JERSEY CITY, N.J. – This incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets hasn’t made the playoffs in two years, and the franchise didn’t qualify for the previous five seasons when it was in Atlanta. That would seem to create some urgency for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff.
But Cheveldayoff is going into Sunday’s NHL draft with the long-term future in mind.
“Ultimately you’re here to restock and stock your teams with young talent and future building blocks for your organization,” he said. “That is really the first and foremost topic on our minds.”
With the No. 13 pick, three in the second round and 10 overall, the Jets have plenty of ammunition to make trades. But Cheveldayoff seems comfortable focusing more on the future than the present.
That’s easy with a “good memory.” Cheveldayoff will oftentimes think about acquiring a player and then look to see that he was drafted in one of the first two rounds, reminding him that patience is a valuable asset.
“It does take time, there’s no question about it, but in a cap world, it is impulse that really sets you in the wrong direction,” he said. “When you have the opportunity to have good young players, now that’s the key: You’ve got to draft right, you have to develop right. That is the way you’ll be able to live and thrive in a cap world.”
Sure, Cheveldayoff would like to find some more depth at right wing and get deals done with some restricted free agents like defenceman Zach Bogosian, right-winger Blake Wheeler and centre Bryan Little.
But this weekend is about drafting young players, many of whom won’t be able to contribute at the NHL level for at least a couple of years.
“We spent a lot of time with our scouts, our scouts have spent the whole year putting their hearts and souls into the list,” Cheveldayoff said. “They’re out in the rinks, they’re out pounding the pavement, going through the snowstorms to try and find that player that is going to put us over the top. And that needs to be respected as well. We’re very focused on working to keep our RFAs, working to build through the draft, and working to build an organization that is strong and has lots of depth, and this is the time that it starts right here.”
Cheveldayoff has already told his scouting staff to be prepared if the team doesn’t use all 10 picks it has at its disposal. That’s not a problem for director of amateur scouting Marcel Comeau.
“We’re all in this together and we all want to see the team get better as soon as it can get better,” Comeau said. “Whatever pieces we can add, that’s all for the good, as far as I’m concerned. Our job is to acquire assets for management to manage. We’re looking forward to adding some more pieces and then see what we can make out of those pieces.”
The Jets are still glowing from the 2012 draft when defenceman Jacob Trouba was available for them to select ninth overall. He’s expected to make the team out of training camp next season.
“We were real excited. We just had a feeling that was going to be the guy we were going to get, for some reason,” Comeau said. “We just thought he was our guy. Sure as heck, he was, so we were certainly happy to get him. He certainly hasn’t disappointed us here. He’s going to be a great addition to the Winnipeg Jets.”
Winnipeg may not get a player as polished as Trouba or 2011 first-rounder Mark Scheifele at No. 13 or in the second round, but Comeau and Cheveldayoff are confident they’ll continue to build the system.
“Choices change hands. We have a few more opportunities this year, we still put the work in to get the list where we want it and certainly we have a chance to add some more assets,” Comeau said. “You don’t know if they’re going to be there, but you put the work in regardless, prepare as best you can and be sure that you’re good to go.”