While the poor draft legacy of the Atlanta Thrashers has left the cupboard mostly bare, five players drafted or signed by the Winnipeg Jets now appear in the latest Top 20 list. Big, physical wingers Adam Lowry and Austen Brassard represent the new generation of players that will bring Winnipeg fans to their feet someday while smooth as silk defender Zachary Yuen is the Top 20s biggest upward mover. While winger Jason Gregoire and blueliner Brennan Serville have regressed this season, they remain Jets acquisitions with high upsides.
Although the Thrashers are well-known for their high number of draft busts, they have handed on some late round gems to the Jets organization. In an odd quirk of stats, five of the top 20 were drafted in the 6th or 7th round by the Thrashers, including Top 10 prospects Paul Postma and Zach Redmond.
1. (1) Mark Scheifele, C, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 7th overall, 2011
While having great success in the OHL with the Barrie Colts, Schiefele’s season has been tinged with disappointment. Having performed so well in training camp and scoring his first NHL goal, the return to junior was an understandable downer. His performance at the World Junior Championship raised questions about whether he was injured, as he seemed to lag behind the play and only produced when partnered with Colts teammate Tanner Pearson on the power play. His return to the Colts without the gold medal saw him post some impressive scoring stats however he does tend to disappear for long stretches, traits that didn’t appear in his draft year. Whether playing through injury or let down after not sticking in the NHL, Scheifele is a greater talent than his season has shown.
2. (2) Carl Klingberg, LW, 7C
Drafted 2nd round, 34th overall, 2009
Off to a great start with the IceCaps and called up to the Jets for six games, Klingberg has looked right at home in North American hockey. The big Swede relishes the physical side of the game and has the hands and net presence to be an effective scorer especially on the power play. Although he has tailed off since returning from the Jets, his 14 goals and 31 points in 46 games are good returns for a rookie player. Klingberg knocking hard on the Jets door and with a good training camp next year could force himself into Top-six consideration.
3. (4.) Paul Postma, D, 7C
Drafted 7th round, 205th overall, 2007
Second on the IceCaps in scoring with 11 goals and 37 points in 46 games, Postma continues to impress as a blueliner who can jump up and join the rush. Postma excels as a power play quarterback and has the poise and intelligence to walk the line with the man advantage. His three games with the Jets gave him a taste of what to expect at the next level and Jets’ brass will need to make some hard decisions soon about where to fit him into their blue line.
4. (6.) Ivan Telegin, C, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 101st overall, 2010
A more complete player this year, Telegin has raised his compete levels in all three zones. Most importantly for the Jets future plans, he has developed some intuitive sense of how to play alongside Winnipeg’s top prospect Mark Schiefele on the Barrie Colts top line, a pairing that promises many goals in the Jets’ future. The big Russian seems to a better fit for the wing position, having played two OHL seasons at center, and uses his size and speed to good effect. Recently sidelined for a period of time by injury, Telegin has still managed 28 goals and 50 points in 40 games this year, a scoring pace that would have eclipsed his previous bests if he had remained healthy.
5. (3) Patrice Cormier, C, 6.5B
Acquired via trade with New Jersey, March 2010
Despite the low point totals, Cormier has been a vital part of the IceCaps to date, taking on the tough minutes against the opposition’s best players and leading the penalty kill. Rewarded with some increased ice time and time on the power play just before the holidays, Cormier began to score with some regularity and was called up to the Jets for six games. The fact that he has scored one goal in 27 career NHL games is not an overwhelming concern given the game he plays, but his 10 goals in 39 AHL games is making it clear that his upside is limited.
6. (11.) Zach Redmond, D, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 184th overall, 2008
One of the best rookie defenders in the AHL this season, Redmond has adapted very well to the pro game. A big, mobile blueliner who reads the game well, Redmond has the ability to play in all situations. His big shot has been a featured weapon on the IceCaps powerplay where he has been paired with Postma to form a lethal duo. Redmond is a vocal presence on the ice and the former Ferris State captain has shown innate leadership despite his status as a rookie. Jets management will soon be forced to make some room for him on the senior team.
7. (9) Spencer Machacek, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 67th overall, 2007
Machacek has been leading from the front line for the IceCaps this year, his 12 goals and 39 points in 51 games pacing the St. John’s club for most of the season. The former Vancouver Giants captain has also set the tone for the team with his work ethic and high energy crash and bang style. Recalled for a pair of games with the Jets this year, Machacek has now 14 NHL career games under his belt but has yet to make any real progress in becoming a full time NHL player despite his reliable efforts.
8. (16) Adam Lowry, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 67th overall, 2011
A bittersweet success story this season, Adam Lowry was producing at a point per game pace this season while ramping up his fearless physical style even further before a long-term injury robbed him of the rest of his season. The 6’4 winger was a key feature on the Swift Current Bronco’s power play and his 12 goals and 25 assists in 36 games had him on pace for an exciting uptick in production. At the same time, Lowry was also appearing in regular highlight reels for his crushing hits and spirited scraps.
9. (12.) Julian Melchiori, D, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 87th overall, 2010
A stay-at-home defender during his OHL rookie season, Melchiori has started to show some offensive production this year, even more so after his recent trade to the Oshawa Generals. The 6’4 defender has 12 assists in 20 games with the Generals since the deal was made, nearly matching the 19 points in 35 games he posted with the Rangers this year. Melchiori’s size and mobility makes him a project worth waiting for and, if he can continue to generate offense without sacrificing any of the solid defending he provides, should move quickly up the Jets’ depth chart.
