Ehlers takes top spot in Winnipeg Jets Fall 2014 Top 20

By Tony Piscotta
CHL: JAN 15 2014 BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game

Photo: Nikolaj Ehlers was selected with the ninth overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft after a 104 point season with the Halifax Mooseheads. (courtesy of Steven Alkok/Icon Sportswire)

 

The Winnipeg Jets had an exciting third season, playing in the Western Conference for the first time since re-locating from Atlanta. The Jets, however, once again finished just short of a playoff spot. Paul Maurice, who took over as the Jets’ coach in January, seemed to have the team playing better at the end of the year and with a full offseason and training camp should be able to put his mark on the club.

The Jets feature several exciting first- and second-year players, and with the addition of 2014 first round pick Nikolaj Ehlers it appears general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has added another offensively gifted forward.

Ehlers takes over the top spot in Winnipeg’s Top 20  while defenseman Josh Morrissey, who was in the top spot in the spring, slips one spot. Morrissey put up big offensive numbers for the WHL‘s Prince Albert Raiders last season and stepped right into the lineup for Jets’ affiliate St. John’s during the AHL playoffs. The prospects of him joining Jacob Trouba on the blue line is an exciting scenario for Winnipeg fans.

1. (NR) Nikolaj Ehlers, LW 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 9th overall, 2014

Undersized compared to some of the players taken before him in the 2014 draft at 5’11 and 165 pounds, Ehlers is as skilled and offensively-inclined as any player coming out of junior hockey. The Denmark native, who played junior hockey in Switzerland before joining the Halifax Mooseheads last winter, was the QMJHL‘s fourth-leading scorer with 104 points in 63 regular season games and scored 11 goals with 17 assists in 16 playoff games. Ehlers dazzled with his scoring and playmaking talents at the Winnipeg Young Stars Tournament and will go to camp with the Jets but is expected to return to Halifax for one more season of junior hockey.

2. (1) Josh Morrissey, D, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 13th overall, 2013

Josh Morrissey, like Ehlers, impressed during the Young Stars Tournament. The 19-year-old rearguard has a decent chance of opening the season with the Jets. While the defensive elements of his game are still a work in progress, the Calgary native is exciting to watch and his playmaking and skating compare favorably with other young defenders. Morrissey, who skated for Canada in the 2014 World Junior Championship and is again a candidate for this year’s tournament in Canada, is still too young to play in the AHL so he would either have to play for the Jets or return to Prince Albert in the WHL. The Raiders’ second-leading scorer behind Edmonton 2014 first round pick Leon Draisaitl and a team captain a year ago, Morrissey has little left to prove at the junior level.

3. (2) Nicolas Petan, C, 7.5D
Drafted 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2013

Nicolas Petan was the WHL’s second-leading scorer, topping the 100-point mark for the second straight year and leading the league with 78 assists with the Portland Winterhawks. A native of Delta, British Columbia, Petan was a teammate of Morrissey’s with the Canada U20 team and scored four goals with one assist in seven games at the 2014 World Junior Championship. While the Winterhawks failed to return to the Memorial Cup, falling to eventual Memorial Cup champion Edmonton in the WHL finals, Petan was outstanding in the WHL playoffs. During the Winterhawks playoff run he scored seven goals with 21 assists in 21 playoff games.

At  5’9 and 170 pounds he is a bit undersized for the NHL game, but Petan does not shy away from physical play. Like Morrissey and Ehlers, he is too young to play in the AHL so he will likely return to the Winterhawks for a fourth season.

4. (3) Adam Lowry, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 67th overall, 2011

Adam Lowry, 21, made steady progress with the St. John’s IceCaps in his first professional season. After missing eight games early in the year due to injury, he finished with 17 goals and 16 assists in 64 regular season games. He skated in 17 of 21 playoff games and was plus-one while scoring two goals with three assists.

The son of long-time NHL player and current Victoria Royals head coach Dave Lowry, Lowry has the ideal size (6’4, 185 pounds) of an NHL power forward but his offensive skills and anticipatory instincts suggest he can score consistently too.

