Winnipeg Jets Depth Analysis, Fall 2011

By Kyle West
Photo: Taken in the fifth round, Austen Brassard brings a blend of grit and skill to the Jets right wing position. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

The Jets inherited a prospect pool from the Thrashers that was limited on upside but full of toughness. Thrashers brass made a concerted effort in recent drafts to add big strong wingers and solid defenders, however there were few legitimate offensive stars in the mix. Playmaking centers Ben Maxwell and Eric O’Dell, added through trades, look promising but other acquisitions such as Patrice Cormier and Akim Aliu have disappointed.

The relocation of the franchise to Winnipeg opened the doors for native Manitoban Jason Gregoire to escape from the Islanders franchise and the Phoenix Coyotes recently served up top prospect Brett MacLean on the waiver wire, adding some depth to the prospect pool. Most of the players recently drafted by the Jets, especially Adam Lowry and Zach Yuen, have gotten off to strong starts and the excitement around the young players in the new AHL franchise of St. John’s has spread the air of optimism and hope throughout the organization.

Left Wing

The Jets have seen two new entries on the top of the left wing depth chart thanks to some unexpected additions. The waiver wire claim of Brett MacLean added a top prospect to the pool just after training camp and gives the Jets an enhanced look on the left side. The big winger was dominant in the AHL the past two seasons but the second rounder from 2007 was unable to crack the Phoenix Coyotes lineup and was a late cut again after pre season training camp. A gift from the old Winnipeg Jets, MacLean has jumped to the top of the left wing depth chart and played well in his first few games with the new Winnipeg Jets.

Free agent signing Jason Gregoire left the University of North Dakota after his junior year and took advantage of an escape clause to sign with his hometown team. A third round selection of the NY Islanders in 2007, Gregoire is very skilled and very coachable. Certain to be on the radar for a recall this year, Gregoire is starting the season with the St. John’s IceCaps.

Another addition to the Jets depth chart came in the form of big winger Kenndall McArdle, acquired in a swap with Florida for Angelo Esposito. McArdle was Florida’s first rounder from 2005, taken 20th overall, and has been on the edge of a regular NHL job for some time. With 33 NHL games under his belt he could be a useful energy line player, at the very least an effective and committed AHL player. Sadly, the same can no longer be said of Esposito.

Adam Lowry was added to the Jets’ depth chart the old fashioned way; through the draft. The Jets third rounder has looked great value thus far, with five goals and 11 assists in 13 games for the Swift Current Broncos. The 6’4 winger has also been appearing in highlight reels for his big hits and several spirited scraps. Projected as an energy line winger, Lowry is showing flashes of an upside that could move him up the depth chart quickly.

Jordan Samuels-Thomas is a Thrashers seventh rounder that holds decent promise. A scoring star for two years at Bowling Green University, the man they call JST has switched programs to the much more competitive Quinnipiac Bobcats. JST has the size and speed to play a power-forward game and should benefit from playing with stronger linemates this year.

Swedes Nicklas Lasu and Fredrik Petterson show all signs of staying in Sweden for the foreseeable future, Petterson having just returned from a disappointing season in the AHL after signing a two-year deal with Atlanta. Michael Forney was top scorer for the Gwinett Gladiators in the ECHL last season and starts the year with the Jets’ affiliate in that league, the Colorado Eagles. Former Spokane Chief Levko Koper failed to win a contract in the Jets preseason camp and decided to continue his education while playing for the University of Alberta


Center

The Jets have depth at center to spare, especially when considering the rapid progression of Mark Scheifele. Scheifele joins the Thrashers previous first rounder Alex Burmistrov at center and has Jets fans excited about the future. While Burmistrov relies on quickness and positioning to succeed in the NHL, Scheifele has the size and strength to develop a power game to go with his remarkable poise and vision. After a seven game stint with the Jets, Scheifele was recently returned to the Barrie Colts.

Combative two-way center Patrice Cormier has been sent to St. John’s to start the year and will have to prove himself all over again to Jets’ brass. Called up to the NHL by the Thrashers after just 11 AHL games last year, Cormier struggled through 21 games in Atlanta and needs further seasoning and experience before he claims his place on the Jets checking line.

Playmaking center Ben Maxwell remains on the fringe of an NHL job, having been retained by the Jets to start the season but not getting any ice time at the moment. If Maxwell is sent down to St. John’s it creates a logjam at center with rookie Eric O’Dell, a similar type of playmaking center, also having to wait patiently for AHL ice time.

Also waiting to see what the Jets do with Scheifele is big Russian center Ivan Telegin, who was traded to the Barrie Colts from Saginaw in the summer. Telegin’s size and strength could be well utilized on the wing and a season riding shotgun with Scheifele could benefit both players in both the immediate and longer-term future.

Michigan State center Daultan Leveille, a Thrashers first rounder from 2008, is running out of time to earn a contract offer from the Jets. With their depth at center, Jets would have a hard time finding room for the slightly built playmaker who still has yet to convince watchers he is a viable NHL prospect.

Former Ohio State Buckeye captain John Albert has been making the most of his ice time as a rookie pro meanwhile, dishing out three assists in four games for the Ice Caps and playing energetic and effective hockey. Also off to a good start for the IceCaps is fourth year pro Riley Holzapfel, who has four goals in his first seven games. Holzapfel was a top scorer in the WHL after being drafted by the Thrashers in the second round in 2006, however his game has been focused more on strong two-way play as of late and his production has dipped as a result.

Off to a good start in the USHL, Tanner Lane has eight points in eight games for the Fargo Force. Scheduled to report to the University of Nebraska-Omaha, Lane’s decision to use the Force to further his development seems to be paying off early dividends.


