WINNIPEG — Since the number of live viewings for the scouting community was limited, there is an air of uncertainty going into the 2021 NHL Draft.
With only four picks at present, including the 18th-overall selection (which is actually the 17th pick since the Arizona Coyotes had to forfeit theirs because of an NHL combine violation), the Winnipeg Jets could go a number of different directions over the coming days.
Is there a player on the Jets' board worth trading up for Friday?
Do the Jets consider moving down to try and replenish a pick or do they simply stand pat and make the selection?
The latter seems likely, though trying to pin down the players that will already be chosen by that time is a little more challenging than usual, thanks in part to this abbreviated pandemic season.
“So it certainly was a challenge. We had some scouts that were more fortunate than others and were able to have some live views. Certainly (for) the players in Europe there was more opportunity to see them for the scouts (there), and in the U.S. as well,” Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said during a Zoom availability on Thursday. “It was a great that there was an opportunity at the end of the year in Dallas for a U18 tournament that is always a big scouting tournament when it comes to the participation of a lot of the Canadian players that maybe didn’t get a chance to play in the CHL, it at least gave them a chance to maybe showcase themselves there. But man oh man, lots of video, lots and lots of video. We became pretty efficient in that video.
“So being able to get multiple views of certain players in kind of more of an expeditious time, so a better use of your time so to speak. You have to really find a way to be efficient to get the views. I think as you went on, your eye kind of became more trained in how to watch the video for the things that you need. There’s going to be some good players. It’s going to be an interesting process. Is it going to be as tight to your list as in the past? I don’t know. There’s some good players in our range there that we’d be real excited to have. Some of the players that we’ve picked in the past in this range have gone on to be very good players for our organization right now. It’s still in the refining, final stages and we’re still working that through.”
Many of the draft experts and prognostications suggest the top-12 players or so are fairly easy to identify, though the exact positioning varies.
But after that point, there are a number of ways things could go, especially when you consider a pair of goalies — Sebastian Cossa of the Edmonton Oil Kings and Swedish netminder Jesper Wallstedt — are likely to be taken by the time Cheveldayoff steps to the virtual podium.
“I think there’s several different tiers,” said Cheveldayoff. “Certainly you have the high-end tier, where again the players that are going real high there are going to be real special and probably earlier, sooner rather than later. There’s maybe a little bit of a middle tier and then I think there’s a pretty solid tier just below that middle tier that’s right there. I think that’s where we’re in with our pick and slightly after our pick, there’s a little bit of a drop-off.”
Because of the limited number of picks the Jets have, it will be fascinating to see how big a factor organizational need could play into the first-round decision.
The Jets made only four selections in 2020 (choosing two forwards and two D-men) and haven’t had a full complement of picks since 2017, but that’s the cost of doing business when adding players at the NHL trade deadline.
Winnipeg has a number of left-handed-shooting defence prospects either ready to graduate or already in the pipeline, so that will be something to monitor as well.
There is the potential for the Jets to consider drafting Winnipegger Carson Lambos on Friday and that has nothing to do with his birthplace.
The skilled defenceman from the Winnipeg Ice spent time playing overseas in Finland, but was limited to only two Western Hockey League games when he returned because of an injury.
Although that has hurt his stock in some of the mock drafts, his body of work suggests Lambos could end up being a value pick — given some of the earlier projections had him pegged as a top-10 talent.
Whether the Jets choose to shop local or look elsewhere in the first round, there should be plenty of intrigue leading into the pick.
WPG 1 (18th), WPG 2 (50th), WPG 3 (82nd), WPG 5 (146)
Potential targets in Round 1:
Isak Rosen, LW/RW, Leksands (SHL)
A speedy winger whose hands keep up with his feet, Rosen is known as an excellent finisher with a great shot. By racking up seven goals and nine points while playing for Sweden at the world under-18 championships, his stock is on the rise.
Brennan Othmann, LW, Flint Firebirds (OHL)
A competitive winger who plays with a physical edge, Othmann has a heavy shot, a quick release and is known for his hockey sense. With the OHL not in operation, Othmann spent last season with ELC Olten in Switzerland before suiting up for Canada at the U18s, where he chipped in three goals and six points in seven games.
Corson Ceulemans, D, Brooks Bandits (AJHL)
A big, mobile right-handed blue-line who features a booming shot from the point, Ceulemans has a lot of raw talent. He helped Canada capture a gold medal at the U18s, notching a goal and eight points in six games. Ceulemans is heading to the University of Wisconsin Badgers program in the fall and would bolster the depth on the right side of the Jets' depth chart.
Last year’s first pick:
C/LW Cole Perfetti
The 10th-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft had an outstanding season of development in the American Hockey League, contributing nine goals, 17 assists and 26 points in 32 games with the Manitoba Moose before helping Team Canada capture a gold medal at the 2021 IIHF World Men’s World Hockey Championship.
Perfetti, who also helped Canada earn a silver medal at the 2021 World Junior Hockey Championship, will attend his first NHL training camp this fall and he’s a strong candidate to at least crack the opening-day roster and then it’s up to him to show he can stick around beyond nine games.
The only issue for Perfetti is that he can’t be sent to the AHL because of his age unless there is a rule change for next season, so his current options are playing for the Jets or heading back to the Ontario Hockey League.
Should that rule change occur, Cheveldayoff will have another option at his disposal, though he also believes Perfetti could claim an NHL job in the fall.
“I’m obviously a big supporter of junior hockey and making sure your kids develop properly. The CHL rule has been a rule that has afforded that opportunity for kids to develop based on, if you’re not 18 or 19 and in the National Hockey League, you have to go back. I think we’re in a real unique situation here,” said Cheveldayoff. “This past season, with Cole especially — and I suppose I can’t speak for any other teams — that if in fact it becomes a rule for this year or moving forward, you have to be careful with how you use it. But a player like Cole showed tremendous improvement, going to the world championships and playing with men.
“Having that opportunity, I think, helped further his development. If there is that opportunity next year, having him available to the American League, is a great option to have — especially for him. That’s not to say he doesn’t come to camp and earn a job, because that opportunity could be there for him as well, an exciting young guy like that. Any option we have with his development, like the American Hockey League, is a welcome thing.”
After watching a number of the top prospects get promotions to the NHL in recent years, it’s clear the Jets strengths are on the back end, with 2019 first-rounder Ville Heinola ready for full-time work and 2017 second-rounder Dylan Samberg set to try and lock down a spot on the roster.
The prospects on the blue line also include Declan Chisholm, Johnny Kovacevic, Leon Gawanke and Simon Lundmark.
Centre David Gustafsson (second round, 2018) was the most valuable player for the Moose and he’s ready to move into the fourth-line centre role and contribute to the penalty kill.
Winger Kristian Vesalainen (first round, 2017) got into 12 games with the Jets last season and he’s ready for full-time work as well, perhaps on a line with Gustafsson.
Centre Nathan Smith helped the Minnesota State University-Mankato Mavericks reach the NCAA Frozen Four tournament, but it’s looking likely that he will return to college for his junior season.
In goal, Mikhail Berdin is the clear-cut top prospect and he’s likely set for another season in the AHL — though he could push for the backup job depending on how things go this summer when it comes to trades or free agent signings.
Arvid Holm is also set to come over to play in North America after two strong seasons as the starter for Farjestads in the Swedish Hockey League.