It’s probably safe to say that the Winnipeg Jets 2011 training camp has been the most well-attended NHL camp of all-time. The air of excitement is palpable, as waves of fans that descended upon the MTS Iceplex beginning at 7:30 am for an event which didn’t begin until 9. And while Jets fans have eaten up every opportunity to see the Prodigal team in action, the reality is that an early training camp environment – which primarily features varieties of skate-pass-(and)shoot drills – is not only a dull affair, but provides limited opportunities to evaluate a players. A few players are notable in certain areas through particularly good or bad play, but 80% go relatively unnoticed. That said, here at the players that did stick out on day 1 of training camp: Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Apart from teen forwards Scheifele and Telegin, every player on this list could potentially spend some time with the Jets this season
NOTES: Some players split time between the AHL and NHL (Cormier, Maxwell, McArdle, etc), stats are given for the league in which they played the majority of their games
Key players are bolded
|Andrew Ladd||16||6′ 3||205||12-Dec-85||25||Maple Ridge, BC||Atl||NHL||81||29||30||59||39||-10|
|Bryan Little||10||5′ 11||185||12-Nov-87||23||Edmonton, AB||Atl||NHL||76||18||30||48||33||11|
|Blake Wheeler||26||6′ 5||205||31-Aug-86||25||Robbinsdale, MN||Bos-Atl||NHL||81||18||26||44||46||10|
|Evander Kane||9||6′ 2||195||02-Aug-91||20||Vancouver, BC||Atl||NHL||73||19||24||43||68||-12|
|Nik Antropov||80||6′ 6||245||18-Feb-80||31||Ust-Kamenogorsk, KAZ||Atl||NHL||76||16||25||41||42||-17|
|Alex Burmistrov||8||6′ 1||180||21-Oct-91||19||Kazan, RUS||Atl||NHL||74||6||14||20||27||-12|
|Eric Fehr||6′ 4||212||07-Sep-85||26||Winkler, MB||Was||NHL||52||10||10||20||16||0|
|Chris Thorburn||27||6′ 3||230||03-Jun-83||28||Sault Ste. Marie, ON||Atl||NHL||82||9||10||19||77||-4|
|Jim Slater||23||6′ 0||200||09-Dec-82||28||Lapeer, MI, USA||Atl||NHL||36||5||7||12||19||4|
|Tanner Glass||6′ 1||210||29-Nov-83||27||Regina, SK||Van||NHL||73||3||7||10||72||-5|
|Tim Stapleton||14||5′ 9||180||19-Jul-82||29||Forest Park, IL||Atl||NHL||45||5||2||7||12||-10|
|Patrice Cormier||45||6′ 2||215||14-Jun-90||21||Moncton, NB||Atl||NHL||21||1||1||2||4||-5|
|Rick Rypien||5′ 11||190||16-May-84||27||Coleman, AB||Van||NHL||11||0||2||2||9||-4|
|Spencer Machacek||46||6′||195||14-Oct-88||23||Lethbridge, AB||Chi||AHL||67||21||32||53||45||18|
|Ben Maxwell||49||6′ 1||195||30-Mar-88||23||North Vancouver, BC||Ham||AHL||47||11||29||40||32||-2|
|Aaron Gagnon||5′ 11||186||24-Apr-86||25||Quesnel, BC||Tex||AHL||58||14||23||37||24||-9|
|Kenndal McArdle||5’11||190||4-Jan-87||24||Toronto, ON||Roc||AHL||54||14||12||26||106||-5|
|Jason Gregoire||5’11||195||24-Feb-89||22||Winnipeg, MB||UND||WCHA||35||25||18||43||8|
|Carl Klingberg||6′ 3||205||28-Jan-91||20||Gothenburg, SWE||Fro||SEL||49||5||3||8||14||-6|
|Mark Scheifele||6’3||175||15-Mar-93||18||Kitchenener, ON||Bar||OHL||66||22||53||75||35||-22|
|Ivan Telegin||6′ 2||195||28-Feb-92||19||Novokuznetsk, RUS||Sag||OHL||59||20||41||61||35||14|
Why losing today will help the Jets win tomorrow
Many people are asking why the Jets have been so inactive in the free agent market. Is it that no one wants to play in Winnipeg? Are they simply too cheap? Perhaps there’s another explanation. Take a peak at the organizational chart below:
|JETS ORGANIZATIONAL DEPTH CHART|
Promising youngsters with Kane, Burmistrov, Little, Bogosian, Pavelec, and a few just entering their prime – Byfuglien, Enstrom, Ladd, Wheeler. Definitely not a playoff roster.
UPDATE: The Jets acquired RW Eric Fehr shortly after this article was written, filling the “3rd line RW” spot I had held open for an established NHLer. Fehr – a product of Winkler, Mb – is a very talented winger who has been hampered by injuries throughout his career thus far. (Back and shoulder problems.)
Solid defensive depth, but the only d-men that are likely to have significant NHL careers are Postma and Kulda. Klingberg is a big, fast, skilled winger, but the jury is out on whether he has top-6 potential. Maxwell and Mahacek are nearly NHL ready, but neither looks like they’ll ever play in the top-6. The rest will probably never play a full season in the NHL.
UPDATE: Since the writing of this article, the Jets have acquired Kenndal McArdle – a quick, hard-working forward who has some potential to play in the NHL as a 3rd or 4th liner – and signed Jason Gregoire, a player with top-6 potential. Gregoire is a goal scorer, and about as good a prospect as Klingberg. He is also two years older than Klingberg, and closer to being NHL-ready.
