SEVEN FORWARDS BATTLING FOR A SPOT WITH THE WINNIPEG JETS - PART 2
A 6'3" Russian left-handed winger who prefers to play on the right side, the 24 year old was drafted in 2015 by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1st round (19th overall) after putting up 78 pts in 55 games with Cape Breton (QMJHL). *The Jets were interested in drafting him that year, but he was drafted prior to our 25th overall selection (Roslovic)
He continued to show off his offensive abilities in 2015-16, amassing 79 pts in 50 games with Cape Breton. 2016-17 marked the start of Svechnikov's professional career when he played 2 games (0 pts) with the Detroit Red Wings and 74 regular season games (51 pts) with the Grand Rapid Griffins (AHL) and 19 playoff games (12 pts).
In 2017-18, Evgeny split his time between Detroit and Grand Rapids (14 games w/ 4 pts & 57 games w/ 23 pts).
Due to a knee injury, Svechnikov missed the entire following season and has struggled to find his old form over the past 2 years. He played 4 games with Detroit (0 pts) and 51 games with Grand Rapids (25 pts) in 2019-20. Last season, he only managed to get in 25 games between the NHL & AHL, 21 with Detroit (8 pts) and 4 with Grand Rapids (2 pts).
Svechnikov is currently on a PTO with the Winnipeg Jets, but has signed an AHL deal with the Manitoba Moose. Probably one of the more intriguing options available for the Jets due to his high offensive upside which would allow him to be considered for top 6 or PP playing time, as well as bottom 6 roles. The 2 keys to Svechnikov forcing the Jets to offer him a contract include proving he can play a physical/defensively responsibility game and the health of his previously injured knee. What a reclamation project he would be if he could return to playing like he did with PLD in Cape Breton.
The 22 year old Finn is a big-bodied (6'3") left-handed forward who can play either left or right wing. After putting up 13 pts in 7 games at the World Juniors 18 & Under tourney, he was drafted in 2017 by the Winnipeg Jets (1st round, 24th overall).
In 2017-18, Vesalainen stayed in Europe, playing in the Liiga League, where he put up 43 pts in 49 games with HPK & Karpat. He added 8 more points in the post-season with Karpat, in 18 games.
The following season, Vesalainen made his NHL debut with the Jets, getting an assist in 5 games. He was then assigned to the Manitoba Moose and suited up in 22 games, pocketing 13 pts before opting to return to Europe for the remainder of the year. He ended up playing 31 games with Jokerit (KHL) and ended with 17 pts.
Vesalainen's decision to return to Europe via a clause in his contract has often been pointed to as one of the reasons he has failed to adapt to North American-style hockey to date. Regardless, he returned the following season (2019-20) and spent the entire season with the Manitoba Moose (AHL), accumulating 30 pts in 60 games.
Last season, Vesalainen played a handful of games in 3 different leagues: HPK (Liiga) - 10 games with 8 pts, Moose (AHL) - 6 games with 5 pts, and Jets (NHL) - 12 games with 1 assist.
This season he is signed for $894,167 on the final year of his contract and will be an RFA in the off-season. Vesalainen needs to try and follow in the rather large footsteps of Logan Stanley and try to get people to stop using the "bust" label on him. Stanley was drafted in 2016 and it took him until last season to prove that he can play at the NHL level and that is what Vesalainen needs to do this year. Kristian is an offensively gifted player with a very hard shot, especially on the 1-timer. Last season, he excelled on the PP with the Moose in getting shots on net and has a chance at getting a spot on the 2nd PP unit with the Jets this season.
It looks like Vesalainen has the inside track to the 3rd line wing spot and will have to work on creating offense while maintaining his defensive responsibilities on a consistent basis if he wants to keep that spot. For a guy who has been a goal scorer in other leagues, Kristian has yet to get his first career NHL goal (17 games).
Gustafsson is a 6'2" Swede who shoots left and play center and is currently 21 years old. He had an interesting pre-draft year, producing well in 18 & under tourneys (WJC - 7 pts in 7 games & Hlinka Gretzky Cup - 4 pts in 5 games). He also played in the SHL with HV71 against men, putting up 12 pts in 45 games. This led to him being drafted in the 2nd round (60th overall) in 2018 by the Winnipeg Jets.
