Jets 2020 NHL Draft preview: With few picks, Cheveldayoff must get creative

WINNIPEG -- One thing Kevin Cheveldayoff hasn’t done during his tenure as general manager of the Winnipeg Jets is make a blockbuster deal at the NHL Draft.

Sure, Cheveldayoff improved his club by making a shrewd move in picking up Michael Frolik from the Chicago Blackhawks on Day 2 of the NHL Draft back in 2013, but we’re talking about a swing-for-the-fences type of move that involves players and/or prospects.

Last June, Cheveldayoff made a pre-emptive strike when he shipped Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers during the week of the draft for a package that included fellow blue-liner Neal Pionk and a 2020 first-rounder that turned into Ville Heinola.

There is plenty of chatter surrounding the Jets right now and one of the names on the rumour mill belongs to Finnish sniper Patrik Laine.

Unlike last June, a trade of this magnitude involving Laine is not a foregone conclusion -- though it can’t be discounted entirely either.

But with the Jets entering the draft with only four picks as of right now, it would surprise no one if Cheveldayoff was looking at moves to recoup some of the draft capital he moved out the past couple of seasons.

Any move involving Laine would have to include a big bounty coming back to Winnipeg since pure goal scorers at the age of 21 are particularly hard to find.

Needs to address for the Jets include the second-line centre role and at least one -- and possibly two experienced defencemen, though neither one of those are expected to be immediately filled by the player chosen by Winnipeg in the first round in 2020.

At least barring a trade into the top-three, which is highly unlikely.

By virtue of victories by the Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks during the qualifying round, the Jets jumped from 12th overall to 10th in the first round, which is set for Oct. 6.

The most probable scenario for the Jets is to remain where they’re scheduled to pick, especially because of the buzz involving Russian goalie prospect Yaroslav Askarov.

Given the teams actively looking for long-range goaltending help, it’s possible -- if not probable -- that Askarov is going to be chosen somewhere between the fifth and ninth selections.

If that’s the case, another high-end forward or blue-liner will be available for the Jets to select.

As noted earlier this month, the Jets aren’t going to force themselves to select a centre or a blue-liner in the first round, though they’re not expected to be in the market for Askarov either.

With D-men Jamie Drysdale and Jake Sanderson both expected to be off the board by the time the Jets are on the clock, it will leave Cheveldayoff and his amateur scouting staff with an intriguing choice to make.

The choice could become even more interesting if a trade or two is made prior to that point.

While the Jets are expected to be interested in defencemen Kaiden Guhle of the Prince Albert Raiders and Braden Schneider of the Brandon Wheat Kings, there are going to be skilled forwards available who could help fill some other needs.

Draft picks

WPG 1 (10), WPG 2 (40), WPG 5 (133), WPG 6 (164)

Potential targets in Round 1

Jack Quinn, RW
The Ottawa 67’s forward produced 52 goals and 89 points in his second season in the OHL and many scouts believe there’s another level for him to reach. Although he’s been used primarily on the wing, some feel he has the skill-set to eventually be used down the middle, since he is a good distributor of the puck to go along with his goal-scoring ability. His development path as a late bloomer who came up through the Tier II junior ranks is reminiscent of current Jets centre Mark Scheifele, so he’d be a natural fit to be chosen if he’s not already off the board.

Anton Lundell, C
There’s a noticeable maturity to the two-way game of the Finnish pivot, who had 10 goals and 28 points in 44 games for HIFK Helsinki in Ligga play during his draft-eligible season.

As a point of comparison, Jesperi Kotkaniemi had 10 goals and 19 points in 57 games with Assat Pori before the Montreal Canadiens made him the third overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. Lundell is defensively responsible and he’s been chipping away at the perception of some critics that he won’t produce enough offensively or be prolific enough for a team to choose him in the top third of the opening round. But for an organization looking for centre help, he’s certainly going to be under consideration if he’s not already scooped up by a team like the Minnesota Wild (who pick ninth).