The most problematic segment of all. The only prospect that has any chance of being an impact player is 1st rounder Mark Scheifele. The next best prospect is Russian centre Ivan Telegin, but it’s very difficult to project what (if anything) he might become at the NHL level. The rest are bottom-6 forwards and 3rd pairing D at best.
With a non-playoff roster in the NHL, very few quality prospects in the AHL, and only one high-end junior prospect, Jets management knows exactly what this team needs: high draft picks. That doesn’t mean that the team can’t be competitive in the here and now, but ‘competitive’ would be best defined as playing in tight games rather than piling up wins.
I think I see the strategy. A solid goaltending tandem combined with a good crop of defencemen should keep the games close, providing fans a team that’s good enough to stomach. If the goal was to make the playoffs now, they would have added 3 forwards capable of playing in the top-9; that is the obvious and pressing need. The fact that they haven’t added any quality forwards (Glass is a 4th liner; Rypien is a fringe NHLer) leads me to believe that they’ll try out the Cormier’s, Maxwell’s and Mahacek’s up front and accept a lottery pick this time next summer.
I’m 100% in support of this strategy. Why add some complementary pieces on one or two year contracts just so you can barely sneak into the playoffs? I think it’s crucial that a team finish either in the top 5 or bottom 5 overall. At the beginning of each year, you can usually name about 5 teams that are truly ready to compete for the Stanley Cup. Meanwhile, only the bottom 5 teams (often fewer) have a shot at a truly magnificent prospect at the draft. Certainly there’s more room at the top – a team can move from 7th to 1st within a few years with responsible drafting and development. But to go from the middle of the pack to serious contention is extremely difficult.
How come? Well, to win a Stanley Cup, obviously you need to have several excellent players. There are only three ways to acquire players: through draft, trade, or signing. Generally to get a great player in a trade, you need to give up a great (or potentially great) player. There are examples that disprove this, but they are the exception rather than the rule. There are very few top-line forwards, top-pairing defencemen, or elite goalies available in free agency, as teams make resigning these types of players a top priority. For instance, of the douzens of free agents signed this off-season, only one – Brad Richards – is unquestionably an impact player. Furthermore, free agency isn’t a level playing field. For years, even average free agents have been avoiding places like Edmonton, Columbus, Atlanta, Minnesota, Florida, and (until recently) Buffalo in favour of more desirable teams/cities like New York, Toronto, Boston, Vancouver, Chicago, etc. For a team like the Jets, free agency is not a viable means of acquiring top talent.
That leaves the draft. The draft is the best – some say the only way – to build a team. When you look at great teams, generally their core (best) players were drafted and developed by the organization:
Pittsburgh – Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Staal, Letang, Orpik
Detroit – Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen, Holmstrom, Lidstrom, Kronwall
Chicago – Toews, Kane, Bolland, Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson (though not Sharp)
Washington – Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin, Laich, Green, Carlson, Alzner
Vancouver – Sedin, Sedin, Kesler, *Burrows, Raymond, Edler, Bieksa
Buffalo – Miller, Myers, Vanek, Roy, Ennis, Stafford, Pominville
*Burrows was signed and developed by Vancouver alone – basically akin to drafting
There are small exceptions. The two best players Boston Bruins from this past year are Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas, both of whom were signed through free agency. However, Thomas was not an elite goalie when he was signed. In fact, no one (probably including the Bruins) expected him to be anything more than a good backup, otherwise there would have been intense competition for his services. Also, four of their five most important forwards were drafted – Krejci, Bergeron, Marchand, Lucic. (Horton came over in a trade). San Jose is another. Their best player – Joe Thornton – was acquired from the Bruins in one of the most lopsided deals of the decade. They also acquired their top defenceman (Boyle), a top sniper (Heatley, who has since become Havlat), and a top D (Burns) through trade, and their goalie (Niemi) through free agency. However, it is worth mentioning that in order to make those trades, they needed to give up once high draft picks, including Marco Sturm (21st overall, 1996), Brad Stuart (3rd overall in 1998), Milan Michalek (6th overall, 2003), Devin Setoguchi (8th overall, 2005), Ty Wishart (16th overall, 2006), and Charlie Coyle (28th overall, 2010). So although these deals break the mould, good drafting still played a large role. (LA is a similar story – a team who drafted a few core pieces in Doughty, Kopitar, Brown, etc, but used other important draft prospects to acquire talent, i.e Schenn and Simmonds for Mike Richards).
First round talents are essential. Everyone knows that Detroit pulled Datsyuk and Zetterberg from the depths of obscurity, but this is rare. Of the top-30 point producers in the NHL last year, 5 of them were 1st overall picks, 4 went 2nd overall, 3 went 3rd overall, and another 11 were first round picks. Far more dumbfounding is the following stat: of the top-20 goal scorers in the NHL last year, ONLY ONE (Patrick Sharp) was not drafted in the first round. (The previous year, only 2 of the top 19 were drafted past the first round.). Goal scoring doesn’t tell the whole story, but with second assists filling scoresheets on an all-too-regular basis, goal totals are probably the single best statistical expression of talent. And acquiring talent on draft day operates like money in a pyramid scheme – most of it goes to the top.
As the summer goes on, I’ll be looking at other draft related topics. One thing I’m particularly interested in is a nature-nurture style debate – are good hockey players drafted, or developed? It’s a chicken-and-egg thing, but you can learn a bit if you look at opposite sides of the spectrum: failed 1st round picks, and glorious late round gems. Is there anything common to the groups? Absolutely. For now I’ll say this: the top four scorers drafted furthest from the first round were developed by just two teams.