Rebuild continues to go well for Winnipeg Jets

By Zak McGinniss

Jason Gregoire - Winnipeg Jets

Photo: Forward Jason Gregoire is one of several Winnipeg natives the Jets have in their prospect pool. Gregoire joined the organization as a free agent in 2011. (Terry Lee/Icon SMI)

The Winnipeg Jets continue to rebuild their prospect pool, led by Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba. In the past two entry drafts, Jets' General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has started to realize a vision of a bigger, tougher, and grittier team. While the rebuild started with the 2011 Draft, solid progress is already being made. Below is a breakdown of all current prospects of the Winnipeg Jets.

Left Wing

Ivan Telegin and Carl Klingberg will be counted on to continue their development and contribute at the NHL level within the next two seasons. They are chased by a handful of prospects in what is the deepest forward position for the Jets. Telegin, so far, has struggled to make the jump from the OHL to the AHL level after finishing third in scoring with 64 points and 35 goals on the Barrie Colts in the 2011-12 season. He followed that up with 14 points in 13 games in the playoffs, before his Colts fell in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Ottawa 67's in seven games. Telegin certainly has the size (6'4, 195 lbs) speed, and skill to compete on the top two lines at the NHL level, but the converted center will need to start finding the back of the net more often to continue his development.

Klingberg is a power forward who is still adjusting to the North American game. The Gothenburg, Sweden native was selected in the second round of the 2009 NHL draft by the Atlanta Thrashers and tallied 37 points, including 15 goals in 66 appearances for the IceCaps in the 2011-12 season. Ranked as the seventh best European skater entering the 2009 NHL draft, Klingberg will not be counted on necessarily for producing points, but more along the lines of using his big frame to open up the ice for his teammates. This is a player that is not afraid to battle along the boards and in the corners, and has the potential to be a bottom six complementary player.

Jason Gregoire, Adam Lowry, and Jordan Samuels-Thomas are all looking to bounce back and reestablish themselves as bona fide prospects. Gregoire enters his second professional season still looking to make a name for himself after a standout three-year career at the University of North Dakota. Originally drafted by the New York Islanders in 2007, Gregoire declined to sign with them in favor of declaring free agency and joining his hometown Winnipeg Jets organization. He has struggled to find consistent time for the IceCaps, so he must make the most of what he is given to justify additional playing time.

Lowry has jumped out to a quick start for the Swift Current Broncos, dispelling fears that a major hand injury and subsequent surgery would negatively affect his game. Now in his fourth year with the Broncos, Lowry was an alternate captain last year and was named team captain for the 2011-12 season. Playing a physical game, Lowry has enviable size at 6'5 and 200 lbs, and could find himself playing in the NHL sooner rather than later. He will spend this year playing for his first professional contract, but it should not come as a surprise if Lowry joins the IceCaps roster once the WHL season has concluded.

Samuels-Thomas is back on the ice after a year off, trading in the orange and brown of Bowling Green for the blue and gold of Quinnipiac. This means now playing an elevated game in the ECAC, after leading Bowling Green in points both his freshman and sophomore years. After a slow start, Samuels-Thomas has started to pick up his scoring pace on his new team. A seventh round draft choice in 2009, not much was originally expected from Samuels-Thomas, but he has continued to prove his critics wrong in the past. He will need to continue that streak to find himself in the NHL one day.

Further down the depth chart are Nicklas Lasu and Michael Forney. Lasu is a grinder now in his fourth season with Frolunda in the SEL. Over 30 games into the 2012-13 season and with just one point, Lasu is not depended upon for offensive contributions. After attending a prospect camp with the Thrashers, Lasu has not returned to North America and at this point it is doubtful he ever will.

Forney meanwhile continues to excel offensively, albeit at the ECHL level. He averages over a point per game in the ECHL, yet cannot translate that game to a higher level. 

