Winnipeg Jets Prospect Report: Pipeline of talent shows promise

Winnipeg-Jets;-Jack-Roslovic

Jack Roslovic. (Jonathan Kozub/Getty)

When you identify the teams that draft best in the NHL, it always comes down to how many impact players are added after the first round. While it’s important to hit on your first pick, teams with sustainable success are always built on the back-end of the draft.

The Jets aren’t at the level of some of the best-drafting NHL teams yet, but there is growing potential that their 2015 draft becomes something special. Their top two picks, Kyle Connor and Jack Roslovic, have already gotten NHL time, while a couple of their late-rounders are breaking out as surprise rookie stories in the American Hockey League.

Four of Winnipeg’s top five scorers are under the age of 25 and there is still a lot of promise on the horizon, from the AHL to the USHL, major junior and Finland. The Jets have some intriguing prospects at all levels, which means this season could be just the start of long-term success.

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REASON FOR OPTIMISM

Mason Appleton, 22, F
Drafted: Sixth round, 168th overall, 2015
Season to date: 39 GP | 12 G | 23 A | 35 PTS | +14

Appleton has not stopped growing as a player since the Jets used a late-round pick to take him in the NHL Draft in 2015. He spent two years at Michigan State, leading his team in scoring as a sophomore, and is now one of the best surprises in the Winnipeg pipeline. The 22-year-old is tied with Nick Merkley for second among all AHL rookies with 35 points and leads all first-year players with 23 assists. Normally a winger, Appleton was moved to centre on the top line when his regular pivot, Jack Roslovic, was on a call-up to the Jets.

“When I think about Mason Appleton, I think about his compete level,” Moose head coach Pascal Vincent recently told the Winnipeg Sun. “I think about his hockey sense and his ability to adjust his game. He plays heavy minutes. His ability to win battles, one-on-one, drive the net – he’s really good at driving the net and finding the open ice.”

AHL, MANITOBA MOOSE

Jack Roslovic, 20, C
Drafted: First round, 25th overall, 2015
Season to date: 32 GP | 15 G | 20 A | 35 PTS | +16

Injuries to the NHL team made room for Roslovic to get his first call-up of the season, though he hasn’t registered a point in four games playing between eight and 13 minutes per game on the fourth line. The 20-year-old was sent back to the Moose while the Jets are on their bye week, but could be recalled at the end of the week. Roslovic has seen a promising uptick in production for an improved Moose this season and was third in AHL scoring before his call-up with 35 points in 32 games.

Sami Niku, 21, D
Drafted: Seventh round, 198th overall, 2015
Season to date: 39 GP | 8 G | 19 A | 27 PTS | +3

We’ve already mentioned Appleton, who has come on as a potential late-round find and Niku follows in similar fashion. A seventh-rounder in the same 2015 draft Appleton was taken in, Niku is third among all AHL defencemen in scoring — and he’s a rookie playing in North America for the first time. The 6-foot blue liner moves the puck and skates well, just the type of defenceman that fits into the style of today’s NHL.

Brendan Lemieux, 21, LW
Drafted: Second round, 31st overall, 2014 by Buffalo
Season to date: 25 GP | 9 G | 16 A | 25 PTS | +13

The feisty forward is already six points past his total AHL offensive output from last season and has earned a few NHL looks this season where he’s fill-in as a sub-10 minute fourth-liner. Lemieux projects as an energy, depth-line player in the NHL if he makes it full-time, but has to work on discipline. The 21-year-old has 203 penalty minutes in his last 86 AHL games and 19 PIMs in eight NHL games this season — it will be key for him to be able to draw more than he takes.

Eric Comrie, 22, G
Drafted: Second round, 59th overall, 2013
Season to date: 18 GP | 11-6-1 | 2.71 GAA | .912 SP

Comrie has slowly been developing as a potential future factor in the Jets’ crease, but that day isn’t here yet as he shares the AHL net with Michael Hutchinson. Comrie has been a little up and down this season, but all told has a .912 save percentage, which is an improvement over the past two seasons.

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NCAA

Erik Foley, 20, LW
Drafted: Third round, 78th overall, 2015
Season to date: 22 GP | 13 G | 15 A | 28 PTS | +11

The 2015 draft keeps on giving to the Jets, as third-rounder Foley is third in Hockey East scoring. At 6-feet and 185 pounds, Foley can be an agitator and plays hard around the net. He has been a significant scorer at both the NCAA and USHL levels in his career.

Dylan Samberg, 18, D
Drafted: Second round, 43rd overall, 2017
Season to date: 21 GP | 0 G | 5 A | 5 PTS | -1

Though he hasn’t been a big offensive contributor in his freshman season with the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Samberg had a great World Junior Championship, scoring four points and fitting in well to a strong lineup. Samberg is still learning to play against bigger and older competition in the NCAA, but at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, Samberg’s size is an asset and, as he showed at the WJC, he can play well at both ends of the ice. More ice time and improved offence will come.

FINLAND

Kristian Vesalainen, 18, F
Drafted: First round, 24th overall, 2017
Season to date: 29 GP | 10 G | 15 A | 25 PTS | +6

The 6-foot-3, 207-pounder was expected to pour in the points at the WJC and hopefully help lead Finland back to a medal — and though his team didn’t get that far, he did tie for the team lead with six points in five games. In SM-liiga, Vesalainen has taken a big step forward and is second in team scoring for HPK Hameenlinna. He had four points in his first game back from the WJC, a tournament he is still eligible to play in again next year.

OHL

Logan Stanley, 19, D
Drafted: First round, 18th overall, 2016
Season to date: 40 GP | 12 G | 20 A | 32 PTS | -3

The 6-foot-7 giant will soon pass his career best for scoring as an OHLer, but wasn’t able to crack Canada’s very deep blue line at the WJC. The knock on Stanley is his skating and the ability to keep up with the fast pace of today’s game, but his reach and strength are certainly advantages. After winning a Memorial Cup with Windsor last season, Stanley is a big part of this year’s Kitchener Rangers, a top three team in the Western Conference that could make its own run.

USHL

Mikhail Berdin, 19, G
Drafted: Sixth round, 157th overall, 2016
Season to date: 20 GP | 10-5-1 | 2.76 GAA | .924 SP

An intriguing goalie prospect for the future, the uncommitted Berdin is top five in USHL save percentage for the second straight season. After a good start in the Canada-Russia series, the Ufa native made his country’s WJC team, but didn’t get any starts.

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