The Maple Leafs weren’t the only winners at the draft lottery; Winnipeg jumped up to second overall and now gets a crack at a fantastic scorer in Patrik Laine. The kid looks NHL ready, but what does that mean for all the other excellent young prospects in the Jets’ system?
Must be horrible to be Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff right now. After all, his team moved up to second from sixth in the draft order thanks to this weekend’s lottery, enabling the team to pick Patrik Laine or Jesse Puljujarvi this summer. But the Jets already have one of the deepest pools of young talent in the NHL, with Nikolaj Ehlers already a year in and Kyle Connor recently turning pro after one incredible college season.
Oh, the terrible choices Winnipeg will be forced to make in camp this fall.
Ha ha, just kidding.
The Jets, of course, have the best problem in hockey right now. A plethora of talent bubbling up from below, waiting to seize roster spots or at least push others to new heights.
Let’s assume Winnipeg takes Laine with that second overall pick. He was recently named the playoff MVP in Finland, where he led Tappara to the championship, scoring many a crazy goal along the way. While it’s rather convenient to look at the Finnish kid with the laser shot and say “Teemu Selanne!” it’s also not accurate. Sure, both have/had incredible shots, but Selanne was a finesse guy, whereas Laine barges around the ice, going past or through anyone he needs to. Not that Winnipeg fans should care either way; the kid can score.
What is interesting here is that the Jets also have Kyle Connor coming to town after one ridiculous season at Michigan. Connor led the nation in scoring and was robbed of the Hobey Baker Award by voters who likely saw his freshman place card and decided “he can wait.”
But with the speed and talent Connor possesses, he decided the pro ranks were beckoning and Winnipeg will give him a shot in the fall to stick. While strength and defensive play are areas he’ll need to shore up, the same could have been said for Nikolaj Ehlers this season. In the end, Ehlers played 72 games (he missed the rest with an eye injury) and got the opportunity to play big minutes down the stretch.
Toss in Marko Dano, Andrew Copp, Nic Petan and Joel Armia and you’ve got a whole lot of youth available to you in Winnipeg. Realistically, some of these pups will have to spend time with AHL Manitoba (I haven’t even mentioned Chase De Leo, Brendan Lemieux or Brandon Tanev yet), which is certainly not a prison sentence. The Moose were pretty dreadful this season and scoring was a definite issue. But the growth of some prospects and addition of others will be a boon for the farm team and the players themselves.
Because Winnipeg isn’t that far off from returning to the playoffs right now. Pop in Connor Hellebuyck as your starting goaltender this season and the Jets probably win a few more games. Laine and the continuing maturation of Ehlers gets you a few more goals in 2016-17.
If anything, next season will be crucial for one of the established players, that being Mark Scheifele. If you’re gonna contend, you need a No. 1 center and Winnipeg’s best hope right now is Scheifele. He hit a career-high in points this season with 61 in 71 games and his possession numbers were pretty decent. Faceoffs are a soft spot, but there’s always time to improve on that. As the offensive cast around him improves, he’ll have the chance to continue his own scoring exploits.
So don’t think there was only one winner in this lottery, because Winnipeg will be adding a great player to a cast that is already filled with potential.