Alexander Holtz, RW
In my original draft article, I included Sanderson as a guy who might end up slipping to 10th overall. But after some further investigation, the expectation is that the two highest-rated D-men (including Drysdale) are going to be gone. And if Askarov is already taken, it might end up being the Swedish right-winger Holtz that is unexpectedly available. Known for his hard and accurate shot to go with his speed, Holtz could add tremendous value to a highly-skilled forward group in a year or two when he would be expected to be ready for NHL duty. Holtz had nine goals and 16 points in 35 games with Djurgardens IF of the SHL in his draft-eligible season and is expected to play a prominent role for Sweden at the 2021 World Junior Hockey Championship after chipping in two goals and five points in seven games to help his country earn a bronze medal in 2020.

Last year’s first pick

Ville Heinola, D
Chosen 20th overall with the pick the Jets originally traded to the Rangers along with Brendan Lemieux for centre Kevin Hayes but got back in the June deal involving Trouba and Pionk, Heinola surprised many by earning a spot on the NHL roster out of training camp.

He ended up appearing in eight games with the Jets, chipping in a goal and five points before he was sent to the minors and eventually returned to his club team (Rauman Lukko) to play in Liiga. Heinola also suited up for Finland in his second World Junior Hockey Championship, recording five assists in seven games.

Although he didn’t put up big offensive numbers (seven assists in 29 games) with Rauman Lukko, Heinola had a strong development year and figures to be in the mix to compete for a spot with the Jets next season -- though it’s possible some time in the American Hockey League could be required.

Heinola would be eligible to suit up for Finland in a third world junior as well, which could also enhance his chances of making the NHL club if the season were pushed back to January.

Whenever he becomes an NHL regular, Heinola projects to be a top-four D-man with plenty of offensive upside.

Organizational needs

When it comes to the prospect pipeline, the Jets have more organizational depth on the back end, especially when it comes to players knocking on the door.

Along with Heinola, 2017 second-rounder Dylan Samberg figures to be ready to earn a roster spot this season and projects to be a shutdown defender that can eventually handle top-four minutes.

Leon Gawanke had a breakout season with the Moose (26 points in 48 games), while Declan Chisholm produced career-highs for goals (13), assists (56) and points (69) with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League and is ready to graduate to the pro ranks after signing his entry-level deal.

Logan Stanley, chosen 25th overall in 2016, should get his first taste of the NHL next season but he’ll be looking to rebound after an uneven sophomore campaign that was limited to 44 games because of injury.

Simon Lundmark is another good defence prospect, though he’s going to spend another season in the SHL with Linkopings.

Between the pipes, the Jets are pretty well set, with Mikhail Berdin coming off his first full season as the AHL starter. Depending on what happens at the NHL level, he’s likely to be in a job-share situation with Eric Comrie next season -- unless Comrie is the Jets’ backup.

Swedish netminder Arvid Holm signed his entry-level deal in July, though he figures to spend this season playing in the SHL before coming over for 2021-22, while Jared Moe is set for his sophomore season with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers.

That brings us up front, where Jansen Harkins figures to be the latest in a long line of forward prospects that have graduated from the farm.

On top of Harkins, David Gustafsson suited up in 22 games with the Jets last season before he helped Sweden earn a bronze medal at the world junior tournament. Once he returned to North America, Gustafsson saw a dramatic increase in ice time and responsibility with the Moose and he should be in the mix to nail down the fourth line centre role.

Kristian Vesalainen, the first-rounder from 2017, is expected to challenge for a roster spot but there aren’t a lot of other forwards that are ready to make the jump just yet.

Nathan Smith had a strong freshman season (27 points in 35 games) with Minnesota State University, Mankato and Henri Nikkanen is back in Liiga, though the Winnipeg Ice chose him in the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft back in June.

With only four draft picks at their disposal, the Jets are expected to focus their attention on forward and defence, though it remains a coin flip when trying to distinguish which direction they’re going to go once they’re on the clock with the 10th selection in the first round.

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