Jets 2022 NHL Draft Preview: Cheveldayoff could make major move

Sean Reynolds and Ken Wiebe discuss the Jets' hiring of Rick Bowness as the new head coach, how he will manage the locker room issues in Winnipeg, and how he can help the Jets get back to the playoffs.

MONTREAL — The last time Kevin Cheveldayoff had two picks in the first round of the NHL Draft back in 2016, he came away with a generational goal scorer in Patrik Laine that changed the complexion of the franchise and then traded up for a project on defence in Logan Stanley who is still finding his way.

With the 2022 NHL Draft right around the corner, there could be some interesting twists and turns to come for the Winnipeg Jets during the next few days.

Now that the Jets have Rick Bowness in place as head coach, personnel decisions will be front and centre leading up to Thursday’s first round.

After a season of failed expectations, there’s a belief the Jets will be looking to at least make a few tweaks and there’s the potential for a whopper of a deal involving one of the core pieces.

How big a swing is Cheveldayoff willing to take?

Is there someone on the Jets list that would be of high enough interest for the organization to consider moving up from the 14th overall selection?

Is there someone near the bottom of the first round that has intrigue around the 30th overall selection, the final piece of the trade puzzle from the deal that sent Andrew Copp to the New York Rangers at the NHL trade deadline?

“I think that this draft, going through the process, there is going to be a lot of wild speculation as to where players are going to go,” Cheveldayoff said on Monday at the introductory press conference for Bowness. “You look at all of the mock drafts and they are all over the map, there is really no consensus anywhere. And then you look at your own lists and you can see why because in a lot of cases your list is a lot different. It is going to be interesting; there (are) going to be a lot of gasps and awes when people are looking at different guys.

“It was a unique perspective to sit in the scouting meetings because this is a group of players who, for a lot of them in the OHL, missed an entire year and didn’t play. They missed a year of development two years ago. So for a lot of them they were supposed to be second-year junior players, but they are only first year, so some of those things need to be taken into consideration. That might lead to varying opinions on different players. Some leagues played and some leagues didn’t play during a very important formative year.”

The coaching hire was the main topic of conversation on Monday, but naturally Cheveldayoff was asked about those trade winds that have been swirling around the likes of captain Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele.

“It’s always active. But as far as specific individuals, I’m not going to comment on specific individuals,” said Cheveldayoff. “Mark Scheifele is a big, big part of this team. Blake Wheeler is a big part of this team. The time of the year that we are in lends for conversation practically about anybody.

“As a manager, you have to listen. Whether I hear them or not is a different story.”

That last line could be a response to speculation about centre Pierre-Luc Dubois, a restricted free agent whose camp has informed the Jets that he plans to test unrestricted free agency in 2024.

The Jets have dealt with similar situations in the past with players like Laine and Jacob Trouba and Cheveldayoff has rarely rushed into something.

It’s far more likely the Jets spend the next season showing Dubois how important a piece he is to their puzzle in an effort to reconsider and stick around for the long haul.

“There is the business side of the game, and certainly the players — at different points in time — will receive different levels of what their choices are to do and players earn that right,” said Cheveldayoff. “So again, I think today is an important day for our franchise and that we are committing to wanting to win here. That’s what players want. They want that ability to play on a team that can compete.

“The business side will always take care of itself, it just always does.”

One of the topics that Cheveldayoff openly discussed when talking about the wide range of candidates he interviewed for the head coaching vacancy was the importance of hearing the opinions of voices from outside the organization.

Given some of the frustration that spilled out from the players at the end of the season, it would not be a surprise if a few moves were made this week.

Cheveldayoff also needs to make some room within the defence corps for guys like Ville Heinola and Dylan Samberg to take on regular roles, which means that some of the conversations taking place could include the likes of Brenden Dillon, Dylan DeMelo and/or Nate Schmidt.

The other thing to consider is that with Bowness’ two-year contract lining up with the expiration of current deals for goalie Connor Hellebuyck, Scheifele and Wheeler among others, the Jets are focused on trying to return to the playoffs, this isn’t the start of a long rebuild.

That doesn’t mean the Jets won’t be looking to bolster the prospect pool with another pick or two.

