No shortage of young talent in Jets organization

Kevin Cheveldayoff joined Hockey Central @ Noon to talk about the Jets winning the number two-overall pick at the NHL Draft and their plan going forward.

Euphoric howls on a Saturday night haven’t really happened in Toronto for some time now — hockey-related ones, anyway – but that changed last weekend when the Lucky Leafs won the NHL draft lottery.

The Maple Leafs’ complete rebuild – unprecedented in team history – combined with the fact generational talent Connor McDavid became an Edmonton Oiler after last year’s lottery, has meant Ontario and Alberta are ground zero for bright-future talk in Canada.

But, as the world championship that starts Friday will help demonstrate, cut the Winnipeg Jets out of the conversation at your peril.

The second biggest winners during last Saturday’s draft lottery figure to pick Patrik Laine at No. 2 when the NHL draft starts in Buffalo on June 24. Even before Winnipeg was in line to snag Laine, a six-foot-four winger who will star for Finland at the worlds and almost certainly be a top-six calibre NHLer next season, it was easy to get excited for what’s coming on the Prairies.

While Laine is expected to become a Jet in the near future, two other players who joined the organization in the past 12 months will also be representing their country in Russia.

Winnipeg selected Kyle Connor in the first round last year and he absolutely killed it during his freshman year with the Michigan Wolverines, leading the NCAA in both goals (35) and points (71) in 35 games.

It’s not clear how much Connor — a 19-year-old forward who signed an entry-level deal with the Jets in early April — will play for the U.S., but you can bet a lot of people will draw parallels between him and American teammate Dylan Larkin.

The Detroit Red Wings took Larkin, a Michigan native, 15th overall in 2014 and he spent one year with the Wolverines before turning pro. Connor, also from Michigan, was taken 17th overall in 2015, wore maize and blue at the same school for a season and likely hopes to replicate Larkin’s rookie year, in which the right winger had 23 goals in 80 games with Detroit.

Slovakian Marko Dano won’t be an NHL rookie next year, but he’ll finally be getting a full year in what appears to be a permanent home.

Dano was moved from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Chicago Blackhawks last summer in the Brandon Saad deal. Before the February trade deadline, Dano — the 27th pick in the 2013 draft — was packing his bags again when Chicago sacrificed him to help get former Jets captain Andrew Ladd.

With 13 goals in 69 NHL games during the past two years, the 21-year-old Dano may just need an extended stretch in the same place to shine.

While some of Winnipeg’s hopes are pinned on prospects with little to no NHL experience, there’s also a swell of optimism surrounding some players already on the roster. At the head of that list is Team Canada centre Mark Scheifele, who’ll be going head to head with Laine, Connor and Dano in the preliminary round thanks to the fact all their countries are slotted in Group B. (Another young Jets hotshot, Nikolaj Ehlers, is in Group A with Denmark.)

Scheifele scored 17 goals and 34 points in his final 26 games of the NHL season to finish with 29 goals in 71 games. The only two skaters with more post-all-star game points than the 23-year-old this year were Sidney Crosby and Joe Thornton.

That’s the sort of thing that should assuage the pain of what was a disappointing Jets season. And as the worlds play out and the opportunity to draft second overall creeps closer, there should be more and more hope to cling to.

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