WINNIPEG – At a little over six foot six without skates, left-winger Axel Blomqvist has to duck when he walks through doors at the Winnipeg Jets’ practice facility in full gear.
The 18 year old from Sweden, who weighs in at around 220 pounts, played last season in the Western Hockey League but went undrafted this year and was signed to a tryout contract by the Jets in August.
Cody Sol, meanwhile, a 22-year-old, 235-pound defenceman drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009, comes in at 6-5, as does forward Adam Lowry, a 2011 Jets draft pick.
The Jets opened a prospects camp Thursday that showcases a little of the size waiting in the wings of the NHL franchise.
General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said it isn’t by accident.
“We’ve done a decent job I think at looking at trying to increase our size over the couple of drafts that we’ve had,” he said as the prospects prepared to fly off to Penticton, B.C., for a tournament.
But Cheveldayoff added that he looks for more than just size in prospects.
“I think we look at a lot of things that create the outline of a hockey player and, certainly, if you have the opportunity to gain a lot of the aspects that we look for, and size being one of them, then you jump at it.”
Blomqvist said he can make the jump to the pros right now. If the Jets like what they see, he’d be happy to get signed and go wherever the Jets want to send him to develop.
“It was a little disappointing not being drafted so, (when) I got the call from Winnipeg, it was a really nice feeling,” he says.
He said his first year with the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes where he finished with 39 points in 59 games was a “bit of a learning experience.”
“It’s a different game over here,” he said. “Last year taught me a lot.”
Cheveldayoff said this is a great chance to evaluate players like Blomqvist against those already in the system as well as others at the Vancouver Young Stars tournament in Penticton, B.C. They’ll face teams from San Jose, Edmonton and Vancouver.
“Sometimes, you can find players that maybe have been passed over or looked at in different lights at different points in time but … we’re real excited to have him here,” he said.
Sol, who is already in the Jets’ system but bounced between the ECHL and AHL last season, is hoping to find a more steady role with Winnipeg’s AHL farm team in St. John’s.
“This year I’ve got to be consistent and I’ve got to fight for a spot,” he said.
With his size, Sol said getting his speed where it needs to be has been the challenge.
“I’m getting leaner, I’m getting faster, so I’ll just keep working at it.”
While by no means small at a relatively modest six foot two, forward Mark Scheifele (2011 draft) and defenceman Jacob Trouba (2012 draft) are probably the two players at camp closest to being NHL ready.
Scheifele, 20, has already had two cracks but was sent back to the OHL for a little more seasoning, where he blossomed into a major force for the Barrie Colts during the playoffs last season.
Trouba, a year younger, picked up valuable international experience playing for the United States at the world junior hockey championship, on top of an outstanding all-star season at the University of Michigan.
At the world juniors, he scored four goals and had five assists to help the U.S. team win the gold medal. He was named the tournament’s best defenceman.
Both Sheifele and Trouba insist they’re not dwelling on where they might play this season.
“I put pressure on myself but again, I’m playing hockey and I made it this far just trying to enjoy the game and enjoy the whole process,” said Trouba.
“It’s kind of still my mindset to just have fun out there. Because, at the end of the day, it’s just a game and it’s supposed to be played to have some fun.”
Follow Scott Edmonds on Twitter @tsedmonds