Center

Mark Scheifele is the Jets' top prospect and leads the deepest pool for the Jets. Denied an opportunity to play at the NHL level this year due to the lockout, Scheifele was expected to dominate at the OHL level and so far, met that expectation. He leads his Barrie Colts team in points and is among the top 10 scorers in the league. He is already an intelligent distributor of the puck, but has seemingly rediscovered his shot this season. He will need to continue to fill out his 6'2 frame, as the Jets are hoping that he will become their first line centerman of the future.

While Scheifele is clearly the top prospect for the Jets, there exists a healthy competition for the next best center in the Jets prospect pool. Patrice Cormier, acquired from the New Jersey Devils, suffered a knee injury in the fourth game of the season and continues to be sidelined. He will need to find his game quickly once he returns to the lineup.

Lukas Sutter, son of Rich, plays a gritty, physical game. His offensive output so far this season has been a disappointment, but his strengths lie in his defensive game. He will put pressure on Cormier to determine who will be the future shutdown centerman for the Jets.

Two players who are exceeding expectations so far are Eric O'Dell and Maxime Macenauer. O'Dell is a 2008 draftee looking to improve upon the 27 points in 39 games he posted last year with the IceCaps. Adding over twenty pounds since leaving the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL, O'Dell has worked hard to get to this point in his career. His skills are on the cusp of being NHL ready, but it will be his work ethic and determination that will provide the clearest path to the NHL.

Meanwhile, Macenauer has already played 29 games at the NHL level with the Anaheim Ducks, so he knows what is required of him to remain at that level. He plays a defensive minded game and sees a lot of time on the penalty kill.

Ryan Olsen, John Albert, and Tanner Lane round out the prospective centers for the Jets. Olsen is currently playing his first season with the Kelowna Rockets after three years with the Saskatoon Blades alongside Lukas Sutter, and the change in scenery has already paid dividends. Just short of a point-per-game pace, Olsen has picked up his offensive game while improving his defensive game as well, currently a plus player for the first time in his junior career.

Albert enters his second season with the IceCaps after a four year career with Ohio State, where he was named captain for his senior season. He is a well rounded center who will need additional seasoning in the AHL before a possible jump to the NHL.

Lane is playing his first year for the University of Nebraska-Omaha and so far has been a non-factor, still in search of his first point as a freshman.

Right Wing

Spencer Machacek leads this position in the Jets prospect pool, though right wing is the least deep of forward positions for the team. The 24-year-old has seen a few call-ups to the NHL, where he has yet to establish himself. He is a solid, if unspectacular two-way player who will need to be the hardest worker on the ice to stick at the NHL level. 

Scott Kosmachuk is an intriguing prospect who continues to break out offensively from last season. He fits into the vision of the Winnipeg Jets as a player who can contribute both offensively and physically. Averaging over a point-per-game now with the Guelph Storm, Kosmachuk can take advantage of this season to position himself favorably for the next Jets camp. Depending on how he finishes this season, he could threaten for a spot on the Jets team as early as next year.

Austen Brassard, Yasin Cisse, and Vinny Saponari round out the forward prospects for the Jets. Brassard, now in his fourth year in the OHL and third with the Belleville Bulls has seemingly regressed in his offensive game. This can be attributed to the fact that the Bulls are a defensive minded team. Brassard will need to continue his development to earn a professional contract.

Cisse is now in his second full season with Boston University and projects as another power forward prospect.

Saponari was dismissed from the Boston University team at the end of the 2009-10 season, and is now in his second year with Northeastern. He will need to make the most of this second opportunity at the college level.

Defense

Jacob Trouba is the standout defensive prospect for the Winnipeg Jets. The Minnesota native was picked with the ninth overall pick in the last draft and is a physical defenseman who enjoys dishing out big hits. He also possesses a dangerous shot and speed that makes him a threat all over the ice. He will continue to round out his game in his first year at the University of Michigan.

