2014 NHL Draft: Winnipeg Jets draft review

By Charlie Beattie
Nikolaj Ehlers - Winnipeg Jets

Photo: Winnipeg selected dynamic Danish forward Nikolaj Ehlers, the fourth-leading scorer in the entire QMJHL as a rookie, with the 9th overall pick at the 2014 NHL Draft (courtesy of Aaron Bell/CHL Images)


The narrative surrounding the Winnipeg Jets leading up to the draft was more about potential wheeling and dealing surrounding their current roster (specifically Evander Kane) than the selections in front of them, with even general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff hinting that the Jets could make a notable deal at the draft.

The trades, either for proven players or more picks, never materialized, and when the dust settled, the Jets held the exact same assets as they had in the buildup. The Jets made seven selections in the draft, with a top-ten selection for the third time in four years since moving to Winnipeg. They also had no second round selection, having dealt it to Minnesota for Devin Setoguchi prior to the 2013-14 season.

Though many thought that the Jets would address some size issues amongst their crop of forward prospects with power forwards like Nick Ritchie (selected 10th overall by Anaheim) and Brendan Perlini (selected 12th by Arizona) suggested as possible targets. In the end, they elected to take the electric, though tiny, Nikolaj Ehlers with their top pick.

The Jets also bucked a recent trend in that while they selected four players from Canadian-based teams, only one draft pick, fourth-round pick Nelson Nogier, is actually Canadian born, a marked shift from the last three seasons.. The Jets’ selected four Americans, one Dane, and one Russian, with sixth round pick Pavel Kraskovsky marking just their second foray into the European-based talent pool since the team relocated from Atlanta.

Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
1st Round, 9th overall
Height: 5-11 Weight: 163

The Jets nabbed the highest scoring draft-eligible scorer from the Canadian junior ranks with their top pick. Ehlers combines an elite package of speed, vision, shooting ability and instantly becomes the top offensive prospect in the Jets’ system. Ehlers is perhaps lauded most for his knowledge and passion for the sport, as well as his intense drive to succeed; attributes instilled by his father Heinz, a professional coach in Switzerland and naturally his son’s hockey mentor who encouraged him to move to North America to further his development last season.

A talented overall athlete who represented his native Denmark at a national level as a youth soccer player before converting to hockey full time, Ehlers turned heads in his first season in North America. Filling the offensive void left by departed Moosehead’s such as Nathan MacKinnon (COL) and Martin Frk (DET), he totaled 49 goals and 104 points, second only to Jonathan Drouin (TBL). Overall, he was the fourth leading scorer in the QMJHL. He also bagged two notable awards, being named the top rookie in the CHL and also taking home the Michael Bossy Trophy as the top professional prospect in the Quebec League.

The only knock surrounding Ehlers is his size, and some observers believe he is too similar to Jets’ 2013 2nd round pick Nicolas Petan. He will need to add bulk to compete at the NHL level, but the Jets could not pass on a player who drew comparisons to Patrick Kane in the buildup to the draft. Fittingly, Kane and Ehlers were briefly teammates with Biel in the Swiss NLA during the lockout (Tyler Seguin was also with the club) with Kane mentoring Ehlers that size should not be an obstacle in his reaching the NHL.

His ability projects him among the best prospects the Jets have, especially with the cupboard needing some restocking following the graduations of both Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba this season. His performances at the Jets’ summer development camp left a very favorable impression as well. He is unlikely to crack an NHL lineup this fall, but his future ceiling is very high.

Ehlers met with the media following his selection by the Jets, with some of his comments being captured in this HF video.

Jack Glover, D, U.S. National Team Development Program (USHL)
3rd Round, 69th overall
Height: 6-3 Weight: 172

The Minnesota born Glover is an intriguing blend of size and skill, with a very projectable frame. A player who turned 18 only a month before the draft, he spent his 2013-14 season with the USNTDP squad, posting 2 goals and 26 assists in 59 games. He competed at the World Juniors at both the U-17 and U-18 levels, helping Team USA to bronze in 2013 and a gold medal in 2014, respectively.

Noted for his ability to cover ground as well as his physicality, the concerns surrounding Glover are based around the mental part of the game, with scouts questioning his consistency and decision-making. Originally projected as a second round pick (he was ranked as the 38th overall North American skater by Central Scouting), Glover slipped into the third round.

Glover is certainly a pick based on projection, but if he is able to fill out his frame as well as smooth out the rougher edges of his game, he has the physical tools to succeed at the NHL level. He will return home for his freshman season at the University of Minnesota for the 2014-15 season.

Chase De Leo, C, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
4th round, 99th overall
Height: 5-10 Weight: 175

Having taken an undersized, but prolific player from Portland in the 2013 in Nicolas Petan, the Jets went back to the well and took De Leo with the first of two fourth round picks.

