Some Jets fans are too sore over another missed post-season to even think about the team for the next few months. For the diehards already looking forward to next season, however, let’s talk draft. Kevin Cheveldayoff and company did very well at the podium in 2013. Who should they target in the first round this June to trigger an encore performance?
To me, it needs to be a forward. The Jets did well grabbing blue-chip blue-liners Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey in the 2012 and 2013 first rounds, and they nabbed a quality goaltending prospect in Eric Comrie last year, too. The Jets’ top nine forward core could use a facelift, however. Evander Kane’s future is in doubt and Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little have all arguably hit their ceilings. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg’s 2011 first-rounder, has plenty of promise, but could use some help as the Jets build around him.
Based on their No. 9 draft slot, the elite forwards of the draft class — Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett, Michael Dal Colle and Leon Draisatl — won’t be available. But let’s look at a few promising youngsters who might be.
Willie Nylander, Sodertalje (Sweden). Not surprisingly, Michael Nylander’s son is a chip off the old block. Willie projects as a similar player, blessed with nifty hands and natural playmaking ability. This is exactly the type of forward who could boost the Jets’ ailing power play. Unfortunately, he’s a long shot to be there at No. 9.
Jake Virtanen, Calgary (WHL). He’s big, strong on the puck, he shoots well and he has an edge to his game. Think Jamie Benn. I’d argue the Jets need a centre more, but Virtanen would make sense if, say, Winnipeg decides to trade Kane.
Kasperi Kapanen, KalPa (Finland). Here’s another son of a recent NHLer whose skills mimic his daddy’s. Like Sami, Kasperi Kapanen relies on major wheels and a quick release. He’d make the Jets’ attack more dynamic and unpredictable.
Nick Ritchie, Peterborough (OHL). A real man-child, already tipping the scales and 230-pounds plus. Imagine a line with him and Dustin Byfuglien bludgeoning opponents from each wing. Defencemen would be shaking in their boots. Ritchie could easily be gone before the ninth slot, though.
Jared McCann, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL). He’s a heady, two-way centre who could give the Jets another version of Scheifele.
Other players who should interest the Jets are Brendan Perlini, Alex Tuch and Nikolaj Ehlers. If I’m Cheveldayoff, I’m looking hard for speed and shiftiness, anything that can cure the stale power play.