The feel-good story of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the return of the Winnipeg Jets to the NHL fraternity provided a counterpoint of delirious euphoria to the serious business of draft selection. Accompanied by the roaring applause of thousands of fans from nearby Manitoba, the newly hired management staff of the Jets set about their business of building a team in Winnipeg with seven new players; three forwards, three defenders, and a goaltender. Drawing the loudest cheer of the evening, Jets owner Mark Chipman introduced his team’s first round selection by referring them to as the Jets, a certainty which hadn’t been officially confirmed by the team until that moment.
Mark Scheifele, C – Barrie Colts (OHL)
1st round, 7th overall
Height: 6’1 Weight: 184 lbs
The first player to pull on a Winnipeg Jets sweater on the draft podium in 15 years, Barrie Colts center Mark Schiefele was greeted with a roar from the thousands of Jets fans who made the trip across the border to Minnesota. An up-the-board pick from the Jets, most were expecting to hear the name of Sean Couturier called, but Schiefele was always going to be the first choice for new Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. A protégé of Jets great Dale Hawerchuck, coach of the Colts, Schiefele had come from nowhere to stake his claim for a Top 10 spot in 2011. Offered a scholarship from Cornell University, Schiefele changed direction when he was traded to Barrie from the Saginaw Spirit. Convinced by Hawerchuck to take the OHL route, Schiefele was the lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal season for the Colts, by far the worst team in the league.
A gifted playmaker who is dedicated to playing a strong two-way game, the 6’3 Schiefele was able to post 75 points in 66 OHL games, stats which included 22 goals. Garnering accolades and attention throughout the season, Schiefele’s stock took off at the World U-18s where he showed an extra gear in terms of his ability to take a game over and make a difference. Scoring six times in seven games, Schiefele quickly became the go-to guy for Canada’s coaching staff and finished as the top scoring forward for the team. Although he never crossed the mid-teens in most rankings prior to the draft, the Jets brass fell in love with his smarts, skill and commitment and made the reach for him at number seven convinced they were getting the best player available.
Adam Lowry, LW – Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
3rd round, 67th overall
Height: 6’4 Weight: 187 lbs
A familiar name in the old Smythe Division rivalry with the Calgary Flames, Dave Lowry’s son Adam reported to the Jets’ draft table on day two to pull on the sweater that his dad competed so hard against. A powerfully built 6’4 winger, Adam Lowry shows the same relentless desire to win that his dad displayed and a similar penchant for crashing the net and fighting for the puck along the boards. In his second season in Swift Current, Lowry scored 18 goals and 27 assists and caught the attention of scouts with his strong physical play and leadership efforts on a weak team that scraped along the bottom of the WHL standings all year. A gangly 180 pounder, Lowry needs to gain strength and improve his skating stride before he can take the next steps in his career, however with his combination of size and determination he makes for an exciting prospect for Jets’ fans to follow.
Brennan Serville, D – Stouffville Spirit (OJHL)
3rd round, 78th overall
Height: 6’2 Weight: 184 lbs
Trading their two fourth round picks to Montreal, the Jets then selected Stouffville Spirit defender Brennan Serville at the Canadiens spot in the third round. Serville is a highly-mobile blueliner with good size and hockey sense who spurned the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL in order to pursue an NCAA scholarship. His decision to return to the OJHL and sift through college offers proved to be an astute one, as Serville was able to secure a highly sought-after spot on the University of Michigan freshman squad next year. In the meantime, the 6’3 defenseman was chosen to play for Canada in the World Junior A Challenge and was an integral part of the Spirit’s strong playoff push. After a 30 point season in 36 regular season games, Serville scored twice and added 10 assists in 19 playoff games before Stouffville bowed out to the eventual champions from Waterloo in the semi-finals. A longer-term project, Serville will benefit from the elite coaching of Red Berenson’s staff in Ann Arbor.
Using their extra fifth and seventh round picks to trade up with Anaheim, the Jets secured one of the higher-value selections in Zachary Yuen. Already being described as a potential steal of the draft, Yuen is an excellent skater with some of the sharpest turns and strongest acceleration amongst available defenders. Yuen is also an insightful passer and has a bullet shot. Although not overly large, Yuen is a compact 6’0 and 200 lbs and does not hesitate to leap to his teammate’s defense when needed. Scoring just eight times in 72 games and adding 24 assists, Yuen will be counted on to take a much larger offensive role with the Americans next season. Seemingly content to play a steady two-way game this year, Yuen has the toolbox to take on a much more impactful role from the blue line.
Austen Brassard, RW – Belleville Bulls (OHL)
5th round, 149th overall
Height: 6’2 Weight: 188 lbs
Using the pick acquired from San Jose in the Ben Eager trade, the Jets selected a strapping winger who bears some comparison to the pugnacious Sharks forward. The 6’2 right winger from Windsor plays a scrappy grinding game and acquitted himself well when dropping the gloves six times during the OHL season. Playing on one of the weaker OHL teams, Brassard managed 19 goals in 67 games but his offensive game will need more support if he is to develop a scoring touch. A north-south player with good hockey sense who plays a determined game in the corners, Brassard needs to work on his skating and his ability to create scoring chances for himself.
Jason Kasdorf, G – Portage Terriers (MJHL)
6th round, 157th overall
Height: 6’3 Weight: 178 lbs
Just when the excitement over the return of the Jets to the draft table was beginning to wane, the selection of a home-town hero in the sixth round blew the roof off the Jets draft party. The backstop to the Manitoba Junior Hockey League champion Portage Terriers, Kasdorf was one of many reclaimed Jets fans who filled the Xcel Center to share their pride in returning to the NHL brotherhood. Ranked 10th amongst North American Goalies by NHL Central Scouting, Kasdorf was no token Manitoban selected to please the fans however. The 6’3 netminder has the size that NHL scouts covet amongst goalies and showed a fierce competitive drive during the Terriers playoff run. Committed to RPI’s hockey program next season, Kasdorf will benefit from playing behind a stingy defense that was amongst the toughest in the ECAC to score against.
A smooth-skating defenseman with a hard shot, Harstad was ranked 86th overall amongst North American skaters prior to the draft. Harstad’s slip to the 7th round may be explained mainly by lack of viewing time as he was 6th and 7th on the Gambler’s defense corp this year when everyone was healthy and was perhaps overshadowed by his flashier and more productive teammate Andy Welinski, taken 83rd overall by Anaheim. A first-team All-State player last year in Wisconsin, Harstad dominated as a high-schooler thanks to his impressive speed and mobility. Born in Minnesota and raised across the Wisconsin border in Moorhead, Harstad was selected to play for the USA at the U-17 level. Committed to play at Colorado College, Harstad plans to play another season in Green Bay before testing his mobility and strength against WCHA players.