Five of the eight defensemen currently dressing for the St. John's IceCaps are prospects of the Jets, and all must battle each other for ice time. Leading this bunch is Paul Postma, followed closely by Zach Redmond. Postma would, in most likelihood, be an everyday player for the Jets if not for the lockout. He is a two-way defenseman who must continue to improve upon his decision making on the ice. He has overcome a knee injury from before the season began to returning for the IceCaps. In his stead, Redmond has stepped up his offensive game. While his assist total is far off last season's pace, Redmond has been finding the back of the net and is making a case for himself to be included in the Jets plans once the season begins.

Will O'Neill, Julian Melchiori, and Ben Chiarot also play with the IceCaps this season. O'Neill is the only one of the three to record any points so far, a testament to his determination to succeed. Named captain of his Maine Black Bears team last season, he is a player that has never had high expectations placed on his shoulders, but his diligence has extended his career past the collegiate level. Melchiori is adjusting to the professional game after two seasons in the OHL. He has the frame to succeed at the professional level, but will need to improve all facets of his game to grow. Chiarot is a big, physical defenseman that will not be an offensive standout. Rather, he fills the role of a punishing defenseman who makes opposing players think twice about going into the corner with him.

Two prospects have found themselves playing in the ECHL this season, pushed down the depth chart due to the lockout. John Negrin, acquired last season from Calgary, is a two way defenseman who has already played three games in the NHL. He is joined by Cody Sol, who was expected to make the IceCaps roster out of training camp. Instead, he was passed by the previously mentioned prospects, but should be recalled to St. John's once a spot opens up for him. So far, his play in the ECHL has not warranted a closer look.

At the NCAA level, no prospect stands out as Trouba does, but there are several prospects of promise. Peter Stoykewych and Aaron Harstad are teammates at Colorado College and both are in their sophomore year. Stoykewych hails from Winnipeg and is more offensive minded of the two. He is depended upon to make a good first pass out of the zone and chip in offensively. Harstad is the defensive stalwart of the two, responsible for clearing the traffic in front of the net and keeping the offense to the outside of the zone.

Brennan Serville is a teammate of Trouba's at Michigan. He has seen limited games this season due to injury and has to register a point.

Zachary Yuen is the lone defensive prospect playing juniors, currently playing his fourth full season with the Tri-City Americans of the WHL. Yuen is not expected to pot the puck himself, but rather to start the offense and remain responsible in his own end of the ice.  Worrisome is the fact that after finishing last season at plus-45 last season, he is a minus-nine through 33 games this season.

Goaltender

With the signing of Ondrej Pavelec through the end of 2016-17 season, the Jets goaltending prospects find themselves behind an entrenched starter with a long-term contract. As fans of the Vancouver Canucks have discovered however, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Ed Pasquale split most of last year with veteran David Aebischer until the playoffs, where he started every game. He has the size to be an NHL goaltender, and will need to establish himself as the starter in St. John's to get the ice-time required to improve his game.

Chris Carrozzi finds himself in the ECHL with the Ontario Reign to ensure he sees time between the pipes in a game. Carrozzi still has time to develop, but must gain a sense of urgency to avoid being passed over.

At the NCAA level, the Jets have three goaltenders looking to earn regular starts. Connor Hellebuyck is the backup at UMass-Lowell, behind undrafted junior Doug Carr. Drafted in the fifth round after being named both rookie and goaltender of the year in the NAHL in the 2011-12 season, this year may be spent as a learning experience for Hellebuyck.

Jamie Phillips sits behind two older goaltenders at Michigan State, and so far has only appeared in goal for one period of play for the Spartans. He was the Jets seventh round pick in the 2012 draft and remains a raw prospect.

Jason Kasdorf hails from Winnipeg and was a hometown selection in the 2011 draft. He is the third string goalie at RPI and, like Hellebuyck, will most likely spend this season as an educational experience in what it takes to succeed at the collegiate level. 

 

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