WINNIPEG -- Since the circumstances are actually unprecedented, you can expect the 2020 NHL Draft will supply more than a few surprises next month.
The combination of both shortened and delayed seasons, plus the cancellation of several high-profile international events means there weren’t as many live viewings available for many teams as they would have in a normal year.
When you pair that with the lack of a combine this year, the final lists the 31 NHL teams put together figure to have a bit more variance than they might have otherwise.
What does this mean for the Winnipeg Jets, who didn’t win Phase 2 of the NHL Draft Lottery but did move up to secure the 10th-overall pick (from being projected to pick 12th) after a couple of qualifying round upsets?
It was already going to be an interesting draft for the Jets, whose pool of picks is currently limited to four after a number of trades during the past two seasons.
Following the 10th pick, provided the Jets keep it -- and you have to believe that’s the most likely scenario -- they’ve got selections in the second (40th overall), fifth (133rd overall) and sixth (164th overall) rounds.
Barring any changes, it’s the lowest draft haul the Jets will have since the franchise relocated from Atlanta in 2011.
Does that mean Winnipeg is going to try and make a deal to recoup a pick or two?
It’s certainly not a stretch to suggest a franchise that prides itself on a 'draft, develop and retain' mantra would be looking to add picks.
But at a time when the salary cap is going to be flat at $81.5 million for the next two seasons, the importance of being able to integrate players on entry-level deals and bargain contracts is at a premium, so many teams might be reluctant to make those types of deals.
Unless they have a surplus of picks, like the Montreal Canadiens.
So, where does that leave the Jets?
What we know is that the Jets' prospect pool is deepest when it comes to defence, with 2019 first rounder Ville Heinola and 2018 second-rounder Dylan Samberg headlining a group that also includes 2016 first-rounder Logan Stanley, Leon Gawanke and Declan Chisholm.
With Mikhail Berdin going into the final year of his entry-level contract and Arvid Holm signed to a contract but expected to spend the season in Sweden, the Jets are also in good shape between the pipes.
So while it’s possible they take a late-round flyer, it’s pretty safe to rule out highly-touted Russian netminder Yaroslav Askarov.
While teams have been reluctant to use a high first-rounder on a goalie in recent years, there’s a belief that Askarov’s talent will tempt one to alter their approach this time around.
If that ends up being a team in the top nine, as many are predicting will be the case, that means another talented forward or blueliner could fall to the Jets.
Alexis Lafreniere will be joining the New York Rangers, Tim Stutzle and Quinton Byfield are projected to be the first centres off the board and Jamie Drysdale figures to be the first D-man selected.
That’s where much of the consensus comes from outside observers to a close.
Virtually every year there is a player or two chosen in the top 10 that comes as a surprise, while there’s another player or two that fall for no particular reason and land in a team’s lap.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it’s been said many times that the draft is an inexact science, which is only natural when you’re dealing with projections of players at such a young age.
While you see plenty of suggestions that the Jets should simply commit to choosing a centre to help fill the need, it’s important to remember that most guys chosen 10th overall are a year or two away from being an NHL regular and a lot can change in that time.
So the Jets are far more likely to commit to choosing the highest player on their list, rather than reach for a centre or simply lock in on choosing the best blueliner on their draft board.
Of course there are going to be some quality pivots available at that point of the draft, but it’s best to keep an open mind.
The Jets could go in another direction and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
With that in mind, here’s a look at seven players (in no particular order) who might be available for the Jets when it’s time to make the 10th overall selection:
Jake Sanderson, U.S. National Development Team Program
Weight: 185 pounds
Chances are high that Sanderson will be the second D-man chosen and won’t be around when the Jets pick. So why list him? That’s easy. A year ago, I thought the same thing about Heinola. After checking out a number of mock drafts, he was a natural guy to leave off the list.
I won’t make the same mistake this year, even if Sanderson could go as high as fifth or sixth, given his skillset and pedigree. Sanderson is a smooth-skating blueliner and is expected to be a key contributor for the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks this season. He was the captain of the U.S. National U-18 team, so he’s got leadership qualities to go with his talent.
“He’s a very good defensive skater. He’s good in his pivoting and his ability laterally to close ice on people, which made him hard to play against,” said Seth Appert, who coached Sanderson last season before taking the head coaching position with the Rochester Americans of the AHL this summer. “He’s competitive, on top of that. He’s very good at taking away time and space.”
When it comes to his love for the game, Sanderson takes after his father, Geoff, who played 1,159 NHL games over 17 seasons when you include the playoffs.
