After looking last week at the 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 Winnipeg Jets Draft classes we will kick off this week with a look back at the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago. The Jets had improved over the previous season but had still failed to make the playoffs in 2016-2017. After winning the lotto in 2016 which saw them move up from 6th to 2nd they slipped a spot (from 12th to 13th) courtesy of the bouncing lotto balls in 2017.
1st round pick (13th overall): Traded
In order to avoid Vegas selecting a player they didn’t want to lose in the Expansion Draft (which had taken place two days before) the Jets swapped their 1st round pick (this one) and traded their 3rd round pick in 2019 (this pick was well traveled going from Winnipeg to Vegas to San Jose and then to NJ) for Vegas’ (via Columbus) 1st rounder (24th) and the Golden Knights agreeing to select Chris Thorburn.
1st round pick (24th overall): Kristian Vesalainen
For the second year in a row the Jets went to Finland for their top selection this time taking Kristian Vesalainen from Helsinki who played for Frolunda HC in the Swedish Hockey League. He would return home to Finland to play in the liiga the next season and ended up signing his three-year, entry-level contract with Winnipeg in August of 2018. At the time he signed I wondered if he would play for the Jets, for the Moose or whether he’d return to Europe. As we now know it turned out to be all three as he began 2018-19 playing five games with the Jets, was assigned to the Moose, used the Euro out clause to return to the KHL (to play for Jokerit who had bought his KHL rights) only to return to the Moose when his KHL season ended and then conclude the season with a recall to the Jets to serve as a Black Ace. The young prospect certainly earned his frequent flyer miles last season.
He will have a big opportunity ahead of him in 2019-20 as the Jets will need players with low salaries like his who can seize the opportunity that a cap conscious team like the Jets will present him. If he still needs time to develop then he will get it in the AHL playing big minutes for the Moose.
2nd round pick (43rd overall): Dylan Samberg
Showing their penchant for players out of Minnesota the Jets went the high school route selecting big (6’3) left-shot defenceman Dylan Samberg out of Hermantown (a suburb of Duluth) with a commitment to play at U. of Minnesota-Duluth. He and his Bulldogs teammates went on to win back to back national championships. There was some thought that he could turn pro next season but instead he will be returning to college for his junior season to challenge for a third straight NCAA national title (which has only been done once before by Michigan in 1951, 1952 and 1953). There is some concern among the fan base that he could exercise the college option to become a free agent (August 15th of 2021) and while that is always a possibility it would seem like there is a good opportunity for him to jump right to the Jets lineup after his college season ends next year. When we spoke to ESPN prospect expert Chris Peters in May on the Illegal Curve Hockey Show (after it was confirmed Samberg was returning to school) he felt it had more to do with development/ability to jump to the NHL from college and you can listen to his response to my question about Samberg choosing to remain in the NCAA over the NHL/AHL route at this point in his young career.
We will have to wait and see what happens but for now he will be challenging with his Bulldog teammates for a third straight NCAA championship.
3rd round pick (74th overall): Johnathan Kovacevic
Another college player for the Jets as they took Johnathan Kovacevic who was playing for Merrimack College. The product of Grimsby, Ontario is a big (6’4″) right shot D man who would play two more years of college hockey following his being drafted before signing his first pro contract with Winnipeg in March of this year. It is a two-year ELC with the Jets although he started playing pro hockey when he signed an ATO with the farm club in Manitoba. He played in one game last season with the Moose scoring his first goal as a pro and adding an assist in a win over Chicago to conclude the 2018-19 regular season.
He will likely have an opportunity to earn some bigger minutes on the farm as he continues to hone his game as a young pro.
4th round pick (105th overall): Santeri Virtanen
Back to Finland for the Jets this round where they went took Turko product Santeri Virtanen. The left shot centre would spend the season after being drafted playing in the USHL with the Dubuque Fighting Saints before returning last season to play for SaiPa Lappeenranta (home of Jets 2013 7th rounder Brenden Kichton). It looks like he will be back in Finland to play for SaiPa Lappeenranta once again.
Since Virtanen was drafted from a European club the Jets have four years after he was selected to offer him a contract (unlike the two years it would be if he was drafted from a junior team or college in Canada or the States).
5th round pick (136th overall): Leon Gawanke
Born in Berlin, Germany the Jets selected the right shot defenceman who was playing in the QMJHL for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. He has two more seasons of QMJHL hockey under his belt since he was drafted although during that time his name may be best known to Jets fans for the time during a Jets game when Jacob Trouba broke his stick, grabbed one of Gawanke’s and scored a goal. Post-game the Jets D man (at the time) said “We are going to have to order more of these Gawanke sticks.”
Winnipeg signed him to a three-year ELC back in May of this year which was ahead of the June 1st deadline (or else Gawanke could have re-entered the NHL Draft). I have read reports that indicate he could play for the Moose or return for another year of junior with Cape Breton. We shall see what happens after training camp.
6th round pick (167th overall): Arvid Holm
The Jets took 6’4″ Swedish goalie Arvid Holm from Ljungby who was playing for Karlskrona HK. He has been in Winnipeg the past couple of years to attend their Development Camps. He is scheduled to play for Färjestad BK of the Swedish Hockey League next season.
7th round pick (198th): Skyler McKenzie
Continuing in the mold of small but extremely talented forwards from the Portland Winterhawks the Jets selected Skyler McKenzie who put up 42G and 42A in his draft year (more than tripling his previous season point totals). He subsequently improved his offensive totals in his fourth and final season of junior. With the Winterhawks season at an end he signed an ATO with the Moose which saw him score his first pro goal in his first pro game (which also happened to be a playoff game). A few months later he signed his three-year ELC with the Jets.
He was having a nice first year pro scoring eight goals along with eight assists in 47 games for Manitoba, being given an opportunity to play up and down the lineup but in early March he was injured and wouldn’t play again. He will be back with Manitoba next season and will be a player the team looks to to provide offence.
7th round pick (211th): Croix Evingson
The Jets 7th rounder in 2016 was traded to the Habs for their 7th rounder in this draft. With their second 7th round pick Winnipeg took Croix Evingson (born in Alaska, raised in Minnesota) who was playing for the Shreveport Mudbugs of the NAHL with a commitment to UMass-Lowell (where Connor Hellebuyck played and where Jets 2019 5th round pick Logan Neaton will play next season). Lowell Sun assistant sports editor Barry Scanlon reported that “Evingson has decided to transfer after two seasons at UMass Lowell” and that he would need to sit out a year in order to join another division 1 college.
1st – Kristian Vesalainen – With the Jets/Moose.
2nd – Dylan Samberg – In college.
3rd – Jonathan Kovacevic – With the Moose.
4th – Santeri Virtanen – Playing in Finland.
5th – Leon Gawanke – In AHL or QMJHL.
6th – Arvid Holm – Playing in Sweden.
7th – Skyler McKenzie – With the Moose.
7th – Croix Evingson – Transferred school.
Next up: We look at the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas.
I also appear on the Illegal Curve Hockey Show every Saturday on TSN 1290 Winnipeg starting at 9 am.
And I occasionally jump in the play-by-play booth at Bell MTS Place to provide colour analysis during Manitoba Moose games.