Right Wing

Carl Klingberg made a quiet debut in North America late last season with just one goal in eight AHL games and a brief cameo for the Thrashers, but the big winger from Frolunda has six goals in seven games with the St. John’s IceCaps and is putting his name forward for a call up. With the size and speed to play a power game at the NHL level, a dose of confidence is all the big Swede needs to take the next step. Fellow Ice Cap Spencer Machacek is next in line for a callup to the Jets, however with Klingberg ahead of him the task of making the NHL becomes even harder for the former Vancouver Giants captain. Machacek plays a strong north-south game with some toughness but has yet to show an upside to take him beyond a fourth line winger at best.

One player who has shown increased commitment and responsibility is Northeastern University’s Vinny Saponari. Ejected from Boston University two years ago, Saponari lit up the USHL last year and is now taking on the first line challenge with the remade Huskies. With five points in five games, Saponari shows he is taking the responsibility seriously and his renewed commitment to his teammates could make the expulsion from the Terriers a good thing for his development.

On the opposite end of the commitment spectrum, Akim Aliu has drifted off the prospect charts after an indifferent pre-season. The big winger was assigned to the ECHL to start the year and shows no inclination to work his way back up the depth chart. Set to pass Aliu on the prospect listings is Boston University winger Yassin Cisse, a big powerful winger who has yet to start a game for the Terriers since breaking his ankle in the first game of the season last year.

Calgary Hitmen overage center Jimmy Bubnick has been a great teammate and playoff performer through four WHL seasons, channeling his energy into a checking line role. Bubnick projects as a winger at the next level and will need to continue his hard work to make an impact at the professional level.

Austen Brassard joins the prospect pool via the fifth round of the 2011 Draft. Playing for the Belleville Bulls, Brassard brings a blend of grit and skill to the Jets prospect pool.

Defense

One of the few real standouts in the Thrasher’s drafting record is seventh rounder Paul Postma, a lanky project who has developed into a dynamic offensive defenseman. One of the late cuts from the Jets’ training camp, Postma is tasked with becoming a reliable player in his own end. A booming shot and sharp offensive instincts have made him a top prospect and he waits only for a chance to prove his consistency at the next level. Also awaiting his shot at an NHL job is Arturs Kulda, although the stocky Latvian has arguably little left to prove at the AHL level. Both Postma and Kulda are likely to see action with the Jets in the near future, although they will be called in to solve very different problems.

Kitchener Rangers stalwart Julian Melchiori earned himself an entry level deal only a year after being drafted in the third round by Atlanta. The 6’4 blueliner impressed with his mobility and defensive instincts and, since returning to the OHL, has shown more consistent glimpses of his offensive upside. Also impressing in camp was former Ferris State Bulldog Zach Redmond, a rookie pro who showed impressive solidity in his own end and a booming shot at the other.

Making his debut in the college ranks with the University of Michigan was Brennan Serville, a player drafted by the Jets in the third round who bears remarkable similarity to Melchiori. Both drafted out of the OJHL, both have excellent size and mobility as well as untapped offensive potential.

Jets fourth rounder Zach Yuen has shown an exciting attacking edge to his game since being returned to Tri City of the WHL, scoring three goals and five assists in 11 games. Yuen is an excellent skater and is blessed with poise and patience, attributes that may serve him well on the power play.

Big and mobile MJHL draftee Pete Stoykewych began his NCAA career with the Colorado College Tigers by playing two quiet games on the bottom pairings while senior Will O’Neill got off to an explosive start to his final year of college eligibility. O’Neill, a seventh rounder in 2006 and a long shot to make the pros, sparked his University of Maine Black Bears with a goal and two assists in the opening weekend against NCAA powerhouse North Dakota. O’Neill has size and a fierce desire to win on his side and, if he can continue to work on his mobility, may do enough to earn a contract offer from the Jets this year.

Shutdown dman Kendal McFaull scored in his first game back with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL, equaling his goal scoring output of last season. Sebastian Owuya, who plays a very similar game, found himself with the short straw to start the season as the big Swede was waived by Medicine Hat due to import restrictions and had to sign with Stockton of the ECHL in order to find a place to play.

Big crease-clearer Ben Chiarot made his pro debut with the IceCaps in the AHL, where the former Saginaw enforcer is going to have to fight for ice time. Cody Sol, an overage teammate of Melchiori’s at Kitchener in the OHL, will also be doing his fair share of fighting. Sol was signed to an entry level deal and showed off his toughness during preseason to good effect, but the 6’5 defender opted for a return to the OHL to continue his progression from enforcer to steady stay at home type.

Goaltending

Fredrik Petterson-Wentzel has the potential to be the Jets goalie of the future. The number two keeper with Swedish champions Farjestad, Petterson-Wentzel has explosive quickness and is technically sound. His 6’1 frame should hold up well enough in the North American game, especially after a few seasons of maturing in the Swedish Elitserien. In no rush to bring him over, the Jets can afford to be patient with the fifth rounder for the time being.

All set to see some action in the AHL, Ed Pasquale now finds himself bumped further down the depth chart through no fault of his own. Showing some good presence and competitiveness in pre season, Pasquale was then pushed to third choice in St. John’s behind newly signed David Aebischer and incumbent Peter Mannino. After splitting time between the AHL and ECHL last year, the big netminder needs regular starts to prove his worth but there seems to be no room for him.

Former OHL goalie of the year Chris Carrozzi found the transition to the pros a little tougher. Carrozzi saw plenty of the puck but not enough of his defense in 47 starts with the Gwinnett Gladiators of the ECHL. MJHL star goalie Jason Kasdorf is off the USHL this season with Des Moines but the 6’4 project from Portage has had a few rough outings to start the year. The Jets sixth round pick is scheduled to start his NCAA career with RPI, a school renowned for its tough defense.