WINNIPEG – Hope and hard work are the cards for young prospects eager to make the Winnipeg Jets, but some are a lot closer to playing that hand in the NHL than others.
Forwards Scott Kosmachuk and Nic Petan look slated to cash in sooner rather than later.
Both have signed entry-level contracts with the Jets.
Kosmachuk, who turns 21 in January, has now finished his eye-opening junior career with the OHL-leading Guelph Storm and is expected to dress for the Jets’ AHL farm team in St. John’s, N.L.
“Obviously, going into next season, it’s going to be a little bit tougher,” the Toronto native said Tuesday.
“Everyone’s going to be bigger, stronger, more skilled and you know you’re not going to be one of the top guys in the league.”
Petan only turned 19 in March and could stay in the WHL, where he’s the top scorer for the powerhouse Portland Winterhawks.
“You’ve just got to take it step by step, whether it’s making a push for it (the NHL) this year or having another year in junior, it’s really not my decision to say,” says Petan, who comes from Delta, B.C.
“My part is just to work hard and see what happens from there.”
The story is the same for every one of the 34 other players the organization wants to check out at this week’s development camp, although, in the case of Kosmachuk and Petan, some key decisions have been made already.
Kosmachuk warranted a third-round pick in the 2012 entry draft and Petan was taken in the second in 2013 and they’ve more than lived up to expectations.
Both display speed, tenacity and a talent for finding the net. At six feet and about 190 pounds Kosmachuk, who plays right wing, has a little more size than Petan, a 5-9, 173-pound centre who says he’s trying to add a little weight this summer.
Kosmachuk’s team-leading 49 goals and 101 points last season helped the Storm reach the Memorial Cup, although they fell to the Edmonton Oil Kings, the team that eliminated Petan’s Winterhawks in the WHL playoffs.
With a team-leading 113 points in 63 games this season and 120 in 71 games last season, Petan also makes up in skill whatever he lacks in size.
There is no fixed formula for when a player is ready to jump to the NHL and the Jets make that decision on a player-by-player basis, even with first-round picks.
They let forward Mark Scheifele develop in junior for a couple of seasons after selecting him in 2011 but put defenceman Jacob Trouba in their lineup as soon as he was available.
Coach Paul Maurice says only a third of first-round picks end up playing 100 games in the NHL, and the message for first rounders is the same for eighth rounders.
“You’ve got to do all the right things now,” says Maurice, who downplays his role at the development camp as one of the least important of any in the Jets organization.
“Train right, eat right, recover properly, get good coaching, establish ties with the right kind of players, learn and compete and, if everything goes right, you have an outside chance.
“The work starts now.”
Maurice says he may spend a little time pondering lines for the team’s main training camp, where players like Kosmachuk and Petan will get a chance to show whether they can compete with NHL veterans.
As for the size of some of the team’s top prospects this year, including No. 1 2014 draft pick Nikolaj Ehlers, Maurice concedes they go against what has become the ideal in the NHL.
“The National Hockey League in general is a big man’s league,” he says.
“Over the last 20 years everybody’s getting bigger, stronger and faster, except the little guy can always play. A smaller player with a certain skillset has always been a big part of the league.”
Not that the Jets are without size at this year’s camp.
Six-foot-five forward Axel Blomquist is back for his second camp after the undrafted Swedish import was scouted and signed last year.
Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck is 6-4, 200 pounds and will be joining the St. John’s IceCaps this season.
Six-foot-five forward Adam Lowry spent last season with the IceCaps where he had 17 goals and 16 assists in 64 games.
And the team has brought in another undrafted big man this season in 6-5 defenceman Kevin Lohan out of the University of Michigan.
“There’s a good mixture,” says Maurice. “We’ve got some real big fellows.”