Winnipeg Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has made it abundantly clear through his actions to date that the Jets are an organization steadfast in improving and building primarily through the draft. December and January provided several opportunities for the Winnipeg Jets to show off to the hockey world the collection of young talent they have accumulated since the team’s move from Atlanta prior to the 2011 season.
Though a slow process, the young players in the system are beginning to deliver results. At this year’s World Junior Championship the Jets had an NHL-leading six prospects playing in the tournament. At the NHL level the emergence of rookies such as goaltender Michael Hutchinson has firmly established the Jets as team to watch out for in the future.
Michael Hutchinson, G, 24
Few could have guessed when the Jets signed Michael Hutchinson to a two-way contract in the summer of 2013 just how much of an impact the young goaltender would have on an organization that, since moving to Winnipeg, has struggled with below league average goaltending. Selected 77th overall in the 2008 entry draft by the Boston Bruins, Hutchison’s journey to the NHL has had its ups and downs, featuring stints in both the AHL and ECHL, before being named as Ondřej Pavelec’s backup prior to the start of this season.
Hutchinson has now appeared in 20 NHL games and posted an impressive 13-4-2 record with a 2.00 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage. His play is widely considered to be a major reason that the Jets remain in good position in the competitive Western Conference playoff picture. Some have even gone as far as to say that he should be included in the conversation for the Calder Trophy – awarded each year to the NHL’s top rookie. Whether or not Hutchinson will be able to maintain and build on his hot start, only time will tell. But if he can keep up his solid play, an area that has been a question mark for the organization may finally be a position of strength.
Adam Lowry, LW, 21
Though statistically Lowry’s numbers may not be turning many heads, the big 6’5 winger, who is the son of former NHL player and current head coach of the Victoria Royals Dave Lowry, has continued to see steady minutes in in first NHL season. Averaging just north of 13 minutes a game, due in large part to his strong 200-foot game, Lowry remains a reliable bottom-six forward with size and given the opportunity could see his point totals rise. Though he has just five goals and twelve points on the season, Lowry did score 45 goals for Swift Current in his final junior season.
Ben Chiarot, D, 23
After being called up in early December to step in and fill some holes on a injury-plagued defense core – which featured injuries to Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom, and Jacob Trouba – Chiarot, the Jets’ 4th round pick from 2009, has done an admirable job in making the most of his first shot at the NHL. Averaging close to 20 minutes of ice time a night, it is clear that the rookie defenseman has the trust of head coach Paul Maurice. Though his future with the big club may be up in the air as injured players begin to return to the lineup, Chiarot’s play this season has made a case that he can be relied upon to be a bottom pairing defenseman in the NHL.
2015 World Junior Tournament Update
Portland Winterhawks forward Nic Petan was on a mission this holiday season: to make himself a household name across the hockey world and prove he can compete with the very best. With Team Canada’s deep forward core, it would have been easy for Petan (the 43rd overall pick in 2013) to get lost in the shuffle. Originally slotted as the team’s third line center, the resilient Petan let his play do his talking for him and proved to everyone why he was the Jets’ final roster cut at this year’s training camp. His explosive early tournament play earned him a promotion to a line where he played alongside Erie Otters center Connor McDavid and Ottawa Senators rookie Curtis Lazar. The line tore through opposing defenses and resulted in a combined nine point performance against Slovakia in Canada’s semi-final game – highlighted by Petan’s hat trick. When all was said and done, Petan tied for the tournament lead in points with fellow countryman Sam Reinhart (BUF) and their efforts ultimately helped lead Team Canada to its first World Junior gold medal since 2009.
Josh Morrissey, the Jets’ 13th overall pick in 2013, played a pivotal role in Team Canada’s victory as well. Used mostly as a bottom-pairing defenseman as an 18-year-old in last year’s World Junior tournament in Malmö, Sweden, Morrissey was relied upon heavily this year to play big minutes on Canada’s top defensive pairing. His dynamic play earned him all-star honors as the tournament’s top defenseman alongside Sweden’s Gustav Forsling (VAN). Individually Morrissey finished tied for second in the tournament in points and plus-minus among defensemen.
Eric Comrie ended up splitting the round robin goaltending duties with Montreal Canadiens prospect and newly acquired Québec Remparts goalie Zach Fucale. Comrie who plays for the WHL’s Tri-City Americans performed quite admirably in his first two games of World Junior experience. He posted a 1.50 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage in winning both of his starts: a shutout victory over Germany and a pivotal 5-3 win over a very good Team USA. Though used in a backup role for the medal round, Comrie performed well in his limited exposure and the Jets’ 59th overall pick in 2013 will look to add to his strong play in the second half of the season with Tri-City.
Chase De Leo, the Portland Winterhawks’ leading scorer, had a relatively quiet World Junior tournament for Team USA. Notably, De Leo managed to score the game winning shootout goal in USA’s tournament opening game against Finland, but he had just one goal in the tournament. An abrupt departure at the hands of the Russians in the quarterfinals for the second consecutive year marked the end of a disappointing tournament for the Americans.
Rimouski Oceanic defenseman Jan Kostalek, Winnipeg’s 4th round, 114th overall pick in 2013, had a solid tournament for a Czech team that finished in 6th place. His heavy shot and strong first-pass playmaking abilities were on full display and he stepped up when his team needed him most, scoring his only goal of the tournament and helping his team come out on top in the must-win game against Russia, preventing the Czechs from being sent to the relegation round to qualify for next year’s tournament.
There was no better feel good story surrounding this year’s World Junior Tournament than the performance of Team Denmark. Qualifying for the tournament for just the third time in their country’s history, they immediately took the tournament by surprise with their opening game shootout loss to a heavily favored Russian team. Their subsequent run, which saw them go all the way to the tournament quarterfinals, captured the hearts of hockey fans across the world. Leading the way on Denmark’s historic run was last year’s 8th overall pick Nikolaj Ehlers. Simply put, Ehlers showed exactly why he was worthy of a top ten selection in last June’s draft. Paired on a line with Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand, the duo combined for nine points in five games as they were heavily relied upon to be the offensive spark on the otherwise defensive-minded Danish squad. Most impressive about Ehlers’s play was his ability to run the team’s offense while going up against opposing teams’ top defenses. Whenever possible the puck moved through him and he was on the point during the power play, dictating the pace and deciding where and how the puck was going to be distributed. His unbelievable speed and puck skills required opposing defensemen to focus primarily on him, which created opportunities and open lanes for his teammates that resulted in the majority of Denmark’s goals.
Winnipeg Jets Prospect of the Month
“Big players have to prove that they can’t play, while small players have to prove that they can play” is a phrase attributed to countless scouts and hockey personnel that sums up a mindset present amongst most traditional hockey scouts in the NHL today.
Nic Petan, who stands 5’9, has no doubt has been told that he is too small to play professional hockey. It’s clear to anyone who has watched Petan’s growth and progression however that he is a player who possesses top-line offensive talents. Coming off back-to-back 100-plus point seasons in the WHL, as well as four goals in last year’s World Juniors as an 18-year-old to go along with his tournament-leading eleven points this year, not much more can be said about the offensive prowess of this speedy 19-year-old at the junior level. Petan continues to rise to challenges and has likely proven some doubters wrong already.
Article written by Patrick Allen
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