The Jets’ inaugural rookie camp kicked off Saturday at the MTS Iceplex in front of hundreds of fans eager to get their first taste of Jets action. Overall the practice was a bit anticlimactic, as the coaches merely ran the rookies through a series of intricate drills, but Mark Scheifele still managed to impress with his great shot and puckhandling ability.
Then last night the Jets rookies took to the ice as a team, playing their first contest in the Penticton rookie tournament which includes prospects from Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, and San Jose. They posted a 4-0 win over San Jose’s rookies, with goals from Levko Koper, Mark Scheifele, and Jason Gregoire. While several players made a strong effort, it was Scheifele who stood head and shoulders above all the rest. He scored a shorthanded breakaway goal on a quick backhand deke and added an assist by threading a pass through a defender’s legs perfectly onto Jason Gregoire’s stick. While he didn’t hit the scoresheet, Ivan Telegin displayed lots of skill and poise when in control of the puck, especially on the powerplay where he’d set up along the right half-wall and draw in opposing penalty killers before distributing the puck to an open man. Carl Klingberg played with an edge, driving the puck to the net and taking opponents hard into the boards on a few occasions. He also got knocked around a few times, but didn’t shy away from the physically imposing Taylor Doherty, who stands 6’8 and weighs 230. Defenceman Zach Yuen was also impressive, showing good decision making and puck moving ability on the powerplay, though he’ll need to improve his foot speed to play in the NHL. Meanwhile Zach Redmond – a defenceman out of Ferris State University – is the most offensively gifted defenceman in rookie camp and showed great puck carrying ability. However, at 23 years old, he’s the oldest player in camp – five years senior to the aforementioned Zach Yuen. Because of that advantage, he’ll need to be dominant in order to convince Jets’ brass of his NHL potential. Goaltender Edward Pasquale was solid between the pipes, recording a 27-save shutout. However, he’ll face a much stiffer test if he starts again tonight, as the Edmonton rookies are surely the best in the tournament.
Wellwood will help us win – in the AHL
The best thing about the Kyle Wellwood signing isn’t what it does for the Jets, but how it affects the farm club. On his own merits, Wellwood is a sleek puckhandler who will be useful on the powerplay and on faceoffs. Apart from that, he’s small, slow, and not overly interested in the defensive aspects of the game. However, adding Wellwood pushes someone else down the roster and into the AHL, adding even more talent to a pretty good looking squad. At this stage, it’s more important for the organization to win at the AHL level, as this will help develop key prospects in a favourable environment and give them playoff experience which they may not be able to get in the NHL for another few years.
So just who will Wellwood push out of prime time? Looking at the NHL roster, the goaltending and defence are pretty much set (injuries notwithstanding). The top-two forward lines also look spoken for, leaving the competition in training camp for spots in the bottom-6. There are *10 forwards who have a spot locked up:
Andrew Ladd, Evander Kane, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler, Alex Burmistrov, Nik Antropov, Kyle Wellwood, Jim Slater, Chris Thorburn, and Tanner Glass.
(*Not including Eric Fehr, who is rehabing from shoulder surgery and out till November)
That leaves three spots. Previously, I thought it would be contested by five players – Maxwell, Cormier, McArdle, Stapleton, and Machacek, but that was before the training camp invitees were announced. The list includes former Avs goaltender David Aebischer, and forwards Troy Bodie, David Koci, and Janne Pesonen. A former NHL starter, Aebischer has spent the past three years in the Swiss-A league. He doesn’t stand much chance to crack the Jets roster unless there’s an injury, but he might show well enough to get signed by another NHL team looking for a veteran backup. The player with the best shot to crack the lineup is Troy Bodie, a North-South winger who has played 103 NHL games in the past two years with Anaheim and Carolina. He provides little or no offence at the NHL level, but he’s 6’4, 220 and a pretty good skater for a player of his stature. He’s a pretty good bet to play RW on the 4th line, or at least be the team’s 13th forward. Meanwhile Pesonen is a 29 year old Finnish player who had a shot with Pittsburgh in ’08-’09. That year, he dominated the AHL with 82 points in 70 games, but was held scoreless in 7 NHL contests. Koci is a heavyweight enforcer who played 35 games with Colorado last year. He has no NHL playing ability apart from the work he does with his fists.
In addition to Bodie, I think Ben Maxwell will also make the big club. He’s the most talented of the bubble players, and also a good skater. Meanwhile Stapleton is a very skilled AHL player, but he’s small and doesn’t serve much purpose playing on a 4th line in the NHL. However, he’d be quite valuable on the 1st line in the AHL. That leaves McArdle, Cormier, Machacek, and possibly Pesonen to battle for the last spot. At this point my money is on McArdle to make the cut because of his speed and rambunctious style of play, and based on the fact that he’s already played 4 years of pro hockey vs. Cormier (1 year) and Machacek (3 years). The latter two, – particularly Cormier – could use more time in the minors to hone their skills. Here’s a possible bottom-6 for the forwards: