The Winnipeg Jets have put together one of the most impressive prospect groups in hockey, with tremendous talents all over the hockey world. Young NHL players like Nik Ehlers, Joel Armia and Marko Dano – brought over in the Andrew Ladd deal – are nearly established as difference-makers.
Although the AHL squad, the Manitoba Moose, has not had the veterans for a competitive season, there is plenty of hope in the forms of young guys like Connor Hellebuyck, Nic Petan, and Josh Morrissey. The CHL has upside and pro potential in players like Brendan Lemieux, Jansen Harkins, and Michael Spacek – whose Red Deer Rebels will compete for the Memorial Cup. This would be enough for most organizations, but some of the Jets’ best young talent can be found playing college hockey in the United States, with a couple more promising players in the European pros.
Kyle Connor, C, University of Michigan (Big Ten)
Drafted 1st round, 17th overall, 2015
Kyle Connor is enjoying a spectacular freshman year at the University of Michigan. The 19-year-old began the year strong and has never looked back, separating himself as the current favorite for the Hobey Baker Award, as the NCAA’s Most Outstanding Player.
Connor has created a gap between himself and the second highest scorer in the NCAA, with 61 points in just 34 games, nine more than anyone else, while his 30 goals also led the country. Connor completed the season on a 23-game point streak, not to mention tallying just six penalty minutes all year.
Unfortunately, back in December, Connor was a glaring omission from Team USA’s World Junior Championship camp. While the United States still had a successful tournament, Connor’s exemplary offensive abilities may have been able to turn that bronze into gold.
It looks very likely that Connor will turn pro for the 2016-17 season and join either the Winnipeg Jets or their AHL affiliate, Manitoba Moose.
Jack Roslovic, C, Miami University (NCHC)
Drafted 1st round, 25th overall, 2015
Jack Roslovic is another prospect who was having a promising freshman year in the NCAA, representing Miami University before they were eliminated from post-season contention. In the NCHC, the RedHawks finished in the middle of the pack, led by Roslovic, who tied for the team lead in points with Chicago prospect Anthony Louis with 26.
Much like Kyle Connor, Roslovic was a glaring omission from Team USA at the WJC’s. The 19-year-old was having a much better season in comparison to some of the other invitees, but was left off of the evaluation camp roster.
Roslovic will likely spend another year or two at university before he turns pro, working on developing his offensive game, as well as becoming a more efficient 200-foot center.
Jamie Phillips, G, Michigan Tech University (WCHA)
Drafted 7th round, 190th overall, 2012
As a senior at Michigan Tech, Phillips has put together a second consecutive tremendous season. After posting an incredible 1.74 goals against average and a .933 save percentage in 2014-15, Phillips has followed it up with a 2.00 GAA and .921 % heading into the next round of the WCHA Tournament.
Playing in 35 of 36 games, Phillips has played the fifth most minutes among all NCAA goaltenders, a huge reason for Michigan Tech’s top seeding. As a senior, Phillips should turn pro after this season, though likely slotting into the ECHL for 2016-17.
Mason Appleton, C, Michigan State University (Big Ten)
Drafted 6th round, 168th overall, 2015
Mason Appleton is enjoying his freshman year at Michigan State as a 20-year-old. For a lackluster offensive squad, Appleton has been able to adjust well to the NCAA, scoring five goals and 22 points, good for third in team scoring heading into the first round of the Big Ten Tournament against Ohio State.
Appleton will continue to improve his 200-foot game at Michigan State next year, becoming a more reliable center in all situations. The 2015 sixth-rounder will likely spend another two or three years in the NCAA before possibly turning pro, but his freshman season has provided some added optimism.
C.J. Franklin, LW, Minnesota State University Mankato (WCHA)
Drafted 5th round, 129th overall, 2014
C.J. Franklin is in his sophomore season at MSU Mankato. After an impressive rookie season which saw him score 28 points in 37 games in an inferior role, Franklin has been unable to take that all important next step in his development. Through 39 games this year, he has scored 14 goals and 24 points, good for third on the team in scoring.
The 5’11 winger has become stronger and more mature in 2015-16, winning more puck battles along the boards and being much more responsible in the defensive end. In all likelihood, he will complete four years of university before joining the Jets organization.
Erik Foley, LW, Providence College (Hockey East)
Drafted 3rd round, 78th overall, 2015
Erik Foley committed to Providence College and is playing in his freshman season this year for the powerhouse Friars. On an incredibly talented team, Foley often gets lost in the shadows as an 18-year-old. However, he has managed to make great use of the ice time he receives, tallying seven goals and 19 points.
