G, 20, 6-2, 163 – Jacksonville (ECHL)
16–8–2, 2.66, .912
2016 draft, 157th overall
Smart and agile. Room for growth, but flourishing after move to lower pro ranks.

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