Competition looms among Winnipeg Jets Top 20 prospects

By Patrick Allen

Nic Petan - Winnipeg Jets

Photo: Nic Petan became a prospect of international note thanks to his performance at the 2015 WJC, but still has doubters when it comes to his upside as a professional (courtesy of Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

 

10. (NR) Jansen Harkins, C, 7.5D
Drafted 2nd Round, 47th Overall, 2015

With some predicting him to be selected as high as a top 20 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, Jansen Harkins fall came as some surprise. Whatever the reason teams had for passing, it makes his selection by the Jets a potential coup. Harkins at 47th overall represents a very high ceiling second-rounder.

Harkins’s game is defined by his elite hockey IQ and work ethic. Son of former NHLer Todd Harkins, Jansen has already received significant praise for his maturity and strong two-way game. Though he may not have elite offensive upside, Harkins is a playmaking center in the truest sense of the phrase. Forced to be a bit of a solo act for the Prince George Cougars, Harkins put up 79 points on a team that barely made the playoffs. His reliable and smart playing style benefits everyone playing alongside him and he promises to be a player that can be called upon in any situation. 

9. (7) Eric Comrie, G, 7.5D
Drafted 2nd Round, 59th Overall, 2013

Eric Comrie posted decent numbers last year playing for a below-average Tri-City Americans team. In 40 games he posted a .914 save percentage and 2.87 GAA. He also represented Canada at the World Juniors and was undefeated in the two games he saw action.

With the emergence of Connor Hellebuyck, the Jets have the luxury of allowing Comrie time to grow into a professional starter. There ought to be a healthy competition for playing time, thanks to the AHL’s schedule structure often meaning two or three games in a row. Already there are encouraging signs that Comrie will be able to transition from the junior level. He appeared in three games for St. John’s last year and performed well, with a .920 save percentage and 2.27 GAA.

8. (9) Andrew Copp, C, 7.0C
Drafted 4th Round, 104th Overall, 2013

After being named captain of his hometown Michigan Wolverines prior to the season, Andrew Copp had another successful year of collegiate hockey, totaling 31 points in 36 games for a team that scored in bursts but ultimately fell short.

Copp was rewarded for his hard work at season’s end with a contract offer from the Jets. Much to the displeasure of his head coach, Red Berenson, Copp made the tough decision to turn pro. His mix of size and reliable play is a nice complement to the undersized players like Nic Petan and Chase De Leo who make up the top half of the Jets center ice prospect depth, and there is a decent chance that Copp steps into a fourth-line role for the Jets in 2015-16.

7. (NR) Jack Roslovic, C, 7.0C
Drafted 1st Round, 25th Overall, 2015

The selection of Roslovic with the 25th overall pick in this summer caught a few members of the hockey community by surprise. Originally predicted to be selected somewhere in the 2nd round, the Jets obviously saw something they couldn’t pass up on with the 6’1” center.

Roslovic played last season with the talented US. National U18 Team. The year was highlighted by an exceptional performance at the U-18 tournament where he had eleven points in seven games and helped lead the US to their second straight U18 championship.

The Jets will undoubtedly 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. His mixture of skill and savvy makes him one of the more intriguing prospects in this deep system.

6. (4) Joel Armia, RW, 7.0C
Acquired via trade with Buffalo Sabres, February 2015

Armia, the 16th overall pick in 2011, has had a slow pro transition coming into this season. The Finnish sniper has yet to show a range of skills that suggest he will be an impact player in the NHL, but at still just 22 the time is right for him to break out.

After being acquired in the Evander Kane trade, Armia spent the remainder of the 2014-15 campaign playing in the AHL for the St. John’s IceCaps. Despite being a point-per-game player earlier in the year with the Rochester Americans, Armia’s production cooled significantly after his move to the IceCaps, scoring only two goals and eight points in 21 games.

This regression, though unsettling, could be attributed to nothing more than Armia being placed on a snakebitten IceCaps squad that struggled all year offensively. His big 6’3” frame and offensive abilities are still a very attractive combination and Armia will be battling to crack the Jets roster this year. 