5. (4) Connor Hellebuyck, G, 7.5D
Drafted 5th round, 130th overall, 2012

The Atlanta/Winnipeg organization has struggled to find top flight goaltending since it’s inception due in part to team defense that was usually less than stellar, but the Jets currently have two of the top goaltending prospects in the 14-year history of the franchise in Connor Hellebuyck and Eric Comrie.

The winner of the Mike Richter Award as the NCAA’s top goaltender following his sophomore season at Massachusetts-Lowell in 2013-14, Hellebuyck signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Jets in April, foregoing his final two seasons of college hockey. Massachusetts-Lowell, unlike the Jets, played a very goalie-friendly defensive style that smothered opponents, so Hellebuyck’s phenomenal numbers— 18-9-2 with six shutouts in 29 games while posting a 1.79 goals against average and .941 save percentage— will be tough to match at the pro level.

Hellebuyck’s strengths are his ability to use his size (6’4, 200 pounds) to his advantage, his competitive nature, and the focus to stay with plays for second and third attempts. He will likely start the season in the AHL but, barring a trade for a veteran goalie, he could be in Winnipeg sooner than expected should veterans Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson falter.

6. (5) Eric Comrie, G, 7.5D
Drafted 2nd round, 59th overall, 2013

Eric Comrie bounced back from an injury-filled 2012-13 season in which he played 65 games, including five playoff contests, for the WHL’s Tri-City Americans and made his pro debut with the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps as an 18 year old. Playing for the middle-of-the-pack Americans, he was 26-25-9 with four shutouts and had a 2.57 goals against average and an impressive .925 save percentage.

Comrie attended Hockey Canada’s U20 camp last year and is one of the candidates to be in net at the World Juniors this year. Still fairly early in the development process, he is showing signs of being among the elite goaltending prospects at the junior level.

7. (7) Scott Kosmachuk, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 70th overall, 2012

Scott Kosmachuk led the Guelph Storm in scoring in his fourth OHL season as the team won the league’s playoff championship and advanced to the Memorial Cup. But what sets the 20-year-old forward apart from other top Jets prospects is his abrasiveness that complements his offensive ability.

Kosmachuk plays a hard scrabble game despite being slightly undersized (6’0, 190 pounds) for that type of combativeness. Likely to start the season with the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps, he should eventually fit in well with what the Jets are trying to do with their young group of forwards.

8. (NR) Jack Glover, D, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 69th overall, 2014

Coming out of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program and headed to the University of Minnesota this fall, Jack Glover is a smooth skating defenseman who likes to be involved in the transition game. Not an overly abrasive defender despite his large frame, Glover should fit in well with the Gophers and continue to develop during his college career.

A native of Golden Valley, Minnesota and a big Minnesota Wild fan while growing up, he was among several talented defenders coming out of the NTDP program in the 2014 NHL Draft and could fit in well with the Jets in the future.

9. (10) Andrew Copp, C, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 104th overall, 2013

Andrew Copp was the second-leading scorer for the University of Michigan behind Buffalo Sabres‘ prospect JT Compher as the Wolverines finished third in the initial season of the Big 10 hockey conference. A native of Ann Arbor, Copp played alongside Glover and Compher with the NTDP and has the combination of skill, size and competitiveness that projects to him becoming an effective power forward at the pro level.

Copp was named a team captain for the Wolverines for the 2014-15 season following his sophomore season last year and should play a key role for the team as it looks to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011-12.

10. (6) Jimmy Lodge, C, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 84th overall, 2013

Jimmy Lodge slips a bit in the Jets’ Top 20 after a challenging third season in the OHL. The Downington, Pennsylvania native suffered a shoulder injury in the USA Hockey U20 camp that slowed him at the beginning of the year and he then missed time with a concussion. He rebounded from the slow start to finish as the fourth-leading scorer for the Saginaw Spirit despite missing 11 games.