10. (20) Zachary Yuen, D, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 119th overall, 2011
The WHL’s leader in plus-minus rating, Yuen is also the leading scorer amongst defenders on the powerhouse Tri-City Americans this season. A plus-41 in his draft year, the Jets knew that Yuen was solid in his own end but wanted to see him jump into the play at the other end of the rink more often. Yuen has obliged to the tune of 11 goals and 22 assists in 58 games, playing top pairing minutes in all situations and has also bulked up to just over 205 lbs thanks to his intense personal fitness regime. Yuen needs to continue to implicate himself in all three zones going forward however his progression this season makes him one of the big risers on the Jets prospect rankings.
11. (10.) Arturs Kulda, D, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 200th overall, 2006
Returned to St, John’s after nine games with the Jets. Kulda has proven he can hold down an NHL job on the bottom pairing if given an opportunity. Although the stocky Latvian is not going to wow anyone with his puck skills, he plays a solid game in his own end. Kulda is having his best year offensively with the IceCaps, scoring four goals and 15 points in 41 games, but his top end potential is set and his time as a prospect is almost at an end.
12. (8) Ben Maxwell, C, 6.5C
Acquired via trade with Montreal, March 2011
Reclaimed by the Jets after they lost him to Anaheim on the waiver wire, Maxwell has become a fixture in St. John’s and may have lost his best chance to claim an NHL regular position. The click playmaker has drifted through four NHL call-ups without imposing himself and seems to lack the desire to make the most of his opportunity.
13. (7.) Eric O’Dell, C, 6.5C
Acquired via trade with Anaheim, March 2009
The transition to professional hockey has been a disappointing one for the former Sudbury Wolves star. A point-per-game player in his four seasons with the Wolves, O’Dell has struggled to find ice time in St. John’s and has been sidelined by injury several times this season as well. His six goals and 14 points in 29 games can still represent a player with upside and the shifty center has shown flashes of the talent that made him such a star at the junior level.
14. (5) Jason Gregoire, LW, 6.5C
Signed as a free agent, July 2011
A free agent coup for Winnipeg, hometown boy Gregoire has failed to deliver on his pre-season promise due to injuries and limited playing time in St. John’s. Appearing in only 28 AHL games this season, Gregoire has but four goals and six assists, a paltry return on the Jets investment. A smooth skater with a good all –round game, Gregoire needs top six minutes to produce and is not well suited for the bottom line duties he has been forced into by the IceCaps veteran laden roster.
15. (NR) Austen Brassard, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 149th overall, 2011
The leading goal-scorer for Belleville in the OHL, the 6’2 winger plays an appropriately bullish style. A north-south winger who relishes the physical play and has a fair bit of feist to his game, Brassard has tallied 27 goals in 60 games and added 24 assists. Playing top line minutes for the Bulls, Brassard has reeled in the readiness to drop the gloves this year although he still doesn’t hesitate to jump to a teammate’s defense. Although not a strong skater, Brassard has shown some ability to generate scoring chances for himself and his rugged style should serve him well at the next level if he continues to add muscle to his frame.
16. (12) Vinny Saponari, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 94th overall, 2008
A top scorer in the USHL while on sabbatical last season, Saponari has seen his point totals much reduced playing for the notoriously low-scoring Northeastern Huskies this year. A playmaker from the wing, Saponari leads the Huskies in assists with 16 in 33 games while playing on the top line and has helped the program stay competitive against their Hockey East rivals. After being evicted from the Boston University program, Saponari’s improved two-way play and team first attitude is a good indicator of progression.
17. (NR) Will O’Neill, D, 6C
Drafted in the 7th round, 210th overall, 2006
Now wearing the “C” as a senior with the University of Maine, O’Neill displays all the intangibles that scouts love. A fierce competitor, O’Neill leads by example and lifts his teammates with his intensity and passion for the game. Although still having power skating issues, O’Neill compensates by superior awareness and positioning and his hard work in that regard may yet see him sign a professional contract with the Jets this summer.
18. (16) Brennan Serville, D, 6C
Drafted 3rd round, 78th overall, 2011
As a freshman with the Wolverines program, Serville has seen fairly regular ice time due to the suspension of top Michigan blueliner Jon Merrill (NJ) for most of the first half of the season. Making the most of his opportunity, the lanky rearguard has played safe hockey and chipped in eight assists in 29 games. A long term project, Serville should expect to see more regular ice time next season and would benefit from further trips to the weight room to bulk up in the meantime.
19. (14) Fredrik Pettersson-Wentzel, G, 7D
Drafted 5th round, 128th overall, 2010
The young goalie has become the established number two with Farjestad in the Elitserien, appearing in 15 games for the defending Swedish champions this season. Petterson-Wentzel continues to impress with his technique and quickness and has proven a solid understudy to veteran Christopher Nihlstorp. Posting a 2.16 goals against average and .911 save percentage, Petterson-Wentzel is progressing nicely in a solid program in Sweden, the Jets must now decide when they want to bring him over to the AHL and have him face more rubber on a smaller ink.
20. (18) John Albert C, 6C
Drafted 6th round, 175th overall, 2007
The rookie-pro has provided a consistent fourth line center for the IceCaps, winning some admirers for his hard work and selfless play. The former Buckeyes captain has speed and vision but lacks size and hasn’t been able to generate much offense at the AHL level. His four goals and eight assists in 42 games aren’t going to get him promoted to the next level no matter how much his teammates appreciate his efforts. Albert needs to force his way into an improved ice-time situation in order to stay on the Jets’ prospect radar.