The Winnipeg Jets’ prospects have received rave reviews over the past few years, and never more so than where we stand now. We began our review with a look at the top 10 prospect forwards in the Jets’ system. We now turn our attention to the top defensive prospects (5), the top goalies (3), and a few other forward prospects worth looking at. Suffice to say, while the Jets are built well for today, they are likely to be in even better shape in the next 3-5 years.
(1) Josh Morrissey
One of the most visible Jets prospects, Morrissey is an excellent skater who plays a very intelligent game. He has great vision and passing ability, a good shot, and even a bit of a physical edge. In 2013-2014, he scored 28 and 73 points in just 58 games – huge totals for a defenceman. While he had a less impressive season statistically in ’14-15, the loss of #3 overall pick, Leon Draisaitl really took a lot of offence away from his team in Prince Albert. Morrissey won a gold medal for Canada at the World Juniors, and was also named to the tournament all-star team after posting 4 points in 7 games, and playing a key role in Canada’s top-4. He also traded mid-way through his WHL season, and helped the Kelowna Rockets win the WHL Championship, and was also just an OT goal away winning the Memorial Cup. While there is a lot of talk about him making the jump to the NHL this season, chances are that he will start the year with the Moose, as the Jets currently have 9 defencemen under contract, and Paul Postma awaiting a new deal. He will certainly be the first prospect to be called up in the event of injury, and will likely find a full-time role with the Jets by 2016-2017.
(2) Jan Kostalek
When the Jets drafted Jan Kostalek in the 4th round in 2013, I think they thought they were getting a steady, simple defenceman; apparently Kostalek had other plans. A Czech defender playing in the QMJHL, Kostalek had a huge year, posting 43 points in 57 games, along with a +55 rating, and was named the top defenceman in the QMJHL. Then, he stepped it up even further, leading all defencemen in playoff scoring with 21 points in 20 games, and helping his team win the QMJHL Championship, and advance to the Memorial Cup. A right-handed defenceman, Kostalek plays a strong two-way game, and while he doesn’t dominate physically, he is able to hold his own at 6’1, 195 lbs. He has also developed his shot, and likes to tee-up one-timers from the left side of the ice (his off-side). While he once projected as a stay-at-home, 3rd pairing NHL defenceman, he now has the potential to be something more. That said, he’ll probably spend a few years in the AHL before we see him with the Jets; he’ll start his pro career with the Moose this fall.
(3) Tucker Poolman
Like Kostalek, Tucker Poolman was another under-the-radar pick for the Jets back in 2013. Poolman is a big defenceman who stands 6’3, 210, and looks like he still has more filling out to do. Offensively, his shot is a big weapon, as he blasts one-timers from the left-point. A late bloomer, Poolman didn’t start playing NCAA hockey until age 21, whereas most of his peers would have started college at 18 or 19. Nonetheless, he had an impressive college debut with UND, posting 18 points in 40 games, and leading his team in goals by a defender with 8. With his size and shot, the main thing in need of improvement is his skating. He still has three more years of college eligibility, and will likely play another season with North Dakota before turning pro and joining the Moose.
(4) Jack Glover
Glover is a smooth skating, 6’3 defenceman who was billed on draft day as a reliable, two-way d-man. While he doesn’t have huge offensive upside, he moves the puck well, and is good at taking space away from his opponents. He had a disappointing freshman year, in large part because he was burried on the depth chart behind older NHL defensive prospects like Mike Reilly (Min), Brady Skjei (Nyr), Ryan Collins (Clb), Michael Brodzinski (Sjs), Jake Bischoff (Nyi), and Ben Marshall (Det). With at least three of those players turning pro, Glover will have a better opportunity to play significant minutes, and post more offence. Like many defencemen who lack high-end skill, it’s tough to assess Glover’s NHL potential until he starts playing against men in the AHL. He’ll probably play at least two more seasons in college before turning pro.
(5) Sami Niku
Sami Niku is a Finnish defenceman playing in his country’s main professional league, the SM-Liiga. While he has a slim build – he is almost 6’1, but only 175 – he is an excellent skater who moves the puck fairly well. Given that a few scouting services had Niku ranked in the top-100, the Jets did well to get him with the 198th pick in the this past year’s draft. Jets fans will get their best look at Niku this Christmas, as one would expect he’ll play for Finland again at the World Junior Championships (he made last year’s team). Given his lack of physical maturity, and the fact that he’s playing in a good European league, chances are that Niku will continue to develop in Finland another year or two before coming over to North America.