While his numbers were not as impressive as the previous season, when Lodge skated on the Spirit’s top line with Eric Locke (Buffalo) and Garret Ross (Chicago), the fact that he overcame early season adversity and continued to produce for Saginaw is a plus. Likely headed back to Saginaw for a fourth season, Lodge does not have the ideal bulk to compete at the professional level but his offensive instincts and technical skills compare favorably with the rest of the Winnipeg prospects pool.

11. (11) Michael Hutchinson, G, 7.0D
Signed as a free agent, 2013

Signed as a free agent prior to the 2013-14 season after spending three seasons in the Boston system and not being tendered a contract offer by the Bruins, the 24-year-old netminder opened eyes in three games with the Jets in April. He allowed a total of five goals and recording wins over Boston and Calgary in his final two starts.

Prior to being called up late in the year due to injuries to Ondrej Pavelec and Al Montoya, he split the year between St. John’s and the ECHL‘s Ontario Reign and was outstanding. Hutchinson returned to the IceCaps for the AHL playoffs and started all 21 games, going 12-9 with three shutouts while posting a 1.95 goals against average and .938 save percentage.

Hutchinson will get the first crack at backing up Pavelec with the Jets in 2014-15, though his long-term potential remains to be seen.

12. (NR) Chase De Leo, C, 7.0D
Drafted 4th round, 99th overall, 2014

A teammate of Nicolas Petan’s with the Winterhawks, Chase De Leo scored 39 goals with 42 assists in 72 regular season games and had 19 points in 21 playoff games. De Leo’s production at the junior level cannot be questioned but his size (5’9, 180 pounds) is a source of concern for scouts. It is also the primary reason he slid to the fourth round.

Big-time yet undersized scorers are not uncommon in junior hockey, but what gives De Leo an opportunity to succeed at the professional level are his stick handling and passing skills. He is lightning quick on his skates, which allows him to avoid trouble and get to opposing players on the forecheck in an instant. De Leo, who turns 19 in October, attended the USA Hockey evaluation camp for the 2014 World Juniors and is likely headed back to Portland for at least one more season of junior hockey.

13. (12) Brenden Kichton, D, 7.0D
Drafted 7th round, 190th overall, 2013

Drafted by the Jets following an overage season in the WHL after not signing with the New York Islanders, Brenden Kichton led all St. John’s defensemen in scoring and was second among all skaters for the IceCaps with 38 assists as a 21-year-old AHL rookie. In 21 playoff games he had an even plus/minus rating to go with two goals and five assists.

Not overly physical and still developing in terms of the defensive aspects of his game, Kichton still faces the long odds of any late round pick in cracking an NHL lineup. His success in his first pro season and the offensive instincts in his game suggest he can be an effective offensive defenseman with power play potential in the right situation.

14. (8) J.C. Lipon, C, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 91st overall, 2013

J.C. Lipon had an eventful first season in pro hockey, leading Jets AHL affiliate St. John’s with 136 penalty minutes while scoring nine goals with 33 assists in 72 games. He skated in 14 of 21 playoff games during the IceCaps run to the Calder Cup Final, suffering an injury and missing the finals.

While his penalty minutes, particularly his 14 fighting majors, suggest an enforcer and energy player, Lipon was one of the IceCaps’ leading scorers in the second half of the season. He could challenge for one of the lower line spots available in the Jets training camp but may spend at least some of the year back in St. John’s with the IceCaps.

15. (NR) Pavel Kraskovsky, C,  7.0D
Drafted 6th round, 164th overall, 2014

Pavel Krasnovsky was a bit of an unknown and one of the youngest players taken in the 2014 NHL Draft. Just four days away from not being eligible for the draft until 2015, he was ranked 54th amongst international skaters by the Central Scouting final rankings after skating for Loko Yaroslavl in the MHL and appearing in eight games with the Lokomotiv KHL team.

A tall player (6’4) with the frame to one day play a power forward role, Kraskovsky had one assist in five games at the World Juniors for the Russia U18 team and also played for Russia in the 2013 World Junior A Challenge in Canada. He is still very much a work in progress at this point but the Jets like his raw abilities and physical makeup.