5. (5) Connor Hellebuyck, G, 7.5C
Drafted 5th Round, 130th Overall, 2012

Hellebuyck’s 2014-15 season saw him elevate his status to the very top of the Winnipeg Jets goalie discussion. Despite playing on a mediocre at best St. Johns IceCaps team in the AHL, Hellebuyck posted a .921 save percentage and 2.58 GAA in 58 games played.

He also backstopped a young Team USA squad at the World Championships this summer, helping them surprise many on their way to a bronze medal performance.  

Hellebuyck will undoubtedly be battling with Michael Hutchinson for the Jets’ backup goalie position at training camp. Despite a red-hot start to his NHL career, Hutchinson cooled significantly as the season wore on, leaving the path open for Hellebuyck to establish himself as an option.

4. (3) Nicolas Petan, C, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd Round, 43rd Overall, 2013

Despite his impressive offensive performance at the World Junior tournament last January, Nic Petan saw his offensive numbers slip to the lowest they had been since his rookie year playing for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL.

Petan finished the year with 15 goals and 89 points, significantly less than his 46 goals and 120 point personal season best he put up in his sophomore year with the Hawks back in 2012-13, but more indicative of the finishing skill of his linemates than of any real shortcoming on his own part.

Despite his dip in offensive numbers, this should not be a red flag. He dazzled in the playoffs with 28 points in 17 games, a clear indicator that when properly motivated he can step his game up and not let his 5’9″ frame be dominated by the opponent.

Next year will be a crucial year for gauging the long-term outlook for Petan. The AHL is riddled with undersized players who could not replicate their junior success in the unforgiving game of professional hockey. Petan will have some help in the transition and while he may be better served moving to a wing, his skill level is high enough that he should be getting points from the start.

3. (NR) Kyle Connor, C, 8.0C
Drafted 1st Round, 17th Overall, 2015

With his rare mix of skill and elite-level skating abilities, the selection of Kyle Connor with the 17th overall pick in this summer’s draft immediately propels the 6’1”, 18-year-old to the very top of the Jets depth chart down the middle.

Though his offensive prowess and big frame provide plenty for Jets fans to be excited about, Connor’s strong defensive game is an area that often gets overlooked. His speed and size allowed him to wreak havoc on opposing players and to date he has been a turnover machine and can be relied upon in all three zones.

Playing in the USHL for the Youngstown Phantoms over the last three years, Connor was a top player in the league as a 16-year-old and last season registered 80 points in 50 games. He will begin the next phase of his career on a University of Michigan squad that is poised to erase a disappointing prior season – Connor will be a big part of that.

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

If you were to identify one area of weakness for the Jets prospect pool, it would likely be their lack of depth on the back end. If there were a silver lining to this organization weakness, it would be that leading the way on defense is one of the most exciting two-way defensive prospects in the game in Josh Morrissey.

Morrissey had another fantastic year splitting his time between the Prince Albert Raiders and the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL where he was a point-per-game player and relied upon at all areas of the ice.

Morrissey’s solid numbers in junior, paired with a gold medal and defensive MVP honors at the World Juniors, prove he can dominate against the best players in his age group. The real test will lie in the coming year, when for the first time he will be competing against more physically dominant opponents in the unforgiving NHL/AHL game.  

1. (1) Nikolaj Ehlers, LW 8.5C
Drafted 1st Round, 9th Overall, 2014

Despite the addition of multiple high-end prospects in the past calendar year, Nikolaj Ehlers once again sits atop the Jets prospect pool after another fantastic year playing for the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL. He was a dominant junior player, leading the QMJHL playoffs in scoring despite only playing in two rounds, and scoring two-points-per-game in the regular season despite a relatively weak team and plenty of opposition attention.

Ehlers’s speed and offensive prowess mesh perfectly with a changing landscape in the NHL. The league has slowly been trending towards placing a greater emphasis on a player’s skill set over their physical attributes, and speed kills.

Ehlers will no doubt be given a hard look at Jets camp this month. Although the organization’s stance in the past has always been to err on the side of caution regarding prospects, Ehlers’s elite offensive skills could prove to be too enticing.  Then too, there is the suggestion that he would rather play in Europe than return to a league he thoroughly dominated. Whether or not the team is prepared to absorb the youngster’s mistakes in the name of incorporating his upside remains to be seen.

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