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Shooting Fish in a Barrel: the Winnipeg Jets and Player Development

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Tucker Poolman would not be a major loss, but losing any prospect could hurt the Jets.

NCAA Hockey: Frozen Four-Boston University vs North Dakota Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Tucker Poolman is a defence and a Winnipeg Jets prospect. Poolman will not be signing with the Winnipeg Jets in the near future. His current line is that because he is not healthy right now, he does not want to sign with the Jets and instead focus on rehabbing his injured shoulder. This should come as no surprise: this is the cost of a prospect suffering an injury before their season is completed.

If Poolman was healthy there would have been a greater chance of him signing with the Jets and burning a year on his entry-level contract (ELC) this season. This is what Brock Boeser is currently doing with the Vancouver Canucks and what Johnny Gaudreau did with the Calgary Flames a few years ago. By essentially shortening the ELC by a year the player gives themselves the opportunity to earn more money faster as the ELC system suppresses the earning ability of some of the best players in the game and because draft position helps dictate what a player earns on the ELC, it also suppresses what a player drafted later in the draft can earn.

Poolman might not be a difference maker for the Jets, but when a team lacks any type of defensive depth potentially losing Poolman hurts. Poolman remains Jets property until August 15 when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. It seems like more NCAA players have been doing this recently: instead of signing with the team that drafted them they wait until they have the ability to choose the team that is best for them. Essentially they follow the rules of the system and find the right situation for themselves.

All of this said, this does not mean that Poolman is a legitimate prospect for the Jets. He is an almost 24 year old defenceman who played the year after he was drafted in the USHL before spending the past three years in the NCAA at the University of North Dakota. He should do what he thinks is best for his career. He is right to rest and recover right now. He is right to properly assess all his options before choosing which team to sign with.

In a broader sense, the Jets should not be deterred when it comes to signing college players. They have a small prospect pool, especially on defence. One of the ways for the Jets to improve their prospect pool is to sign UFA defenders from the NCAA and junior to make their pool larger as a whole. By making their pool larger, they will hopefully be able to develop at least one or two into respectable NHL defencemen. Think of it as shooting fish in a barrel. You are more likely to be able to shoot a fish if there are a lot of fish in the barrel. If the barrel does not have many fish it is less likely that one will be shot. The same is true for developing prospects; you need many prospects in hopes that one will pan out.

Tucker Poolman is smartly waiting to make a recovery from a shoulder injury he suffered while at school. He is well within his rights to not sign with the Jets and electing to go to free agency if he waits until August 15. The problem for the Jets is they need to keep their prospect pool as large as possible for as long as possible in hopes that more players will develop into NHL players in the future. It is one of the many things the Jets need to go right if they want to become a consistent playoff team.