16. (13) Eric O’Dell, C, 6.5C
Acquired in a trade with Anaheim, March 2009

Eric O’Dell made his NHL debut in late December after spending three years in the AHL and found a niche with the Jets under coach Paul Maurice. In 30 games for the Jets he scored three goals with four assists while averaging 9:41 minutes of ice time. O’Dell returned to St. John’s for the AHL playoffs and led the IceCaps with nine goals and had five assists in 21 playoff games.

Re-signed to a one-year, two-way contract by Winnipeg in July, he will have a shot at one of the lower line slots that are open among the Jets’ forwards corps this year. While he may not be able to score at the point-per-game pace that he did for the IceCaps and in junior hockey, O’Dell could be a valuable two-way player.

17. (NR) Nelson Nogier, D, 6.5C
Drafted in the 4th round, 101st overall, 2014

Unlike some of the other defensemen in the Winnipeg system, Nelson Nogier is more of a true stay-at-home defender. Expected to be one of the top prospects in the 2014 NHL draft when the 2013-14 season started, Nogier appeared in just 37 games for the Saskatoon Blades before suffering a shoulder injury that required surgery in December.

Nogier scored the first (and thus far only) goal of his junior career and had five assists in his second season with the Blades. The strongest part of his game is his size, strength, and ability to prevent scoring chances. He attended the Jets’ development camp, participating on a limited basis and was finally cleared for full participation at the Blades’ training camp in August. He will attend training camp with Winnipeg before returning to Saskatoon for his third WHL season.

18. (14) Carl Klingberg, LW, 6.5C
Drafted in the 2nd round, 34th overall, 2009

Carl Klingberg made his NHL debut with the Atlanta Thrashers in their final game in Atlanta in 2011 as a 20 year old following his second pro season in Sweden. The right wing, now 23, spent most of the next three seasons in the AHL with St. John’s, appearing in a total of nine NHL games over that time. This includes three NHL games at the end of the 2013-14 season.

A hard-working forward who uses his size and skating ability to advantage, Klingberg scored a career-high 22 goals last season for the IceCaps with 20 assists in 65 games. He was also one of the team’s leading scorers in the playoffs with three goals and five assists in 21 games. The Jets re-signed him to a one-year, two-way contract in July. While it is not likely that he will ever develop into an elite scoring forward, he could fill a lower line role with Winnipeg with a strong showing in training camp.

19. (NR) Ivan Telegin, LW, 7.0 D
Drafted in the 4th round, 101st overall, 2010

Talent-wise the 22-year-old  forward from Novokuznetsk, Russia is a promising prospect whose 6’3, 200 pound frame would seem ideal for a power forward. Whether he reaches that potential, let alone ever skating for the Jets again, is another story.

The past two seasons have been a bit of a soap opera which has also been complicated by post-concussion issues that limited him to 34 games in 2012-13 and kept him out all of last season. After attending camp with the Jets last fall he was assigned to St. John’s but refused to report and was suspended by Winnipeg. Telegin returned to Russia and was slated to play for CSKA Moscow after the Jets lifted his suspension in January, but he was never healthy enough to get on the ice.

Telegin is back in the KHL this season on loan to CSKA Moscow. With a new regime in Winnipeg there are some who feel he may get another opportunity with the club in the future.

20. (NR) Jason Kasdorf, G, 7.0 D
Drafted in the 6th round, 157th overall, 2011

Coming off an outstanding freshman season in 2012-13, Jason Kasdorf appeared in just two games last season for R.P.I. before suffering a serious shoulder injury that required season-ending surgery. Now healthy, Kasdorf skated in the Winnipeg Jets development camp over the summer.

Senior Scott Diebold handled the goaltending duties for the Engineers, who slipped from second to seventh place with Kasdorf out of the lineup. Both Diebold and Kasdorf will be in net for R.P.I. in 2014-15. Head coach Seth Appert is a former goaltender and Kasdorf should continue to develop under his tutelage.