It's well-known that the Winnipeg Jets take great pride in their draft and develop model. And it seems as though they are ready to leave room for some of their young players to have a real shot at making the big club.
For instance, UFA forward Lee Stempniak expressed interest in returning to the Jets this season. But as Stempniak revealed in an interview with Sportsnet.ca reporter Luke Fox, the Jets indicated they were looking to leave room for "young guys" on the roster. The Jets have lots of players that will enter training camp knocking on the door for roster spots. So, which Winnipeg prospects could make the jump?
All eyes will be on the Jets 2014 first round draft pick. Ehlers is coming off another spectacular season with the QMJHL's Halifax Mooseheads, where he put up an impressive 100 points in 51 games. Ehlers has tremendous skill, there is no doubt about it. If he impresses at camp, he could play a key role for the club, perhaps making his way to the first or second line. But if not, having a skilled player like Ehlers in your bottom six is a valuable asset. While there's no question that he's ready to move on from junior hockey, the situation isn't an easy one. Ehlers is too young to be sent to the AHL, so if he does not make the big club, he would have to return to Halifax and essentially waste another year of hockey against what is for him subpar competition.
Or would he? Another option has arisen for the Denmark native. Ehlers told news agency Sportinformation last week that he has contemplated playing the 2015-2016 season in Europe if he were to not make the Jets roster. "I honestly do not think about this now," Ehlers said, "But Switzerland is at the top of my list if I'm not going to play in the NHL in the upcoming season." He would need the Jets' blessing in order to do this, and it could create a complicated situation given the NHL – CHL agreement.
If Ehlers can show the ability to contribute in a top nine role, he has a roster spot. If not, he will be sent elsewhere to further his game. The Jets won't keep him with the big club to play limited minutes on the fourth line or sit in the press box.
Morrissey will be fighting for a roster spot during training camp, there's no doubt about it. But will there even be a spot for him to fight for? The Jets top 4 of Byfuglien, Myers, Enstrom and Trouba are locks. Mark Stuart isn't going anywhere. The 6th spot will be up for grabs, but would the Jets take Morrissey over someone like Ben Chiarot? Chiarot made great strides last season and proved that he belonged in the NHL.
Depending on how Morrissey plays in training camp, the Jets could opt to send him across the hallway to the Manitoba Moose for some seasoning. This would allow the 20-year old defenceman to play big minutes while being eased into the pro game, rather than thrown the rigors of the NHL too quickly. Injuries happen all the time, and the Jets could always call Morrissey up throughout the season if he plays well. It would be out of character for General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff to rush Morrissey straight from junior to the big club, going against the Jets philosophy of being patient with players.
Winnipeg inherited a franchise that often made the mistake of rushing prospects. That mistake won't be made with Morrissey.
One of the prized acquisitions in the Evander Kane blockbuster, Armia will be interesting to watch during training camp. Weighing in at 6'3" and 201 lbs, he's a power forward with soft hands around the net, the kind of player that's hard to find. But Armia doesn't have the toughness and competitive fire expected of someone his stature.
Consistency was an issue for the Finland native last season upon joining the IceCaps. Armia struggled after being traded, recording just 2 goals and 6 assists in 21 games with St. John's . If Armia shows up to camp looking stellar, the Jets could give him a look and insert him in the fourth line. But realistically, he will return back to the AHL and further develop his game, working on holes such as consistency.
If a top nine spot is up for grabs, it will most likely be Ehlers and Petan competing for it. But in a race between the two, the ledger seems tilted in Ehlers' favour, seeing as how he is arguably Winnipeg's most NHL ready prospect. If the Jets want to add skill to their bottom six, Petan could even shift to wing on the fourth line. That's a possibility, but it's an unlikely one. Regardless of where Petan plays next season, it will be better competition for him than he's been facing the last few years.
In Portland, Petan has been dominating his junior peers for years and it's time for him to start facing tougher competition. Due to his small stature of 5'9" and 175 lbs, there will be doubters of what Petan can do. He will most likely need a year in the AHL, especially because of how hard the jump from playing against teenagers to the best hockey players in the world can be.
Hellebuyck is one of the Jets most intriguing prospects. In a very short span of time, he went from being an unknown to one of, if not the, best goalie prospects in the world. Hellebuyck had a very impressive rookie season with the St. John's IceCaps, recording a 28-22-5 record accompanied by a 2.58 GAA and .921 save percentage. At the IIHF World Championships, Hellebuyck represented Team USA between the pipes. He gave an absolutely spectacular performance with a 7-1 record, including two shutouts and a .948 save percentage. He was also named to the tournament's Media All-Star Team.
The 22-year old netminder will be an interesting figure to watch during training camp. Even if Hellebuyck plays lights out in preseason, the Jets may decide to send him back down to the farm. It's just a matter of the logistics. For example, even if Hellebuyck outplays Ondrej Pavelec, what good does sitting as a backup do for his development? It would better serve him to be a starter with the Moose and dominate, than ride the pine with the Jets.
Jets fans could still see their fair share of Hellebuyck next season as he can be recalled and reassigned pretty quickly, in one of the many advantages having your farm team in the same city presents.
Many have proclaimed the job of Jets fourth line centre as Copp's to lose, especially with the departure of its long-tenured occupant in Jim Slater. Looking at the depth chart, that may be true. But if the former Michigan Wolverine is not ready for the show, the Jets do have other options; Copp still has to earn his spot.
Copp's game is well-suited for a fourth line role. He can win draws and has a strong defensive game, along with smooth skating and decent offensive skills. The Jets could decide to send him to the AHL, but with the way the roster is looking, Copp has a very solid chance of making the team. Lee Stempniak played in the bottom six during his short stay in Winnipeg, and it seems the Jets are looking for a prospect to fill the void. Andrew Copp could be that guy.
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