Thrashers 2009 draft class still a work in progress for Winnipeg Jets

By Charlie Beattie

Evander Kane - Winnipeg Jets

Photo: Winger Evander Kane has spent all five seasons since the 2009 draft in the NHL, amassing 191 points in 310 games thus far in his career (courtesy Terrence Lee/Icon SMI)

So much has changed for the Winnipeg Jets since the 2009 NHL Draft: general managers, names, cities (countries, for that matter), organizational philosophies, and expectations.

The draft was the franchise’s penultimate draft as the Atlanta Thrashers, and the franchise was already in danger of moving out of Georgia, though the news would not be official until 2011.

Certainties abounded when it came to Atlanta and the NHL draft. In all but three seasons, they picked in the top 10, and they nearly always hit with their top pick, even if that pick did not flourish as a Thrasher/Jet. Of the eleven first round picks the Thrashers made, only two have played less than 100 games in the NHL, and the franchise brought top picks like Dany Heatley, Ilya Kovalchuk, Kari Lehtonen and Brayden Coburn into the league.

Beyond the first round, however, was a different story. Very few later round picks ever became impact players for Atlanta, and too many busted out altogether. This would become one of the main reasons why the franchise would struggle on the ice and ultimately at the gate, leading to their demise.

The 2009 draft followed all of the familiar scripts for the then Thrashers. To date, the draft has produced 344 NHL man games, but 310 of them belong to their first selection, Evander Kane. Kane is also responsible for 191 of the 201 career points coming out of the group. Further down the list, the draft includes players who are still potential NHL contributors at least, including a player who is still plying his trade in the collegiate ranks.

Evander Kane, LW, Vancouver Giants (WHL) – 1st round (4th overall)
Status: NHL player
NHL Games Played: 310  

While debate raged over the order of the top three picks in the 2009 draft (John Tavares, Victor Hedman, and Matt Duchene), Kane was the consensus fourth overall pick, and, fittingly, Kane is the third highest scoring forward from the draft, behind Tavares and Duchene. However, while Tavares emerged as a Hart Trophy candidate last season and Duchene has been a key cog in Colorado’s revival, Kane has struggled to take the leap from a young player with immense potential to franchise cornerstone.

Kane made the Thrashers out of his initial training camp, scoring 14 goals in his rookie campaign. In addition, he proved the toughness expected from the son of a boxer (and a man named for former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield) by famously knocking out Matt Cooke when the then-Pittsburgh forward challenged him to a fight late in the season.

Since that first season, Kane has struggled with consistency. His second season saw an uptick in goal scoring, with 19, but also a career low minus-12 on a doomed Atlanta team. He was one of the players very vocal about his excitement to play in Winnipeg when the franchise was relocated, and in his first season in Manitoba, he posted his best statistical year, topping out at 30 goals for the only time in his career and finishing with 57 points in 74 games.

He followed up with a similarly paced season of 17 goals and 16 assists (an 82-game projection would have been 29 goals and 56 points) during the 48-game lockout season in 2012-13, his only season to-date in which he has played every game. However, his attitude began to be questioned. During the lockout, Kane was the first player to sign with a KHL team, Dinamo Minsk, but his stint lasted just twelve games amid reports that he reported to the team out of shape and did not appear to be engaged in games. Upon his return home, Kane was infamously photographed in Las Vegas flaunting a stack of $100 bills, and the image did not play well with fans frustrated by the NHL’s work stoppage.

Minor injuries have once again limited Kane this season, causing him to miss 15 games to date. It was also rumored that he did not see eye-to-eye with recently fired head coach Claude Noel, and his name was floated in trade rumors earlier this season. Kane has one goal and six assists in 11 games under Paul Maurice.

Kane is still only 22, and his package of size and speed is rare. Now in the second year of a six-year contract extension signed in 2012, the franchise has invested time and capital in the idea that he will develop into an upper-echelon forward, and with the team spinning its wheels on the ice, it is fair to say that as Kane progresses, so will the Jets.

Carl Klingberg, LW, Frolunda Jr. (Sweden Jr.) – 2nd round (34th overall)
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 7

Klingberg remained in Sweden for two seasons after being drafted, moving over to the AHL at the end of his 2010-11 season with Timra of the Elite League. He played eight games and posted one goal in a brief stint with the Chicago Wolves, and even made his NHL debut in the franchise’s final game as the Atlanta Thrashers against Pittsburgh on April 10, 2011.

Drafted for his two-way play and excellent skating, Klingberg has yet to translate his abilities into an NHL job despite patches of success at the AHL level.

Klingberg started the 2011-12 season in Winnipeg, but went goalless in six games before being sent back to St. John’s for the remainder of the season after the team signed veteran winger Antti Miettinen. At 20, Klingberg was one of the key forwards for an IceCaps team that finished in first place, posting 15 goals and 37 points in 66 games.

He returned to St. John’s in 2012-13, though his scoring dipped to just 11 goals and 23 points in 66 games, taking some of the shine off of his status as a prospect. He once again returned to St. John’s to start 2013-14, his final year under contract with the franchise. Through 52 games, he has posted 15 goals and 13 assists, despite a stretch of poor play earlier in the year that found him a healthy scratch.

It is likely that at this point, Klingberg’s ceiling is as a bottom six forward in the NHL. Whether he gets another look with the Jets remains to be seen.

Jeremy Morin, RW, U.S. National Under-18 Team – 2nd Round (45th overall)
Status: Prospect (Chicago)
NHL Games Played: 30

Morin carried a reputation as a scorer coming out of the U.S. National Team Development Program in his draft year, and his play has translated to the professional ranks. Despite being drafted by the Jets, he spent very little time in their prospect pool.

