By Zackery Robert
Now into the Heart of Canada we find Winnipeg and their Winnipeg Jets. The new revived Jets have been around since 2011 and have some successful seasons since being back in town. They have also made some great picks in the draft that have helped them to get to where they are so far which has been for majority of their time back in Winnipeg, a playoff contender.
Coming in first we will talk about one of the most impactful players that the Jets have drafted so far and it came in their very first draft back in the NHL. In 2011 the Jets held pick number seven and decided to pick a player who was still a little down the prospect board, Barrie Colts centre Mark Scheifele. Once coming into his own in the NHL Scheifele has become a solid first line centre for the Jets, frequently hitting the point per game plateau has solidified him as the Jets number one centre for the past eight years or so. He has just come off a career high in goals this past season with 42 and looks to build on that when the new season kicks in this fall. He has done exceedingly well in his career so far with the Jets, especially when he was not considered to be drafted where he was.
Moving along we will stop one year later in 2012 where the Jets would use their fifth round pick to find their franchise goalie. Connor Hellebuyck was drafted 130th in the 2012 draft and upon coming into the league in the 2015-2016 season he has not had one losing year to date. Hellebuyck has one Vezina trophy so far under his belt and has been a finalist for the award two other times including this year where he finished with a record of 37-25-2 with four shutouts. Hellebuyck has been the backbone in goal for the Jets and he has proven to be a top five goalie in the NHL for the past six years now. At only 30 years old Hellebuyck looks to continue in his prime for the years to come.
Moving to the last player that needs to be talked about on this part of the lists, we will move to the ever stacked draft of 2015 where the Winnipeg Jets held the 17th overall pick. Using this 17th overall pick the Jets chose Michigan winger Kyle Connor. Connor has become the team’s top goal scorer, registering five seasons of the last six as 30 plus goal seasons with last year being his best year to date with 47 goals. Connor will be 27 years old this year and being that he is on a very team friendly deal it looks like the Jets have gotten themselves a steal of a lifetime, firmly into his prime Connor looks to be a threat to score and put up points each and every game. With a career high of 93 points coming in the 2022 season Jets fans will hope to see more of that in the years to come and they should not be shocked to see that career high number end up being closer to the century mark once it is all said and done for Connor and the Jets.
Moving to picks that the Jets did not get the value out of the pick we will go to the 2016 draft where the Jets won the lottery and moved up into the second spot in the draft. At number two the Jets chose sniping Finnish winger Patrick Laine. Now coming out of the gate Laine was quite good, he scored 36 goals in his first year and then followed that up a year later with his career high of 44 goals. At 20 years old and scoring 40 plus goals people were going wild at his potential, unfortunately it never got any better than the 2017-2018 season. Inconsistency in his play and effort plagued Laine as he was never able to rekindle that touch he had at the early beginnings of his career. He would last another two seasons and one game before being traded off to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Laine was never a point per game player for the Jets when he was there and when you draft a forward as high as number two you’d expect nothing less than a point per game in order to be considered a successful top two pick and unfortunately that was just not it for Laine and the Jets.
Moving on we will now go back in time to the 2012 draft where the Jets held pick number nine and used it on American defenseman Jacob Trouba. Now Trouba was not a bad defenseman, just simply overrated for his production. He was nothing more than a 30 point defenseman with the Jets up until his last season with them in 2019 when he hit 50 points on the season, a total in which he has not since been able to match or beat with the Rangers. With his point totals lacking for someone drafted in the top ten who isn’t considered to be a defensive defenseman, this pick did not do well enough for the Jets to be considered a great value pick. The Jets have gotten more value out of his traded replacement then they had with Trouba and for that reason his pick winds up on this list.
Finally for the last person to talk about we will need to move up to the 2017 draft where at pick number 24 the Jets drafted Kristian Vesalainen. Vesalainen had bold words for himself when he said he was more of an all around player then Laine was but his play never echoed that. After being drafted in 2017 Vesalainen turned to North America in the 2018-2019 season where he played his first five games for the Jets where he gained a total of one point in those five which is not bad at all for a rookie in his first five games at the NHL level. However things never got much better for Vesalainen, he would play the entirety of the next season in the AHL where his numbers were not too impressive with 30 points in 60 games, good but not jumping off the page good. The following year he would split between Finland and North America where in Canada he played 12 games for the Jets again only registering one assist. But gaining five points in six games in the AHL. However when given his biggest chance with the Jets he was unable to capitalise when in 53 games he was only able to score three points ending his tenure with Jets. He is currently playing back overseas in his native Finland. To date in his NHL career he has a stat line of 70 games and five points. Hopefully more is to come for Vesalainen in the NHL but in the case of his pick with the Jets it ends up on this list.
Today the Jets look to bounce back from a disappointing exit from the playoffs with a good pick at the 2023 draft. They are going into this draft with five picks in total: 1st, 3rd, 5th, 5th (NYR), 7th. When taking a look at the team and their prospects it is clear that the need for defence is non-existent with an utter log jam that has plagued their young defence prospects. So to not further that ham the Jets should actually look for a goalie that can help solve the problem of a future replacement for Hellebuyck if he is to leave the team or retire with them down the road. However the fact that they choose in the first round at 18 and then not again until 82nd it does not help dearly for them to get some of the higher valued goalie prospects. So they should try and package some of their picks, not round one, for a second rounder to help fulfill that goalie need. For the first rounder however, the Jets should look at forward with this pick. They do have a lot of up and coming forward prospects from the last few drafts but with their current shape of the blue line and blue line prospects it would be fruitless to use this pick for defence. So a few players the Jets could target would be OHL centre Riley Heidt, or NTDP winger Gabriel Perrault, or Swedish centre Otto Stenberg. With the rumours of Pierre Luc Dubois wanting a trade to Montreal the absence of that good top six winger who can also play centre can be filled with either three of these players named above, they have good skill and have can fit nicely on the wing or centre which will help them play with any of, Scheifele, Connor, Perfetti, or Ehlers.
For more information on the 2023 NHL Draft class be sure to pick up your copy of the comprehensive DraftPro 2023 NHL Draft Guide.