CHL prospects take home majority of Winnipeg Jets prospect awards

By Charlie Beattie
Eric Comrie - Tri-City Americans

Photo: Goaltender Eric Comrie put together his healthiest season in the WHL in 2013-14 and maintained a .925 save percentage in 60 appearances for Tri-City (courtesy of Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

 
The Jets’ prospect pool underwent a turnover when top prospects Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba graduated, removing some of the blue-chip talent from the current crop. The cupboard is far from bare, however, as the next wave of Winnipeg Jets prospects thrived in their current locations, highlighting the overall depth of the system.

While a handful of rookies made their professional debuts to generally favorable results, the Jets also had several stars in both the junior and collegiate ranks, with a few even making professional cameos at the end of the season. Several of their next wave of prospects appear on the cusp of breaking into the professional ranks on a full time basis in 2014-15. Here is a look at our 2013-14 prospect awards for the franchise.

Prospect of the Year: Nicolas Petan, C, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)

Strong cases could be made for several of the Jets prospects to win this award, including Josh Morrissey or Scott Kosmachuk, but Petan gets the nod for his offensive assault on the WHL. Petan’s early season pace was torrid enough to warrant serious talk that he could top 140 points, and while that quest was derailed both by an interruption to his season to participate in the World Junior Championships as well as a slightly slower pace after his return, he still finished second in the league in scoring. Petan finished with 35 goals and 78 assists, and in the process guided the Winterhawks to within a sniff of a second straight Memorial Cup appearance with 28 points in 21 playoff games.

Most Improved: Adam Lowry, C, St. John’s IceCaps (AHL)

Lowry faced a tough adjustment to his first professional season. His offense was nearly non-existent during the early part of the season, though to be fair, injuries certainly played a part in his lack of production. Once he settled in to the lineup and with a clean bill of health, Lowry became a key contributor and finished the AHL season with respectable totals of 17 goals and 33 points in 64 games while creating some good chemistry with fellow rookie J.C. Lipon. Adversity struck again at the end of the season, as a severe case of tonsillitis knocked him from the lineup for a handful of early-round games and has slowed his offense since, but there is a lot for the Jets to like about Lowry’s overall production.

Best Defensive Prospect: Josh Morrissey, D, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)

Morrissey assumed the mantle of Jets’ top prospect from fellow defenseman Jacob Trouba after the latter graduated, and he did nothing to shake Kevin Cheveldayoff’s 2013 draft-day faith in him. Statistically, Morrissey exploded in his third full WHL season, nearly doubling his goal and point totals from his pre-draft campaign, despite playing 11 fewer games. Morrissey’s strengths have not changed, namely his elite skating and puck movement, but neither have his weaknesses, namely his lack of size. Still, Morrissey plays a solid defensive game to make up for his lack of shear strength, and looks a future cornerstone for the Jets.

Fastest Skater: Scott Kosmachuk, RW, Guelph Storm (OHL)

Kosmachuk beats out a loaded field in this category, as the Jets have made a habit out of drafting smallish, skilled, and most important, lightning quick players over the past few seasons. Voted one of the top skaters in the OHL by the league’s coaches, Kosmachuk’s speed brought an added dimension to the punishing Storm attack this season, and his skills earned him an entry-level contract in December and an OHL title in May.

Hardest Shot: Josh Morrissey, D, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)

Morrissey makes his second appearance on this list, proving that big shots do not have to come from giant packages. Morrissey has a rocket and he uses it effectively, particularly on the power play, where he tallied 11 times this season.

Overachiever: Michael Hutchinson, G, St. John’s IceCaps (AHL)

Hutchinson was pulled off the scrap heap in the offseason and assigned to the ECHL in Ontario to no fanfare at all. Injuries certainly provided Hutchinson with an opportunity to move up through the ranks, but his stellar play at three levels shoved him back onto the prospect map. After posting a combined record of 39-9-3 between the ECHL and AHL, Hutchinson had a three-game cameo with the Jets at the end of the season, posting a 2-1 record (his only loss was a 1-0 shutout) with a 1.64 goals against average and a .943 save percentage. Having returned to the IceCaps for their playoff push, Hutchinson has continued to shine as St. John’s has advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. His NHL totals may represent a very small sample-size, but his overall play has put him back on the map, and further crowded an already jam-packed stable of goaltending prospects under Winnipeg’s umbrella.

Underachiever: Lukas Sutter, C, Red Deer Rebels (WHL)

Sutter’s trade to Red Deer from Saskatoon came with the intent to kick-start his offensive game after a dreadful 2012-13 season. While the results were slightly better before reconstructive shoulder surgery shut him down for good in February, Sutter is still a long way from justifying his second round draft status. He has the feistiness and certainly the pedigree to succeed, but with his career at a crossroads as an over-age for the WHL and without an entry-level deal from the Jets, Sutter may find his next step to be with another organization.

Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Eric Comrie, G, Tri-City Americans (WHL)

Predicting the future of goaltending prospects is enough of a crapshoot, but Comrie also brings injury baggage to the table. Comrie managed to stay healthy this season, marking the first of his three WHL campaigns in which he has even topped the 40-game plateau, and the fact that his 2012-13 campaign ended with double hip surgery is particularly worrisome. That being said, Comrie possesses the best combination of technique and overall athletic ability of any of the Jets’ myriad goaltending prospects, and likely the highest ceiling as well.

Hardest Worker: Andrew Copp, C, University of Michigan Wolverines (NCAA)

Copp is becoming the type of player who is only discussed for his intangible qualities, with little discussion of the skill he also possesses. However, Copp’s work ethic and leadership qualities are off the charts. In only his sophomore season, Copp was named an alternate captain for the Wolverines, and he will return in 2014-15 as the first jto wear the ‘C’ since Luke Glendening, now of the Detroit Red Wings. Red Berenson is hoping his leadership gifts will get Michigan back into the NCAA tournament after two years away.

Breakout player for the 2014-15 season: Eric O’Dell, C, Winnipeg Jets (NHL)

O’Dell seemed to be spinning his wheels a bit in the organization, but the coaching change from Claude Noel to Paul Maurice was revitalizing. A point-per-game scorer at the AHL level for two consecutive seasons, O’Dell does not have much left to prove at St. John’s. He participated in 30 games at the NHL level, mostly after Maurice was hired. His numbers (three goals, four assists) were not eye-catching, but frequently he played under eight minutes per game, bottoming out at 2:12 on March 12th against Vancouver. Late in the season, he was bumped up to the second line, spending much of his time with Evander Kane and watching his ice-time skyrocket. The Jets, for the moment, are thin at center, and will get thinner once Olli Jokinen likely departs in free agency this summer. Certainly there will be new arrivals, but for now, it seems that O’Dell has the confidence of Maurice, and that can make the difference for a player in his situation. Monster numbers are not necessarily likely, but a spot in the NHL lineup seems within O’Dell’s reach, and his offensive game should show itself with increased faith.