Entering the season, the Winnipeg Jets list of QMJHL and OHL prospect wasn't long, but it was thought to be high in quality. This notion was reaffirmed by the play of a couple prospects and bolstered by the addition of another via trade. The Winnipeg Jets entered the season with three players across these two leagues, they exit the season with just one who is likely to remain in junior next season - and he wasn't there at the start of the year.
Jimmy Lodge (Drafted in the 3rd round, 84th overall in 2014):
After a somewhat disappointing 2013-14 campaign, Jimmy Lodge entered the year with a need to succeed. The pressure was on and he needed to perform in order to earn his Entry-Level Contract with the Jets. He met this goal despite a roller coaster ride of a season that saw him placed as the best player for two very different, bad hockey teams.
It isn't abnormal for CHL skill players to be traded as their junior careers wind down, but it is strange to see such a player be moved from one bad team to another. Lodge was not deterred, nor slowed by the move. He continued to produce and hone his defensive game after being praised for his two-way ability (prior to the trade). Lodge finished the season with 28 goals and 35 assists in 58 games, but his skill set suggests he is capable of more given the right supporting cast.
Lodge was given a pro contract upon the end of his season and he will most likely play for the Manitoba Moose next year.
Jan Kostalek (Drafted in the 4th round, 114th overall in 2014):
Kostalek has never been a highly touted prospect, but there have always been some that absolutely love his smooth and simple approach to the game. Jan is a smooth skater and a solid hitter, but his is also one of the defenders that easily goes unnoticed.
That changed to a degree this year, in part due to improved counting numbers. Jan posted career highs in goals, assists and points this year. He also saw a decrease in penalties taken while his superb play earned Jan the QMJHL's Defenseman of the Year honors as well as recognition as a first team All-Star.
Jan will also be making the trip to Winnipeg and likely be playing for the Manitoba Moose come October.
Nikolaj Ehlers (Drafted in the 1st round, 9th overall in 2015):
From day one Nikolaj Ehlers has been arguably the best talent to grace the prospect pool of the Winnipeg Jets 2.0. Ehlers is an incredibly gifted skater and shooter. He also has incredible hockey sense. These tools were on full display all year in the QMJHL while Ehlers shredded the league to the tune of 1.96 points per game.
Ehlers also set a few new franchise records this month. Considering that he is playing for the same franchise that housed Johnathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon, this is damn impressive.
Ehlers is not AHL-eligible next year. He will have to play in the NHL or the CHL (overseas is technically an option too). This fact may make the decision tough on the Jets. I'd wager he makes the big club.
Brendan Lemieux (Drafted in the 2rd round, 31 overall in 2015):
Lemieux was not listed as a Jets' prospect to start the season. He was in the Buffalo Sabres system - until The Big Chevy happened. Kevin Cheveldayoff pulled off one of the biggest trades in recent memory. Now, Lemieux is a Jet. What this means in the long run, only time will tell, but Brendan is coming off of a really strong season in which he dominated on the powerplay.
Lemieux is a known primarily as an agitator, but he piled up the points this year. He finished the regular season with 41 goals to go with 19 assists in 57 games. This is none to shabby for a guy who entered the season with question marks surrounding his offensive game.
Brendan Lemieux will likely be returning to the OHL next year.
Next we will be looking at the Winnipeg Jets' WHL prospects.