The Future is Bright – Top-20 Jets Prospects

Danish sensation, Nik Ehlers

Nik Ehlers – The Jets’ 1st round pick in 2014

 

Craig Button – one of the more of the more reputable evaluators of young hockey talent – has said on numerous occasions that the Jets’ prospect pool is the best in the NHL. And bBetween the high-end skill, future #1 goaltenders, and depth at various position, I’m inclined to agree with him. So who are the most promising among them? And where might they fit in down the road? Here’s an update on the Jets crop of young talent.

High-end Talent

Ehlers, Morrissey, Petan

The Jets have a trio of highly skilled, highly intelligent, slightly undersized players – Nikolaj Ehlers, Josh Morrissey, and Nic Petan. Nik Ehlers is an incredibly dynamic winger, who looks poised to be the most exciting player to wear a Jets uniform since Teemu Selanne. He has electrifying speed, great puck control, a sniper’s release, and good playmaking skills too. He tore up the QMJHL this year, averaging 2 points per game, and is a coin flip to be named QMJHL MVP. (League-leading scorer Conor Garland being the other). Josh Morrissey is a great skater who combines smart, steady play with a high-end offensive game. In 2013-2014, he scored 28 and 73 points in just 58 games – lofty totals for a defenceman. While he had a less impressive season statistically in ’14-15, it’s understandable given that his team in Prince Albert was in a rebuilding year after losing #3 overall pick, Leon Draisaitl to the NHL. Morrissey suited up for Canada at the World Juniors in both 2014 and 2015, winning a gold medal this past year. There, he played a top-4 role, and impressed with his ability to create plays from the back-end, and finish plays in the offensive zone. Lastly, Nic Petan is an absolute scoring machine at centre ice. In the last three WHL seasons, he’s played 188 games and racked up 322 points – almost 1.75 points per game. He’s primarily a set-up guy, who controls the puck in the offensize zone until he can find a teammate set-up in the slot, or around the goal mouth. (This season, he played just 54 games and still had 74 assists.) Like Morrissey, he suited up for Team Canada at the World Juniors, winning gold. The main draw-back in Petan’s game is his size – at 5’9, it’ll be difficult for him to translate his game to the NHL, where 6’1 – 6’4 defencemen – many of whom skate as well as him – will be able to muscle him off the puck. That said, Petan’s hockey IQ is nearly off the charts, and if guys like David Desharnais, Johnny “Hockey” Gaudreau, and Nate Gerbe (only 5’5!) can do it, there’s certainly a chance that Petan can too.

Career Potential

Ehlers has the potential to be a star. It’s hard to see him not being a 1st line winger, and if he doesn’t quite reach his potential, it’s hard to imagine him being anything less than an effective 2nd line guy. Barring a career-threatening injury, my guess is he’ll be a consistent 20-30 goal scorer, and a 60-75 point producer. Morrissey will be an NHL defenceman, but whether he becomes a 16 minute, 3rd pairing guy or a 24-minute, 1st pairing guy remains to be seen. He’d be a nice complement to the size and “truculence” of Jacob Trouba, and he’ll definitely be a part of the powerplay, so odds are he’ll be a solid member of the Jets 2nd pairing one day. As for Petan, he has the biggest range – he might become Brian O’Neill – a small player who is the AHL’s leading scorer this year, but will probably never crack the NHL – or David Desharnais – a valuable 2nd line centre in Montreal.

Development Plan

Ehlers is too good for junior, but he may not be good enough for the NHL yet. Because he isn’t allowed to play in the AHL next year – players drafted out of the CHL must either make the NHL as a teenager, or remain in junior until they turn 20 – the Jets will have a tough choice to make. He’ll get a long look with the Jets at the start of the regular season, and could find a home on the third line with big Adam Lowry, whose size and smarts would be a nice complement to Ehlers’ speed and skill. Given the Jets new-found depth on D, Josh Morrissey will likely play in the AHL next year. Chances are he’ll play the bulk of his season there, though he would be one of the first call up’s if injuries strike. Meanwhile, Petan will turn pro next year and join Morrissey in the AHL. Despite his high skill level, I doubt he plays for the Jets at all in 2015-2016, given that Andrew Copp is more NHL ready at this point, and the Jets are already very young at centre as is. (Scheifele and Lowry will be just 22 at the end of 2015).

