Nikolaj Ehlers (Photo by Jeff Vinnick, NHLI via Getty Images).
The Winnipeg Jets farm system led our 2015 Future Watch Rankings and boasted six of the league’s top 75 prospects. Anything extra GM Kevin Cheveldayoff nabs at the draft is gravy. It also will provide him with trade bait should his team ascend to Cup contention next year.
Round 1, picks 17 and 25
Round 2, pick 47
Round 3, pick 78
Round 4, pick 108
Round 6, pick 168
Round 7, picks 198 and 203
Winnipeg has potential franchise players on the way, but there’s no guarantee those players are ready to be elite. The Jets are competitive now and could use immediate help, especially among their top six forwards. A true first-line center and/or sniper would do wonders.
The Jets are set for young blueliners and have some dynamic scoring forwards in the pipeline. They have outstanding goalie prospects, too. But the divide between the Western Conference’s haves and have-nots correlates with which teams have big, strong pivots and which don’t. Winnipeg needs a monster center. Mark Scheifele took a nice leap this year, but, as good as he is, he’s not physical enough to make defensemen shake in their boots.
All the Jets’ core players have at least a year left on their deals. Scheifele and blueliner Jacob Trouba have another season before restricted free agency. So there’s space for a significant splash, though it would make things messy a year from now when Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd hit free agency. Cheveldayoff must work hard to keep UFA Michael Frolik. Frolik has been a revelation in a checking role.
IN THE SYSTEM 2015-16:
Nikolaj Ehlers lit up the QMJHL in 2014-15. He’s sure to make the NHL and challenge for the Calder Trophy this fall. Puck-moving defenseman Josh Morrissey isn’t far off, but the Jets are deep enough at ‘D’ that they don’t have to rush him. They’re solid with a top four of Byfuglien, Trouba, Toby Enstrom and Tyler Myers.
DID YOU KNOW:
Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg’s top goaltending prospect, won the inaugural Mike Richter Award in 2014 as the top NCAA Div. I netminder, posting a 1.79 goals-against average and .941 save percentage.