A centerman who fits Kevin Cheveldayoff’s pre-draft stated directive to select players with elite hockey sense, De Leo is a strong skater (despite lacking elite speed) who is strong at both ends of the ice, noted both for being defensively responsible as well as a relentless forechecker. In addition, he has been a strong faceoff man in Portland, and despite his small stature, has not shied from playing around the net.

He enjoyed a breakout offensive season for Portland, netting 39 goals and adding 42 assists. Both totals were career highs. In three years In the WHL, his point total has risen from 30 to 56 to 81. In addition, he has 36 playoff points in 42 games over the past two seasons.

Like Petan and Ehlers, De Leo will need to overcome size concerns to succeed at the next level, and his draft position was nowhere near original projections (some of which had him as a second-round selection). Pro-De Leo scouts believe he has the type of gritty game that can overcome his lack of stature.

De Leo spoke with reporters following his selection by the Jets, with some of his comments being captured in this HF video.

Nelson Nogier, D, Saskatoon Blades (OHL)
4th round, 101st overall
Height: 6-2 Weight: 193

Like Glover and De Leo, Nogier was once rated as a much higher selection than the fourth round, but the nature of his drop had less to do with stylistic concerns or size. Nogier’s season was cut short by a right shoulder injury that required surgery in December and limited him to just 37 games for his hometown Saskatoon squad.

Nogier projects as a stay-at-home defenseman and is unlikely to provide any significant offensive production. In 96 games over three seasons with the Blades, Nogier has just one goal and nine assists, but is lauded for his ability to keep opponents away from the front of the net with his considerable size and strong physical play.

In addition, Nogier provided leadership, being named an alternate captain for the 2013-14 season and taking on increased workload for a team that lost both Duncan Siemens (COL), Dalton Thrower (MTL), and Darren Dietz (MTL) off the blue line from the 2012-13 campaign.

Nogier will return to Saskatoon next year, where he will look to aid in an improvement in both his development and health as well as in the standings, where Saskatoon posted one of the WHL’s worst records in 2013-14.

Clinston Franklin, LW, Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)
5th round, 129th overall
Height: 5-10 Weight: 180

Already 20 years of age, C.J. Franklin has spent the last two seasons in Sioux Falls after graduating from Forest Lake High School in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota in 2012. Franklin’s selection was seemingly out of nowhere, as he was not rated on either the mid or post-season lists by Central Scouting.  

Another undersized forward, Franklin put together back-to-back seasons of decent offensive output in the USHL, posting 54 goals and 57 assists over the course of his Stampede career (115 games) coming out of a middling high school program.

Lauded for his extraordinary work ethic, the Jets took a flier on a late-blooming player whom they hope will keep impressing after he enrolls at Minnesota State in the fall, though his lack of dominating statistics at any previous level are notable.

Pavel Kraskovsky, C, Loko Yaroslavl (MHL)
6th round, 164th overall
Height: 6-4 Weight: 187

Kraskovsky marks only the Jets’ second European-based selection since moving from Atlanta, following the selection of Swedish defenseman Marcus Karlstrom in the seventh round in 2013.

Kraskovsky spent most of the 2013-14 season with Lokomotiv’s junior team, posting 10 goals and 17 assists in 39 games. He also appeared in eight games for the senior team, scoring one goal. Finally, he appeared in five games for team Russia at the U-18 Worlds, filing one assist.

Kraskovsky has excellent size and the tools to play as a power forward, in addition to playing a sound defensive game. One of the youngest players in the draft (he does not turn 18 until September 11th, just four days before the cutoff date for 2014 eligibility) and already with some experience against experienced players in the KHL, Kraskovsky represents a low-risk, high-reward option late in the draft. Certainly a long-term project, but one worth watching for a team that has had terrible luck with Russian prospects over the years.

Matt Ustaski, LW, Langley Rivermen (BCHL)
7th round, 192nd overall
Height: 6-5 Weight: 216

Another overage player who has already been passed over twice in the draft, Ustaski played in the lower-level BCHL for two seasons and did not necessarily stand out for his numbers, posting 40 goals and 36 assists in 109 games for the Rivermen. His numbers did double from 2012-13 to 2013-14 however, and many teams pegged him as an intriguing long shot.

Playing mostly center for Langley, Ustaski was dominant in the faceoff circle, winning over 80-percent of his draws and developing a power forward game.

Ustaski’s size jumps off the page, but he is still learning how to use it to his advantage. In addition his statistics at this point are difficult to project. As with Franklin, the Jets will get a truer measure of what they have in Ustaski next year, when he will join the University of Wisconsin squad. Until then, he is all brawn and intrigue and his upside appears limited.