Foley is a skilled winger who can impress offensively when given the opportunity. With increased responsibility, Foley should make considerable improvements in the 2016-17 season, hopefully seeing a solid bump in his scoring totals. He has at least two more years ahead of him with Providence before turning pro.
Jack Glover, D, University of Minnesota (Big Ten)
Drafted 3rd round, 69th overall, 2014
Jack Glover is in his sophomore season for the Big Ten-leading University of Minnesota. He has made great strides of improvement this year, namely showing the Jets brass that he does have some offensive abilities in him. He has jumped from three points last year, to ten in 2015-16.
Aside from the numbers, the 6’3 defenseman has been visibly better in the defensive aspect of his game as well. He has learned to make the simple play when defending and uses his stick well to break up developing plays. He is also much more reliable when transitioning the play through the neutral zone. He will spend at least one more year in the NCAA before thinking about turning pro.
Tanner Lane, C, University of Nebraska-Omaha (NCHC)
Drafted 6th round, 160th overall, 2010
Tanner Lane seems to have taken a major regression in the 2015-16 season, his senior year at Nebraska-Omaha. After making very little steps toward improvement over the past two years, the ship now seems to be sinking.
Lane will be 24 in August, and with two assists over only 22 games this year, a spot in the Jets organization looks very unlikely at this point. It is hard to see Lane being a part of Winnipeg’s future plans.
Matt Ustaski, LW, University of Wisconsin (Big Ten)
Drafted 7th round, 192nd overall, 2014
Matt Ustaski has had what you may refer to as a ‘sophomore slump’ this year with the Wisconsin Badgers. The 6’6, 220 pound winger has struggled to find consistency, scoring just two goals over 24 games after a four-goal, eight-point effort as a freshman.
The 21-year-old has two more years to turn things around, but it doesn’t look promising right now. Although his size certainly adds some intrigue towards a possible grinding role, his skill level is simply not up to snuff, and only seems to be declining.
Tucker Poolman, D, University of North Dakota (NCHC)
Drafted 5th round, 127th overall, 2013
Tucker Poolman had a solid freshman year at North Dakota, and has only continued to improve in his sophomore season in 2015-16. The 6’2, 198-pound Minnesota native is considered an offensive defenseman, but has made strides toward a more well-rounded game.
Poolman has tallied four goals and 22 points in 34 games, the second most among UND defenders. He has also begun to play a calmer game in his own end, no longer forcing plays to create offense. As a 22-year-old, he will likely spend 2016-17 in Grand Forks as well, with the goal of turning pro after the season.
Pavel Kraskovsky, C, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (KHL)
Drafted 6th round, 164th overall, 2014
Pavel Kraskovsky cracked the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl lineup this season as a 19-year-old and had a decent rookie campaign. Over 40 games, he tallied two goals and five points, while slowing adjusting to the physicality of the league. At 6’4, he has the size to keep up, but needs to add considerable lower-body strength before he will make a significant impact.
A positive note for the year was his inclusion on Team Russia at the World Juniors, where was an assistant captain for the silver medal-winning team. He scored two goals and four points in the tournament, showing great ability as a responsible two-way center.
Sami Niku, D, JYP (Liiga)
Drafted 7th round, 198th overall, 2015
Sami Niku made the jump to the top Finnish league this year, and proved that he could not only keep up, but even excel at times. Over 38 games, Niku added four goals and 11 points, while gaining confidence as the year went on before sustaining an upper-body injury. At just 6’0, 179 pounds, Niku will need to beef up before considering a move to the AHL or NHL.
Niku also had the honor of representing Finland at the World Junior Championships, becoming a key component of the Finns’ run to gold on home soil. Niku quickly became one of the Finnish squad’s most reliable defensemen, playing in important situations against the opposition’s top lines.
Prospect of the Month
It would be difficult not to pick Kyle Connor as the Jets’ Prospect as the Month each month this season, with the 17th overall pick in 2015 leading all offensive categories in the NCAA, as a freshman no less.
The past month has been no different for Connor, who added 10 goals and 17 points over his last nine games, pushing his point streak to an incredible 23 games. The Michigan Wolverines have gone 6-1-2 over the past month. Though they did not clinch a regular-season Big Ten title, the team should be able to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Teams with one dominant line often fall short against the pressure of the one-game elimination tournament, but often a player with the extraordinary ability of a Kyle Connor (see Johnny Gaudreau and Jack Eichel in recent seasons) can rise to the occasion.