Competition looms among Winnipeg Jets Top 20 prospects

By Patrick Allen
Nikolaj Ehlers - Winnipeg Jets

Photo: Not even Winnipeg’s top prospect Nikolaj Ehlers is guaranteed an NHL roster spot due to the Jets’ enviable organizational depth (courtesy of Francois Laplante/Freestyle Images/Getty Images)

 

 

The recent promotion of Mark Hillier to Director of Amateur Scouting from Head Amateur Scout seems like a small change in terms of title. Under Marcel Comeau’s direction since 2003, the Atlanta Thrashers amassed a mixed record – as all teams do. Since relocation however, the team had begun to separate from the pack. How much is due to Hillier’s input versus Comeau or others is unclear, but the Winnipeg Jets now find themselves with one of the deepest collections of young talent in the NHL.

After a season-long battle against internal friction, the usual glut of injuries, and a highly-competitive central division, the Jets could take some solace in a 2015 playoff berth. To get that far only to be swept out by the Anaheim Ducks in a series that could have lasted much longer was bitter. The team is poised to reload for a deeper run but without much turnover the results may be much the same.

Add to a mostly-intact roster the return of Alexander Burmistrov and the result is little room for young players on the Jets at this point of the season. The return of the Manitoba Moose to the provincial capital creates another storyline however: an opportunity for some of the players on this list to learn the pro game in close proximity to the parent club and at a level more appropriate for their experience. All in all, good drafting and patient development have the franchise poised for what appears to be a very positive trajectory.

20. (10) Scott Kosmachuk, RW, 6.5D
Drafted 3rd Round, 70th Overall, 2012

In his first season of AHL action, Scott Kosmachuck struggled to replicate the offensive numbers he put up in his overage season of junior hockey with the Guelph Storm of the OHL where he scored 101 points and 49 goals for the OHL champions. His rookie campaign yielded just 14 goals – which tied him for fourth on the team – and 28 points in 70 games. In all, it was the usual transitional difficulty that a player experiences going from juniors to the pros, but also gives a more realistic sense of what Kosmachuk might do in his pro career.

With the injection into the lineup of more offensively-minded players such as Nic Petan and Chase De Leo, some of the offensive pressure will be off and that freedom – coupled with a year’s experience – could spark Kosmachuk’s game. 

19. (20) C.J. Franklin, LW, 6.5D
Drafted 5th Round,129th Overall, 2014

The Jets’ fifth-round pick a year ago, C.J Franklin had an impressive freshman season playing for Minnesota State-Mankato, where he recorded 28 points in 37 games, helping lead to the Mavericks in their second consecutive WCHA championship.

Though he is still very much a work in progress, Franklin has continually put up strong offensive numbers at every level he has played. His impressive freshman season, coming on the heels of two middling seasons at the junior  level – indicates that he is continuing to develop and improve on his offensive skill set. He is, however, a player who will be 22 during next season. While a pro career is not out of the question, his ceiling may already be in sight.

18. (NR) Michael Spacek, C, 6.5C
Drafted 4th Round, 108th Overall, 2015

Czech Michael Spacek is a highly-skilled center, though he still lacks the kind of physical presence he will need to make it in the North American game. Spacek was a top scorer for Pardubice’s development program, leading his U18 team in scoring as a 16-year-old. He also got some pro exposure this past season, putting up an impressive 12 points in 40 games in the Extraliga, the top Czech division.

Spacek will play for the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL next season and his ability to play a North American style of hockey against his peers will provide a more thorough understanding of his long-term outlook. The skill adjustment could be quite smooth; the adjustment to the league’s physicality might take some time.

17. (NR) Erik Foley, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd Round, 78th Overall, 2015

Another 2015 draft pick, Erik Foley is an agitating winger who doesn’t let his modest 5’11” build get in the way of his ability to play a high endurance, relentless and aggressive style of play.