Goaltenders

Hellebuyck, Comrie, Phillips

The Jets have impressive depth in goal, led by Connor Hellebuyck, and backed up by Eric Comrie and Jamie Phillips. Connor Hellebuyck was a standout in college, putting up near-historic numbers, and earning the Mike Richer award in 2014 as NCAA goaltender of the year. In his pro debut with the AHL Ice Caps, he has continued to impress, putting up strong numbers on a mediocre Ice Caps squad. Furthermore, he’s put up good numbers while being an absolute workhorse – he leads ALL AHL goalies (not just rookies) in minutes, a great indicator that he may have NHL starter potential. At 6’4, he’s a big goalie who relies on strong positioning and displays great composure in the net. Eric Comrie is turning pro in 2015 after ending his WHL career as a 2nd Team All-Star. He also represented Canada at the World Junior Championships, playing in a few games, but ultimately backing up Zach Fucale en route to a gold medal. Lastly, Jamie Phillips has come out of nowhere this year for Michigan Tech, and by all accounts, has been one of the top goaltenders in the NCAA this year. He’s a finalist for the Mike Richter award – the same one awarded to Hellebuyck last season.

Career Potential

While there are no guarantees with any prospects, least of all goaltenders, Hellebuyck looks like an NHL starting goalie. He absolutely dominated the NCAA for two years, and is now the best rookie goaltender in the AHL – he will almost certainly be on the AHL all-rookie team. In sum, his resume since being drafted really couldn’t get any better. Just how good a prospect is he? About as good as any goaltender who hasn’t yet played an NHL game. (Not as good as John Gibson in Anaheim, or Andrei Vasilevskiy in Tampa Bay, whom many would still consider prospects). As for Eric Comrie, to be one of two Canadian goalies chosen for the World Junior team, chosen ahead of other standouts like Tristan Jarry and Philippe Desrosiers – both of whom were drafted ahead of him – shows that he is very well thought of by amateur scouts. That said, we really won’t have any indication of his NHL potential until he becomes a starter in the AHL. (There have been many NHL goalie prospects with good amateur careers who didn’t make the NHL, but AHL success translates well to an NHL career). Jamie Phillips is a similar story to Comrie – he’s been great this year, but his resume is pretty limited at this point. In fact, he’s less established than Comrie, as he was a back-up goaltender for the first two years of his NCAA career. It’s best to reserve judgment until he turns pro.

More than anything, remember that goalies are incredibly fickle – while former top-rated prospects like Pascal Leclaire and Al Montoya have had mediocre careers, Hall-of-Fame quality goalies like Dominik Hasek and Miikkaa Kiprusoff were late draft picks, were somewhat unremarkable early in their careers – playing 2nd or 3rd string roles well into their mid-20’s – and then became dominant much later on. For a more contemporary example, look no further than Ottawa’s Andrew Hammond.

Development Plan

Unless the Jets deal Ondrej Pavelec this off-season, Hellebuyck will spend one more season in the AHL. If he continues his strong play, you can expect him to be in the NHL in 2016-2017. Comrie will turn pro this fall and will likely back up Hellebuyck with “The Moose”; lastly, Phillips has the option of returning to the NCAA for one more season, or playing in the ECHL, (or beating out Comrie for the AHL back-up job). Phillips’ team is currently playing in the NCAA’s end-of-year tournament between the top-16 teams in the nation, so we probably won’t get an indication of what his plans are until his team is eliminated.

