Nikolaj Ehlers (F) – 1st round, 9th overall
After Jacob Trouba, this could be the best draft pick the Jets have ever made. He’s instantly the most skilled player in the entire organization, and draws comparisons to Patrick Kane based on his build, skating, and offensive arsenal. Like Kane, he’s normal in height – nearly 6′ – but very slim at just over 160 lbs; his skating is quick and elusive, and like Kane, he’s just as good a finisher as he is a play-maker. Given more height and weight, he might have been in the running for the first overall pick. But instead the Jets were able to nab him at 9, and add a potential 1st line winger who will beautifully complement Mark Scheifele down the road. No one should expect Ehlers to play in the NHL this year or next – he needs a few years to fill out – but here’s hoping that he gets a taste of the AHL playoffs at the end of his junior season, just like Josh Morrissey did this past year.
Jack Glover (D) – 3rd round, 69th overall
Though he isn’t a guy with big upside, Glover is described as a reliable, two-way defenceman. TSN had him ranked at 45, and most of the other scouting services had him in the top-50, so he’s certainly well regarded. At 6’3, he has NHL size, and he also comes from a good development program – the US National U-18 team. This is where most top US players play before they hit College – recent alumni include Patrick Kane, Ryan Suter, Phil Kessel, and Seth Jones. (Though Jones and Kane later played in the CHL instead of going to College…)
Chase de Leo (C) – 4th round, 99th overall
Quick, skilled, and overlooked because of his size, the Jets did wonderfully to get a skilled player this far down the draft. Craig Button had him ranked at 55 so it’s fair to say that he has some potential. Some are even calling him this year’s Nic Petan – which is interesting because he actually plays junior hockey with Nic Petan. He’s also good buddies with Brendan Leipsic, a Nashville prospect who’s born and raised in Winnipeg. All that said, the entire draft is a guessing game, and when you get as low as pick 99, you might as well try and predict the weather two weeks out. If de Leo does turn out though, they’ll have another top-6 forward who can skate and finish plays.
Nelson Nogier (D) –4th round, 101st overall
A defensive defenceman with the Saskatoon Blades, Nogier was the WHL’s Scholastic Player of the Year. Interestingly, this is third time in four years where the Jets have taken a player who likes to hit the books. Adam Lowry was awarded the same honour in 2010, as was Josh Morrissey in 2013. (Morrissey was actually named top student in all of the CHL). Interestingly, Kevin Cheveldayoff was the WHL’s Scholastic Player of the Year back in 1988, so one might say that he’s drafting players in his own image. While it’s nice to draft smart young men, I’d question the upside in making this selection. Nogier has no offensive stats to speak of – in 96 WHL games, he has 1 goal and 10 points. In most cases, even the NHL’s defensive defencemen produced a lot of points in junior hockey. (See Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Josh Gorges, and Willie Mitchell.) The very next player picked was Alexis Vanier, drafted by San Jose – he’s 6’5, 215, and scored 15 goals and 36 points last season. I assume he doesn’t skate well, and isn’t a scholar, but at least there’s some raw potential there. It would be nice if Chevy and the Jets would just Moneyball every pick, but at least they did the first two.
C.J Franklin (F) – 5th round, 129th overall
Supposedly a decently skilled player who skates well and competes hard. Hard to say much at this point given that he played in the USHL, where hockey coverage is lacking relative to the CHL. Overall, I’m guessing this player might have been available later given that he’s already 20, meaning he went undrafted in each of the past two years. In fact, he wasn’t drafted in 2013 after scoring 32 goals, and yet he gets drafted this year after scoring only 22. Not necessarily an awful pick, but again, it would have been nice to take a player here with more upside – like Daniel Audette, son of former NHL’er Donald Audette, who went 147th to Montreal after leading his team in scoring by a wide margin.
Pavel Kraskovsky (F) – 6th round, 164th overall
The further you go down in the draft, the less you can either fault or credit a team for their picks, but this has to be seen as a good risk for the Jets. The guy is 6’4, and seemingly like all Russians, has some skill to his game. He even played at the Under-18 World Championships, meaning he’s one of the better Russian players in his age group. He’s one of the youngest players in the entire draft – born September 11, 1996. (If born after September 15, he would have been drafted next year). Love the strategy here, as many Russian players fall simply because of their birth certificate, and not because of their inability to play hockey well. Also impressed with their guts in making this pick, given that they’ve lost players to the KHL in each of the past two years (Ivan Telegin, Alex Burmistrov). Here’s a link to his stats.
Matt Ustaski (F) – 7th round, 192nd overall
Already 6’6, 225 according to HockeyDB, but like Franklin, he’s 20, and was passed over twice in the draft. Maybe a late bloomer, otherwise just another 7th round pick that won’t go anywhere. That said, the Jets potentially hit a home run in the 7th round last year with Brenden Kichton, who became an AHL all-star in his rookie year. Don’t expect the same from Ustaski, who’s off to the University of Wisconsin next year, and won’t be heard from for at least a few years. Stats link
In all, it was another good draft for the Jets, though it’s a real shame that they wasted their 2nd round pick in last year’s ill-fated Setoguchi deal. Historically, there isn’t a large difference in player quality between picks 30-50, which tells me that late first round picks are often overvalued, while second round picks are similarly, undervalued. There were a number of interesting players available at 39, like Brett Pollock, Eric Cornel, and Roland McKeown, all of whom were drafted by teams that have been pretty good at the Draft in recent years. (Dallas, Buffalo, LA). Hopefully the Jets will guard their draft picks more closely until the time comes when they’re ready to seriously compete for the Stanley Cup. And to quote the basketball analysts who mocked the Raptors 2014 first round pick, we’re at least two years away from being two years away on that front.