Jack Quinn, Ottawa 67s, OHL
Position: Right wing
Weight: 180 pounds
You could argue no draft-eligible player took a bigger jump last season than Quinn, who became the eighth player in OHL history to score 50-plus goals in their draft year. Others on that list include Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane, Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos and Toronto Maple Leafs centre John Tavares, so it’s pretty good company.
Quinn finished second in the OHL in goals with 52 and was eighth in points (89), but in many ways, he’s just scratching the surface when it comes to his potential. And he’s not a one-dimensional player, either.
“The thing that really sticks out is that as his offensive game has blossomed, his defensive game has improved at the same rate,” said 67s GM James Boyd. “He’s an ultra-reliable, two-way 50-goal scorer, which as we know is extremely rare. The big change this year was that he’s playing on the inside and getting to the front of the net to some of those dirty areas and those prime goal-scoring areas.
"He’s super competitive in puck battles, he’s got explosiveness and tremendous acceleration in his skating stride. He has phenomenal hand-eye coordination and that shows in his goal-scoring ability.”
Braden Schneider, Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL
Weight: 209 pounds
Schneider is big, he’s strong and can skate. He plays a physical game, has a high hockey IQ and is driven to get better. His game is already mature and he leads by example.
One of the few concerns about Schneider revolves around whether or not he will be able to produce much offensively at the pro level, but he projects to be an outstanding shutdown defender that is also a good puck-mover and should be able to chip in given his mobility.
“He was probably our most improved player and the biggest thing is that he understands who he is,” said Wheat Kings head coach Dave Lowry. “He knows exactly what type of player he needs to be to be successful in the NHL. He’s extremely consistent. For me, he’s one of the safest picks in the first round because you know what you’re going to get and he’s going to have a long career.”
Kaiden Guhle, Prince Albert Raiders, WHL
Weight: 187 pounds
Another D-man that can skate and also has the ability to play a physical game, Guhle put up 11 goals and 40 points last season and had 56 penalty minutes. The first-overall pick in the 2017 WHL Draft is trending upward and is hoping to follow in the footsteps of his brother, Brendan, a blueliner with the Anaheim Ducks who is up to 59 NHL games on his resume.
“He’s got a little nasty in him. He’s competitive and he would be as a younger brother,” said Raiders general manager Curtis Hunt. “He’s just an incredible skater. Fluent, long, powerful strides, with good quickness, good agility, good laterally, good edges. On top of that, he’s a complete defenceman.
"There isn’t a situation where our coaches don’t trust him in - whether it’s a power play or it’s the last minute and you have to kill off a five-on-three and block a shot. Kaiden can do it all. He has all the elements. He has a great reach and probably his best asset is his demeanour, his attitude and his character.”
Seth Jarvis, Portland Winterhawks, WHL
Position: Right wing
Weight: 172 pounds
The highly-productive Winnipegger isn’t on this list as a token local, he finished second in the WHL in scoring last season with 42 goals 98 points (with 65 of those coming during the final 29 games) and brings a fearless element to his ice. Jarvis gets to the difficult areas, is an excellent distributor of the puck and has impressive finishing ability.
“I wouldn’t call it a slow start, I would call it a phenomenal finish. His last three months were light’s out. It was amazing. He was the best player on the ice every single night in the second half,” said Winterhawks head coach Mike Johnston. “He’s a complete hockey player. The way everybody wants to play the game is how he can play it. He carries the puck with speed, he shoots quick off the attack and he’s got great vision. He does everything fast.
"He plays the game with passion and he’s all business when he comes to the rink. Seth Jarvis competes really hard and he’s starting to fill out. If he’s 5-9-and-a-half or 5-10-and-a-half, it’s not going to make a difference when he plays the game because he’s going to be really strong in his lower body and he plays the game hard. He’s not afraid. If a bigger guy takes him off the puck hard, you’ll see him go right back at the guy on the next shift.”
Dawson Mercer, Chicoutimi Sagueneens, QMJHL
Positions: Centre, left wing, right wing
Weight: 179 pounds
A versatile forward who is not only comfortable, but adept at all three forward positions, he has drawn some comparisons to Boston Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron. That’s heady praise for a player at any level.
“What position he plays doesn’t matter for him. Nothing changes. Not only can he play all three positions, he can play all three positions really well,” said Jean. “He does the details and does everything right on the ice. He wants to play on both sides (of the puck) and he’s proud of that. His willingness to improve and to get better is unreal. He’s a sure shot.”
With the QMJHL playing exhibition games right now and set to open the regular season on Oct. 2, scouts will get an opportunity to see Mercer and Lapierre playing on a line together.