NHL Regulars

Lemieux, Copp

While they’re not likely to post big numbers, Brendan Lemieux and Andrew Copp are very likely to play in the NHL. Lemieux is the son of former NHL’er Claude Lemieux – once the most hated player in the NHL. (Especially in Detroit, and extra especially by the Draper family). Acquired in the Myers-Kane deal this February, he plays in Barrie of the OHL where he does more or less what his dad did – score goals (41 this season), and annoy people. His game can be summed up simply by three words – big, gritty, finisher. Meanwhile, Andrew Copp is coming from the University of Michigan, where he was team captain in his junior (3rd) season. He has an interesting background, as he was previously a standout quarterback in high school who didn’t focus on hockey full-time until freshman year of university. In fact, during the time where he split his time between hockey and football, he was a part-time member of the US Development Program team, simply because he happens to be from Ann Arbor Michigan – the place where the team is based. However, he actually managed to make the US World Under-18 team, becoming the first player to ever play in that tournament without being a full-time member of the US Development team. He then played for the US at the World Juniors in 2014, where he was an assistant captain, and had a successful college season in ’14-15, being named to the Big-Ten’s second all-star team.

Career Potential

While Lemieux doesn’t possess the flat out skill other Jets prospects like Ehlers and Petan, he certainly has a nose for the net. He has the potential to be a 2nd line finisher, and score in the 20 goal range. Even if he isn’t able to score quite as consistently in the NHL, he still has enough size and intensity to play on the 3rd line. As for Copp, his ceiling isn’t entirely clear. The fact that he only committed to hockey full-time a few years ago makes you wonder if there’s some untapped potential there. Regardless of whether that’s true or not, he has enough size, speed, and overall athletic ability to play make the NHL in a bottom-6 role.

Development Plan

Lemieux has another year of junior eligibility, which he is very likely to use. Meanwhile, Copp has a couple of different roads – he might prove useful to the Jets next year, and make the team out of camp, or he might spend a year developing in the AHL. My guess is he starts the year in the minors, but is the first forward to be called up due to injury.

Other Prospects

Jan Kostalek – A Czech defenceman playing in the QMJHL, he plays big minutes for Rimouski and was the best Czech defenceman in the 2015 World Juniors. Although he doesn’t dominate physically or offensively, he plays a steady game, full of poise and intelligence. He could be a 3rd pairing NHL defenceman, but he’ll probably spend two or three years in the AHL first. He signed recently with the Jets, and turns pro this fall.

Joel Armia – Acquired from Buffalo in the Myers deal, Armia is a big Finnish forward who has a tantalizing blend of size and skill. He has great hands, and is both a playmaker and a finisher; at 6’3, everything about him screams top-6 forward. He almost looks like a poor man’s Thomas Vanek on the ice. Unfortunately, like Vanek, he displays a frustrating like of intensity and desire, and has struggled with “consistency”. Even his new Ice Caps coach, Keith McCambridge tactfully pointed out that Armia really needs to “work on his consistency”. Some days, he’s the best player on the ice, while others, he’s invisible. As a first-round pick in his second AHL season, it’s nearly time for Armia to sink or swim. If he doesn’t establish himself in the NHL at some point next season, chances are that he’ll have a short stay in the Jets’ organization.

Jimmy Lodge – An American forward who plays in the OHL, many scouts spoke highly of him prior to draft day, 2013, when he went in the third round. Because of injuries in ’13-14, and a lackluster team in ‘14-15, his stats won’t blow you away, but there’s a chance that he could produce offence at the next level if he improves his speed and bulks up a bit. He recently inked an entry-level deal with the Jets and will turn pro in the fall.

Scott Kosmachuk – A big scorer in the OHL, this right-winger is in the midst of his AHL rookie season. With 13 goals and 25 points through 3/4 of the season, the results don’t seem indicative of a player who will provide offence at the next level. That said, the Ice Caps as a group have struggled offensively, so this season might not be a fair representation of his abilities. However, if his offensive game doesn’t flourish next season, there’s reason for concern, as he’s just 6’, 190, and a fairly average skater, so it may be top-6 or bust for Kosmachuk.