The 2018-19 season saw him stay in Sweden, playing the majority of the time in the SHL with HV71 (12 pts in 36 regular season games, adding 4 pts in 9 playoff games).
Gus made the trip across the pond the next year and made his debuts in both the AHL & NHL, as well as playing in some international competitions with Sweden. He picked up 1 goal in 22 games with the Jets, 7 pts in 13 games with the Manitoba Moose, and 13 pts in 21 international games.
Last season saw Gustafsson start the year in the HockeyAllsvenskan league with Tingsryds AIF (17 pts in 16 games), then he played with the Moose (19 pts in 22 games), and finally ended with the Jets (0 pts in 4 games).
Entering this season, he is on the final year of his contract and will earn $817,500, therefore he will be an RFA in the offseason.
David Gustafsson has shown throughout his career that he can be counted on to be defensively responsible, is strong in the face-off circle, and can play on the PK. All admirable assets for a 4th line player, but he is up against stiff competition for a spot. In the games I saw last year with the Moose, Gustafsson often looked like their best player and seemed to make his linemates play better. He is good on the forecheck and uses his size well when battling along the boards.
I really like Gus and can see him eventually filling in Lowry's role as a shut down center. As much as I like the player, I still see him not being able to crack the Jets' opening day lineup, though he may would be one of the 1st call up options in case of injury.
The 5'10" Cole Perfetti is a very talented 19 year old Canadian left-handed center who played his junior hockey with the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL. He debuted in 2018-19, when he put up an impressive 74 pts in 63 games, while adding 14 pts in 16 playoff games.
He returned to Saginaw in 2019-20 and amassed a whopping 111 pts in 61 games, which helped him get selected by the Winnipeg Jets in the 1st round (10th overall) of the 2020 NHL Draft.
With COVID shutting down the OHL for the 2020-21 season, Perfetti had the opportunity to play with the Manitoba Moose (AHL). He suited up for 32 games and his production (26 pts) was pretty impressive. He started the year playing center in the bottom 6 and getting the majority of his points on the powerplay, but ended up his time with the Moose as the 2nd line center who often chipped in with multi-point games and was routinely having an impact when playing 5-on-5. Cole ended up leaving the Moose early to represent Canada in a couple of tournaments: World Junior Championships - 6 pts in 7 games & World Championships - 2 goals in 10 games.
Perfetti is signed to a 3 year contract worth $894,167 per year, which ties him with Vesalainen as the most expensive contracts of the 7 players battling for a spot on this salary cap-strapped Winnipeg Jets team.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Cole is going to be an impact player in the NHL, but the question is whether that path starts this season. On the positive side, Perfetti has great intelligence and vision on the ice, making him a deadly playmaker when given time & space. Last season in the AHL, he made vast improvements in his defensive game and in learning to impact the game when both teams are at full strength. He has the speed to play at the NHL level.
Truly, there is only 2 negatives when it comes to Perfetti making the Jets this season. The first I alluded to earlier, that he costs approximately $125 to $150K more than some of the other options. And the second is his size/strength - while he has gained weight coming into this season, is he physical enough to play at the NHL level game in and game out?
Other factors may also come into play for Maurice & Chevy when considering whether Perfetti makes the team, such as:
- his contract can slide a year if he doesn't play too many games with the Jets this year.
- that he is not eligible for waivers so therefore can be called up & sent down without the risk of losing him to another team.
- that he could play 1st line minutes in the AHL, gaining valuable experience & minutes while continuing to improve his strength.
I don't think the Jets will keep Perfetti on the team just to play 4th line minutes, so basically he needs to convince Maurice that he can play in place of Vesalainen on Lowry's shutdown line or that he should replace Copp on the Dubois line. Both are likely long shots, though I think he would likely produce well offensively playing along side Dubois & Ehlers.
I don't know how it will all play out in the end, but for once the Jets have me excited about who's going to be playing in the bottom 6. Gonna enjoy watching it all play out.
Would be great to hear your thoughts about which of these players you are excited about.....let's start getting pumped about what hopefully will be quite the exciting season.