With two first-round picks in the 2015 NHL Draft, the Winnipeg Jets were in a terrific position to add to what is already considered to be one of the deepest prospect pools in the NHL. The Jets have a collection of young talent that is bursting at the seams and eager to help improve a team fresh off the franchise’s first playoff appearance since relocating to Winnipeg.
Despite rumors that allegedly had the Jets in the thick of trade talk that would have seen them packaging their two first-round picks in an attempt to move up to the top five and potentially select Boston College defenseman Noah Hanifin (who was selected by Carolina fifth overall), the Jets decided to stand pat and dedicated the draft to adding size and skill down the middle. Perhaps with an eye to spacing out future contract obligations, the team went with a particular focus on players who developed in the United States Hockey League and committed to NCAA programs.
Kyle Connor, C/LW, Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)
1st round, 17th overall
Height: 6-1 Weight: 177
It was a pleasant surprise for the Jets organization when Kyle Connor was still on the board when they took the podium with the 17th overall pick. Connor’s rare mix of size and offensive upside is exactly what the Jets were looking to acquire at the draft.
With undersized, offensively driven players like Nic Petan and Chase De Leo making up the top end of the Jets prospect depth down the middle, the selection of Kyle Connor was a match made in heaven for the franchise. When Connor was asked what exactly he brings to the Jets organization: “a lot of speed and skill…fast-paced (with) ability to slow the game down.” In the modern NHL, that combination of elite skating and skill is essential to success.
Connor had been on the Jets’ radar all season, meeting with Kevin Cheveldayoff and his management group no fewer than four times throughout his season playing for the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL.
Connor’s understanding of Winnipeg’s sometimes unforgiving climate, yet passionate fan base, was apparent when asked about how it felt to be joining the Jets organization: “I know it’s cold out there, but they have passionate fans…(it’s a) great team that is definitely on the uprise.”
Next season the Michigan native will be playing for the University of Michigan, while Michigan’s captain of last season, Andrew Copp, will be battling for a roster spot with the Jets.
Connor met with the media at the NHL Draft following his selection by the Jets, with some of his comments being captured in this Hockey’s Future video.
Jack Roslovic, C, United States National Development Team (USHL)
1st round, 25th overall
Height: 6-1 Weight: 187
The selection of Jack Roslovic with the 25th pick caught some hockey minds a little off-guard. Considered by some to be a mid to early second round pick, the Jets clearly saw something in Roslovic’s play worth risking a first round pick on, rather than waiting to see if he was still available with their second round selection.
Roslovic played last year for the U.S. National U-18 Team. His season was highlighted by an exceptional performance at the U-18 tournament where he had eleven points in seven games and helped lead Team USA to their second straight IIHF U-18 championship. Though some might worry that playing with highly-touted 2016 NHL Draft prospects Auston Matthews and Matt Tkachuk might have inflated Roslovic’s numbers, the center brings offensive gifts of his own that complemented those talents.
The Jets will likely show patience in Roslovic’s development. Currently set to play next season for Miami University, a few years of collegiate hockey will allow him to play a central role on the team and continue developing into his big frame.
Roslovic took part in the 2015 NHL Scouting Combine that took place prior to the NHL Draft. He met with the media following his testing session at that event, with his comments being captured in this HF video.
Many hockey minds had Jansen Harkins projected to be a mid to the late first round selection. His slide out of the first round to the 47th overall pick in the draft – though surprising – is not something that the 6’1 son of former NHLer Todd Harkins is going to lose any sleep over.
“It’s just a number, so it doesn’t give me any more advantage than anyone else that’s going to be drafted or even undrafted… I’m just ready to get to work and prove them right, and be the best player I can,” said Harkins after the draft.
Harkins is one of the most complete hockey players in the draft. His reliable play down the middle, mixed with playmaking prowess and the ability to play reliable hockey in all three zones, will be extremely valuable for the Jets franchise moving forward. Due to the fact that the majority of the Jets’ young centers are more known for their abilities on the offensive side of the puck, rather than defensive reliability, Harkins may be asked to focus on that aspect of his development. When asked about his two-way style of play that has already drawn favorable comparisons to current NHL stars, Harkins had the following to say:
“Ryan Kesler, I think my style might emulate him a little bit… that’s a player I like to model my play after.”
Harkins, who is a native of Vancouver, British Columbia, is already well aware of the near-religious following hockey has in the western provinces – especially in Manitoba.
“It’s exciting, you wait pretty much your whole life for this day… I am really happy to be with Winnipeg, and hopefully I can prove them right with their pick… everyone around the league knows the fan base is pretty awesome.”