Chase de Leo – A hair bigger than his Portland Winterhawks teammate Nic Petan, this versatile forward is an excellent junior player. He plays with speed, skill, and tenacity, and happens to be best friends with fellow Jets prospect Eric Comrie. Unfortunately for him, his lack of size is a big issue, so it’ll be an uphill climb for him to earn a regular spot in the NHL. He will probably turn pro this fall, though he has yet to sign an NHL contract.

Pavel Kraskovsky – A 6’4, Russian forward who has played a few games in the KHL, but thus far has played mainly in the Russian junior league. Reports are he skates well for his size, but like many young players, he needs to fill out his frame. He suited up for Russia’s “Super Series” team last fall – a lead up to the World Juniors – and had a few impressive performances against the CHL teams. While he didn’t make Russia’s WJC squad in 2015 as an 18-year-old, he’ll have another crack at it in 2016. At this point, it’s hard to get a read on his potential until he’s a bit older, and has a longer stretch of play at a higher level.

C.J Franklin – A 1994-born forward who just started his college career after playing a few extra years in the USHL. Though he’s on the short-side at 5’11, he’s very solid on his skates, and a guy who plays with great intensity. With 27 points in 36 games, he’s having a strong rookie season, though at 7th in team scoring, it’s hard to say how much of his offensive output is a direct result of his high-scoring teammates. Though not many players pass through the NHL draft twice and become regular NHL’ers, Franklin seems to bring a lot of the intangibles that might win him a depth role in the NHL some day. He’ll likely play at least one more season in college before turning pro.

Jack Glover – A lanky defenceman who played with the US Development Team prior to his draft year in 2014, he’s just finishing off his freshman season at the University of Minnesota. Billed on draft day as a smart, reliable defenceman who skates well, he had a somewhat disappointing college debut, scoring just 3 points in an injury-shortened season. At just 18 years of age, it’s tough to evaluate his future at this point, but he’ll have several more years to develop in the NCAA, and hopefully take on a bigger role offensively. Expect him to play at least two more years in college before moving on to the AHL.

Tucker Poolman – A US-born defenceman who just started his college hockey career in a strong developmental program at the University of North Dakota. (Recent products include Toews, Stafford, Oshie, Zajac, B. Nelson, etc.) Born in 1993, he’s an old rookie by college standards, as most college-bound NHL prospects tend to start their NCAA tenure at 18 or 19. Regardless, Poolman is known for his size (6’3) and shot, as he lead all UND defencemen in goals this season with 8. Like Franklin, he passed through the draft twice, so it’s hard to have high expectations, but there’s always a chance that he’s a late bloomer. Expect him to play at least another year in college before making the jump to pro hockey.

Axel Blomqvist – A big Swedish forward, he went undrafted in 2013 and was signed by the Jets later that summer. He plays in the WHL, where he has scored roughly a point-per-game over the past two seasons. He has decent skill, but is an awkward skater who gets criticized for not making full use of his tremendous size – he’s 6’6. The Jets are hoping that he’s a late bloomer, as is often the case with oversized players, but it’s easy to be skeptical, as one would assume that a 19-year-old man child would be more dominant playing against WHL players, many who are as young as 16 years old.

Nelson Nogier – Do you think Chevy and his team value off-ice intelligence? I’m guessing they do, as Nogier is the third Jets draftee since 2010 to win an academic honour, following in the footsteps of Adam Lowry – WHL Academic Player of the Year in 2010 – and Josh Morrissey – the WHL and CHL Academic Player of the Year in 2013. (Interestingly, Chevy himself won the WHL honour back in 1988). Hopefully the off-ice intelligence translates to the playing surface, as Nogier has a huge skill deficit which otherwise limits his prospects of playing in the NHL. Perhaps he’ll become a decent third-pairing, defensive defenceman, but if you look at junior/college stats, you’ll find that even most hard-nosed, stay-at-home defencemen – like Willie Mitchell and Mark Stuart – put up decent offensive numbers in their amateur hockey careers.