It also doesn’t rule out the Jets considering a trade involving future assets — draft picks or prospects — to upgrade the current forward group.

Draft picks 

• First round (14th and 30th overall)

• Second round (55th overall)

• Third round (77th overall)

• Fourth round (99th overall)

• Sixth round (175th overall)

• Seventh round (207th overall)

Potential Round 1 targets at 14

Conor Geekie, C

The pride of Strathclair, Man. has top-10 talent and could easily be off the board by the time Cheveldayoff steps to the podium. At 6-foot-3 and 194 pounds, the Winnipeg Ice forward has soft hands and isn’t afraid to play with edge or go to the hard areas.

After notching 24 goals and 70 points in 63 games during the regular season, the left-handed shooting centre added three goals and 11 points in 15 games during a post-season run that ended in the Eastern Conference final against the eventual WHL champion Edmonton Oil Kings.

Frank Nazar, RW

An excellent two-way player from the U.S. National Development Team progra who is also known for his skating ability and willingness to get involved in all three zones. A tenacious forechecker who is a proficient penalty killer, his offensive stats (46 goals and 114 points) were also impressive.

Nazar is committed to the University of Michigan Wolverines program this fall.

Denton Mateychuk, D

A mobile blue-liner who gets involved off the rush while not ignoring his defensive responsibilities.

The Dominion City, Man. product is known for his high engagement and compete level, he played a leadership role with a Moose Jaw Warriors team that made it to the second round of the WHL playoffs — where he reached the point-per-game pace (10 points in 10 games) after racking up 13 goals and 64 points in 65 games during the regular season.

Potential Round 1 targets at 30

Nathan Gaucher, C

While he projects as more of a lower-ceiling player, there’s a lot to like about the skill set for this right-handed shooting Quebec Remparts pivot who is sound defensively and brings a physical element to go along with his steady production (31 goals, 57 points in 66 games).

Colleague Sam Cosentino believes he has some similarities in his game to versatile Vegas Golden Knights forward Nicolas Roy.

Rutger McGroarty, C

A power forward from the U.S. National Development Team who is known for his ability to distribute the puck and also score goals, the product of Lincoln, Nebraska will be heading to the University of Michigan in the fall. and could follow in the footsteps of those from that state that have had an impact on the Jets organization.

For a team that’s looking to be harder to play against, McGroarty would check a lot of boxes. He captained Team USA at the world U18 tournament and the Jets often look at high-character players who have played a leadership role on their respective clubs.

Filip Mesar, RW/C

A strong showing at the U18 championship that included five goals and 12 points in seven games for Slovakia has the five-foot-10 winger on the radar near the bottom of the first round.

He’s an explosive skater who produced eight goals and 16 points playing in Slovakia's top league in his draft year.

Last year's first round pick: Chaz Lucius

The 18th overall selection in the 2021 NHL Draft had a productive freshman season (nine goals, 19 points) with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers when healthy, but a series of injuries limited him to 24 games and prevented him from a valuable run to the NCAA Frozen Four.

A natural centre who spent most of the season playing right wing, Lucius decided to leave college after one season and signed his entry-level deal with the Jets in April and is expected to begin his pro career with the Manitoba Moose of the AHL this fall. He remains a high-end prospect with excellent vision and finishing ability.

Organizational needs

This has shifted somewhat, with the majority of the top forward prospects not only in the pipeline but on the NHL roster — outside of Nikita Chibrikov and Dmitry Rashevsky, who are expected to play in the KHL again next season.

After the trade that sent Nathan Smith to the Arizona Coyotes as part of the deal to get Bryan Little’s LTIR contract off the books, the Jets could lean slightly toward replenishing the forward pool.

Back in 2015, the Jets got Kyle Connor at 17 and Jack Roslovic at 25 and if they could deliver a similar return this time around, they would be thrilled.

Having said that, unless there is a discernible gap on the draft board at the centre or wing positions, the Jets are expected to go with the best player available, so there could be a balance between forwards and defenceman.

After being limited to eight total selections in 2020 and 2021, a goalie project could be on the horizon — as the Jets haven’t chosen a netminder since Logan Neaton in 2019.

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