Noted for his intense work ethic and maturity, Foley has committed to play for Providence College and will try to help the Friars defend their 2015 NCAA Tournament Championship as a freshman in the fall. Foley has the puck skill to be a difference-maker on the scoreboard.

16. (17) Pavel Kraskovsky, C, 7.0D
Drafted 6th Round, 164th Overall, 2014

An under the radar player, Pavel Kraskovsky has put together a few solid seasons while playing overseas for Loko Yaroslavl of the MHL (Russia U22 league). Standing 6’4″, Kraskovsky is an imposing physical force, and his 30 points in 38 regular season games last season show that there is definite upside to his offensive ability. That said, he has been much less successful imposing himself in his stints at the KHL level, having just one goal over parts of three seasons. Although he had been a regular thus far in 2015-16, a lack of success in limited minutes – both on the scoreboard and the faceoff circle – means he may find himself back in the MHL sooner than later.

15. (11) Chase De Leo, C, 7.0D
Drafted 4th Round, 99th Overall, 2014

Despite a disappointing World Junior tournament where he managed just one point in five games for Team USA, Chase De Leo had a strong offensive season for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL, setting career highs with 39 goals and 84 points in 67 games.  

Questions over his size and strength will continue to cloud De Leo’s long-term outlook with the organization. It seems most likely that he will have to prove his worth with the IceCaps this season. Considering their inability to score goals last season – finishing bottom five in the league – De Leo’s offensive skill set will be greatly appreciated if he can make the transition work.

14. (13) Jan Kostalek, D, 7.0D
Drafted 4th Round, 114th Overall, 2013

Playing in his third year of junior hockey with the Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL, Jan Kostalek put up career highs in almost every offensive category this year, finishing with 43 points and a +55 rating in 57 games played. He was also a point per game player in the playoffs and key factor in the Oceanic’s Memorial Cup run.

Kostalek has been a pleasant surprise for the Jets, and his strong numbers in junior and big shot were on full display as he excelled in his role as offensive defenseman. He also had a productive World Juniors tournament, where he was one of the standout players for his native Czech team. Like many others on this list, the upcoming season is crucial. Kostalek’s puck-moving ability is a potential key to helping the Moose improve on last’s seasons results.

13. (16) Jack Glover, D, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd Round, 69th Overall, 2014

In his freshman season at the University of Minnesota, Jack Glover recorded 3 assists and a +1 rating in 22 games played. Though these numbers are not exactly what you would ideally like to see from a defenseman with the speed and offensive skill set that a player like Glover possesses, it is definitely too early to start making any judgments on his game.

Still only 19 years old, Glover is still growing into his big 6’3” frame and he should see significant increases in offensive production as he relied upon more heavily in his sophomore season at Minnesota. 

12. (8) Brendan Lemieux, LW, 7.0C
Acquired via trade with Buffalo Sabres, February 2015

The 6’1”, 210-pound Brendan Lemieux muscled his way to career highs in goals, points and penalty minutes in his 3rd year playing for the Barrie Colts of the OHL –  with 41 goals, 60 points, and 145 PIM.

Lemieux, who was acquired in the Evander Kane, defines the role of power forward and has displayed to date that he can successfully mix in offensive production alongside his bruising and unforgiving style. Though he has a pro-ready frame and displays a real lack of fear on the ice, he is eligible for yet another season in juniors and will be in tough to stick at the NHL level.

11. (15) Jamie Phillips, G, 7.0C
Drafted 7th Round, 190th Overall, 2012

Proving once again that goalies are almost impossible to figure out, Jamie Phillips had a breakout season in 2014-15 after two seasons of middling numbers and little action. In 41 games, Phillips posted a dominant .933 save percentage and 1.74 goals against average along with a 28-9-2 record, which earned the 22-year-old a nomination for the Hobey Baker award, awarded annually to the NCAA‘s most outstanding player. If he can put up another season of similar quality for the Michigan Tech Huskies, the Jets will be faced with a very challenging decision about the excess of talented goaltenders in the system.

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