John Albert – At 25, he’s by far the oldest player on the list, and wouldn’t even be considered a prospect by some. Nonetheless, Albert has become a very well rounded professional – a 2nd line AHL centre who will soon become a team captain, and can be used in absolutely any situation. Unfortunately, he’s probably also the type of player who will spend most of his career in the AHL. There’s a chance that he could make an NHL club as a 4th liner, as he skates well, kills penalties, and plays with great intensity – he played 9 games with the Jets last season, and scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game, against the New York Rangers. However, he doesn’t have enough skill to play in the top-9, and doesn’t have the size that most teams are looking for in a 4th liner. He makes for very nice organizational depth, but time is probably running out on his NHL career.

Brenden Kichton – A dominant offensive defenceman in junior hockey, Kichton had a fantastic start to his pro career with the Ice Caps in 2013-2014, scoring 48 points and being named to play in the AHL All-Star game in his rookie season. Unfortunately, Kichton hasn’t been able to replicate that success this year, partially because the Ice Caps are a far weaker squad. Furthermore, regardless of his offensive output, the bigger issue with Kichton’s game is a lack of size, compounded by average skating ability. Normally this combination is nearly impossible to overcome, though there have been former star NHL defencemen like Brian Rafalski and Larry Murphy who could have been characterized in the same way. (They made up for their physical shortcomings with elite vision, skill, and overall smarts). The odds are certainly against a player like Kichton – he may get a call-up one day, but it’s unlikely that he’ll ever be an NHL regular.

 

2014-2015 STATS

Rk Player Pos SH YOB Ht Wt League Team GP G A P PIM +/-
1 Nikolaj Ehlers F L 1996 5’11 170 QMJHL Halifax 51 37 64 101 67 26
2 Josh Morrissey LD L 1995 5’11 185 WHL Prince Albert/ Kelowna 47 13 25 38 62 1
3 Connor Hellebuyck G 1993 6’4 200 AHL St. John’s
4 Nic Petan C L 1995 5’9 170 WHL Portland 54 15 74 89 41 41
5 Brendan Lemieux F L 1996 6’1 210 OHL Barrie 57 41 19 60 145 -9
6 Andrew Copp C L 1994 6’1 200 College U Michigan 36 14 17 31 29 6
7 Eric Comrie G 1995 6’1 180 WHL Tri-City
8 Jan Kostalek RD R 1995 6’1 185 QMJHL Rimouski 57 7 36 43 35 55
9 Jamie Phillips G 1993 6’3 175 College Michigan Tech
10 Jimmy Lodge F R 1995 6’1 175 OHL Saginaw / Mississauga 58 28 35 63 53 1
11 Scott Kosmachuk F R 1994 6’ 190 AHL Ice Caps 62 13 12 15 60 -17
12 Chase de Leo F L 1995 5’10 180 WHL Portland 67 39 45 84 30 22
13 Pavel Kraskovsky F L 1996 6’4 190 MHL Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 38 11 19 30 56 22
14 C.J Franklin F L 1994 5’11 190 NCAA Minnesota State 36 8 19 27 21 19
15 Lukas Glover D R 1996 6’3 190 NCAA U. of Minnesota 21 0 3 3 6 1
16 Tucker Poolman D R 1993 6’3 200 NCAA U. North Dakota 39 8 9 17 14 4
17 Axel Blomqvist F L 1995 6’6 210 WHL Victoria / Moose Jaw 61 25 34 59 26 3
18 Nelson Nogier D R 1996 6’3 200 WHL Saskatoon / Red Deer 70 3 16 19 84 -28
19 John Albert C L 1989 5’11 190 AHL Ice Caps 64 16 26 42 26 3
* Joel Armia RW R 1993 6’3 190 AHL Ice Caps 48 10 19 29 51 -1

*If this table were re-arranged, Armia would rank just above Lodge at #10

Goalies League Team GP W L OT SO GAA Save %
Connor Hellebuyck AHL St. John’s 55 28 20 5 6 2.51 0.923
Eric Comrie WHL Tri-City 40 20 19 1 1 2.87 0.914
Jamie Phillips College Michigan Tech 40 28 8 2 6 1.71 0.935