Morin spent one year in junior with the Kitchener Rangers after being drafted, posting 83 points in 58 games. He was then traded to Chicago at the 2010 draft as part of the deal that brought Dustin Byfuglien to Atlanta. Morin has had trouble finding a permanent place in the ultra-talented Chicago lineup ever since, bouncing back and forth between Chicago and Rockford multiple times per season.

Morin’s AHL point totals have risen every year since 2010-11, from 12 to 40 to 58 and finally 45 points in 46 games this season. He received call-ups to Chicago each year, but never played more than nine games in any year until 2013-14. This year, in addition to career-high minor league numbers, which saw him named the AHL’s player of the month for February, Morin has appeared in 15 NHL games, scoring one goal and averaging just over eight minutes of ice time at the NHL level.

With little left to prove at the AHL level, and no room in the cup-contending lineup of the Blackhawks, Morin remains stuck in professional limbo. His future looks bright, however as he continues to pile up the points wherever he goes.

Ed Pasquale, G, Saginaw Spirit (OHL) – Drafted 4th Round (117th overall)
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Pasquale was enjoying his finest season as either a junior or a professional before a knee injury cut him down for the remainder of the season. In his third year with the St. John’s IceCaps, Pasquale had appeared in 31 games, posting a 17-13-1 record and a career best .920 save percentage before opting for season ending surgery in early February.

The timing could not have been worse for Pasquale, who has taken a long developmental road. He spent the maximum amount of time possible in the OHL before turning professional. In addition to his three seasons in St. John’s, Pasquale spent his first season as a professional splitting time between the Chicago Wolves of the AHL (the franchise’s affiliate when they were still the Thrashers) and the Gwinnett Gladiators of the ECHL.

A big goaltender with excellent technique, Pasquale has always used his ability to cover the net to offset average lateral movement skills. With the instability of the Jets’ goaltending situation and the team likely to miss the postseason, it is not unreasonable to think that Pasquale might have received a look at the end of the year. Of course, his injury will prevent that. In the meantime, Michael Hutchinson has thrived taking over Pasquale’s position with St. John’s, while prospects Connor Hellebuyck and Eric Comrie are waiting in the wings.

Ben Chiarot, D, Guelph Storm – Drafted 4th round (120th overall)
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 1

Chiarot is the lowest drafted player from this Thrashers draft class to appear in an NHL game to date, suiting up for the Jets on November 2, 2013 against Chicago as injuries decimated Winnipeg’s blue line corps over the first half of the season.

Like the Jets’ other fourth round pick in 2009, Pasquale, Chiarot’s development has been a slow, patient process, but it may be paying dividends as he has enjoyed his best AHL season this year in his third season in the league.

A big-bodied defenseman, Chiarot was an offensive-minded blueliner in the junior ranks, but has slowly transitioned into more of a shutdown role as his professional career has progressed. With the IceCaps, this season, Chiarot has evolved into a go-to option on the back end, posting a plus-23 rating through March 13th, far and away the best mark on the team.

The Jets are deeper on the blue line, so opportunities will be limited, but Chiarot has not hurt his cause with a strong minor league season.

Cody Sol, D, Saginaw Spirit (OHL) – Drafted 5th round (125th overall)
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Sol is a massive defenseman who fits the classic “enforcer” role. In his second professional season, Sol has spent most of the year with Ontario of the ECHL, playing only one game with St. John’s (he split time evenly last season), posting six goals, eight assists and 94 penalty minutes to this point.

Sol lacks foot speed and offers little in the way of offensive upside, and players in his mold, those that make their living solely with their fists, are rapidly phasing out of the NHL game. Sol’s ceiling is not that high as he barely maintains presence on the team’s prospect radar.

Jimmy Bubnick, C, Kamloops Blazers (WHL) – Drafted 6th round (155th overall)
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Bubnick played out his junior options as an overage player with the Calgary Hitmen, last appearing the WHL in 2011-12. Not offered a contract by the Jets, he enrolled at the University of Saskatchewan, where has competed the last two seasons. His status as a prospect at this point is virtually nonexistent, and he is no longer in the Jets’ fold.

Levko Koper, LW, Spokane Chiefs (WHL) – Drafted 7th round (185th overall)
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Like Bubnick, Koper exhausted his junior eligibility without a contract and enrolled in University. He is now in his third year with the University of Alberta. Though he is no longer a Jets prospect, he will always be a piece of Jets trivia in an odd way. He was the first player to score a goal while wearing a “new” Jets uniform, tallying the team’s first goal at the Penticton prospects tournament in 2011.

Jordan Samuels-Thomas, LW, Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL) – Drafted 7th round (203 overall)
Status: Prospect
Total NHL Games: 0

Samuels-Thomas still represents a great unknown from the 2009 draft. He has spent time at two U.S. colleges, and will likely finally sign a professional contract when his Quinnipiac season ends sometime in the next month.

The powerful winger burst onto the scene at last year’s NCAA tournament. After sitting out the required transfer year after leaving Bowling Green in 2011, he helped guide the Bobcats to the National Championship game, where they eventually lost to Yale. This season he has again been among Quinnipiac’s leading scorers, tallying 12 goals (he had 17 last season) despite a nagging shoulder injury, which has cost him six games.

A player with prototypical power forward size and skill set, it will be interesting to see what happens to Samuels-Thomas when he is finally finished with this collegiate duties. He will certainly be brought into the Jets’ fold, and depending on the state of the season when he does, it would not be inconceivable to see Samuels-Thomas get a “show me” look at the MTS Center towards the end of the year. The only thing that might hold him back would be the severity of his shoulder injury, which is currently being kept under wraps by Quinnipiac.