Winnipeg Jets prospects playing key roles in deep playoff runs

By Charlie Beattie

Scott Kosmachuk - Guelph Storm

Photo: Guelph winger Scott Kosmachuk tied for third on the team with three goals and five points as the Storm came within one win of a Memorial Cup Championship (courtesy of Aaron Bell/CHL Images)

While the parent club still seeks the right formula in terms of making the playoffs, several Winnipeg Jets prospects not only led their teams to postseason, but put up big numbers when the lights were brightest.

The Jets’ AHL affiliate in St. John’s is still playing, currently embroiled in the Calder Cup Finals against the Texas Stars as they look to bring Newfoundland its first ever team professional sports title.

Elsewhere, Jets’ prospects dotted rosters of the OHL Champions, the WHL runners-up and a QMJHL power that saw a promising playoff run undone by numerous injuries. Two Winnipeg prospects also fell just short of returning their teams to the NCAA Frozen Four for the second straight season.

AHL

After posting a handful of excellent starts at the NHL level at the end of the regular season, Michael Hutchinson has returned for the IceCaps playoff push without missing a beat. As the team marched into the Calder Cup Finals with convincing series victories over Albany, Norfolk and Wilkes-Barre, Hutchinson was the key to their success.

Hutchinson has been especially impressive following losses. Coming into the finals, the IceCaps had lost just five total playoff games, and after each, Hutchinson has responded with sterling performances, posting a goals against average of 0.80 and save percentage of .974 in the subsequent victories, including two shutouts. Of goaltenders who have appeared in ten or more of playoff games, no one has a lower goals against than Hutchinson.

Top prospect Josh Morrissey has also aided the cause. After posting just one assist in eight regular season appearances, the 19-year-old has broken through with two goals, seven assists and a plus-three rating while playing in 16 of 17 games thus far for the IceCaps.

WHL

As expected, a loaded Portland Winterhawks team again found their way to an Ed Chynoweth Cup showdown with the Edmonton Oil Kings, a rematch of last year’s final. Portland emerged victorious a season ago, en route to a Memorial Cup final loss to Halifax; however, Edmonton was able to flip the script in 2014, taking the WHL title in an engaging seven-game series.

Once again, Nicolas Petan was integral in the Winterhawks’ success, posting seven goals and 21 assists in 21 playoff games. Even with those totals, Petan was fourth on his own team in scoring during the postseason, behind Oliver Bjorkstrand (CBJ), Brendan Leipsic (NAS), and Derrick Pouliot (PIT) in total points as Portland steamrolled into the finals, losing only two games in the first three rounds.

OHL

The Jets’ lone representative at the Memorial Cup finals was Scott Kosmachuk, who, along with the rest of the offensively-loaded and heavily favored Guelph Storm, manhandled the rest of the Ontario Hockey League en route to the team’s first J. Ross Robertson Cup in ten years. The Storm won all four of their OHL series by a four-games-to-one margin, and Kosmachuk picked up where he left off in the regular season, posting 10 goals and 18 assists in 20 playoff games (like Petan, Kosmachuk’s impressive totals were still only fourth-highest on his own team, as well as the league as a whole). The winger was also a gaudy plus-22 during the Storm’s run.

The Memorial Cup was more of a mixed bag for Kosmachuk. He had five points (two goals, three assists) through Guelph’s first three games, both resounding victories, as the Storm earned a berth in the Championship game. He did not have a point in either game against eventual champion Edmonton, however, and in the final he was both minus-two and took a crucial second period penalty. On the subsequent power play, the Oil Kings’ Edgars Kulda would score what would eventually become the game-winning goal in a 6-3 Edmonton victory.

QMJHL

Jan Kostalek was the Jets’ only representative in the QMJHL playoffs, and his Rimouski Oceanic were ousted in the second round by Blainville-Boisbriand. Injuries played a huge part in Rimouski’s downfall, and Kostalek was among those effected. A carryover injury that cost him the last two weeks of the regular season also kept him out of the team’s first round sweep over Shawinigan, as well as the first two games of the Blainville-Boisbriand series. He was effective upon returning, posting three assists in six games of what would eventually become a seven-game defeat at the hands of the Armada.

NCAA

Two Jets prospects participated in this year’s NCAA tournament, and both were hoping to get back to the Frozen Four for the second straight season. Jordan Samuels-Thomas saw his dream end early, as his Bobcats were shutout by Providence.

Connor Hellebuyck made it one round further, making 35 saves in a taut first round 2-1 victory over Minnesota St.-Mankato, nearly missing a shutout as the Mavericks’ Zach Stepan (NAS) scored a power play goal with ten seconds remaining in the game.

The RiverHawks were ousted by top seed Boston College in the regional final by a 4-3 margin, as they were unable to hold a one-goal lead garnered early in the third period. Hellebuyck gave up four or more goals for just the fifth time all season (all losses) as he made 25 saves in what would turn out to be his last game in a UMass-Lowell uniform.

USHL

Tucker Poolman’s Omaha Lancers were knocked out in the USHL’s opening round against underdog Sioux City, suffering a four-game defeat at the hands of the Musketeers. Poolman finished the series with one goal, two assists, and 25 attempted shots from his defensive position.

Notes and Signings

Tucker Poolman was named the 2014 USA Junior Player of the Year. The award is given annually to a U.S.-born junior player who is also competing for a U.S. based team. Poolman finished his second season with the Lancers with 15 goals and 26 assists.

Connor Hellebuyck signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Jets on April 5th. He served as one of Tim Thomas’ backups at the 2014 World Championships in Minsk, Belarus.