(1) Connor Hellebuyck
Connor Hellebuyck isn’t just the Jets’ top goalie prospect, he is one of their very best prospects, period. Hellebuyck was a standout in college, putting up near-historic numbers, and earning the Mike Richer award in 2014 as NCAA goaltender of the year. In his pro debut, he did nothing to disuade the organization opinion of him, putting up very strong numbers on a mediocre Ice Caps squad while leading all AHL goalies in minutes played during his rookie season. He also was asked to play for Team USA at the Men’s World Championships this past spring where he put up sparkling numbers – a record of 7-1, a G.A.A of 1.38, and save % of .948 – en route to a bronze medal. At 6’4, he’s a big goalie who relies on good positioning, and a heightened awareness of where potential shooters lurk. While there are no guarantees with any prospects – particularly with goaltenders – Hellebuyck has all the making of an NHL starting goaltender. Chances are he’ll spend one more season in the AHL with the Moose, before making his way to the NHL.
(2) Eric Comrie
Eric Comrie is turning pro in 2015 after ending his junior career as a 2nd Team WHL All-Star. He represented Canada at the World Junior Championships this past year, serving as the back-up to Zach Fucale, but playing well in two games, including a key contest against the US in the round robin. Although it was disappointing to lose out to Fucale – who is a very good prospect in his own right – to even be chosen as one of Canada’s two goalies for the World Junior team, ahead of other standouts like Tristan Jarry and Philippe Desrosiers – both of whom were drafted ahead of him – shows that he is very well thought of by amateur scouts. At 6’1, he’s an athletic goaltender with very strong fundaments. He also seems to have a maturity beyond his years, and a serious commitment to becoming a great pro. That said, CHL stats don’t often give a great read on a goaltender’s potential, so we’ll need to observe his AHL career before we have a good indication of his NHL potential. He will either back-up Connor Hellebuyck with the Moose this year, or perhaps be the starter in the ECHL in order to get more work. Then next season, he will likely be the full-time Moose starter.
(3) Jamie Phillips
After spending his first two years in the NCAA as a back-up, Jamie Phillips came out of nowhere this past year and became one of the top goaltenders in college hockey. He played for Michigan Tech, and was named a finalist for the Mike Richter award for best goaltender – the one which was awarded to Hellebuyck in 2013-2014. At 6’3, he’s a big goalie who looks to have some NHL potential. Given that he was a 7th round pick back in 2012, it would be a huge win even if Phillips were to become an NHL back-up, but that said, many household NHL names have been late NHL draft picks, including Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne, Tim Thomas, and several others. Phillips has yet to sign an NHL contract, and given the potential log jam in the AHL with Hellebuyck and Comrie, he’ll likely spend one more season in the NCAA, before turning pro in 2016-2017.
Other Prospects of Interest
Like Tucker Poolman, Franklin is a late bloomer – a 1994-born forward who started his NCAA career in 2014-2015 after playing a few years in the USHL. On the short-side at 5’11, he’s stocky at 190+, solid on his skates, and a good skater. With 27 points in 36 games, he had a strong rookie season, though at 7th in team scoring, it’s hard to say whether his offensive success could be attributed to his more skilled teammates. Franklin is known for being a very gritty, physical player, who will do anything to win. With the Jets great prospect forward depth, there’s no rush for Franklin to join the pro ranks, so he’ll likely play at least one more NCAA season before turning pro. Perhaps one day he will fill a bottom-6 role for the Jets.
At 6’4, Kraskovsky is a big Russian centre, who like most Russians, skates pretty well and has some skill. He’s been playing mainly in the MHL – a Russian junior league – where he has put up respectable stats – 30 points in 38 games. He suited up for Russia’s “Super Series” team last fall – a lead up to the World Juniors – and had a few impressive performances against the CHL teams. While he didn’t make Russia’s WJC squad in 2015 as an 18-year-old, he’ll have another crack at it in 2016. He has no plans to come to North America this year, and it’s difficult to get much of a read on his NHL potential until he has played in a more familiar league like the KHL. Perhaps we’ll see him in a Moose jerseys in a few years.
Scott Kosmachuk was a big scorer in the OHL, and like many young prospects, found the AHL to be a very tough test. After a 49-goal, 101-point in his final junior season with the Guelph Storm (OHL), Kosmachuk scored 14 goals and 28 points in his pro debut last year. That said, the Ice Caps as a whole struggled to produce offence, so it wasn’t the best environment for a rookie to enter. Kosmachuk has pretty good quickness, and a very good shot, but at 6’, 190, he’ll need to add more size and speed in order to make it to the next level. If he can produce more offence for the Moose this season, and round out his game, he may compete for a spot in the bottom-6 in a year or two.
An American forward who just finished his career in the OHL, Lodge was seen as a fairly high-end prospect on draft day. He has good hands and a big enough frame (6’1), but he didn’t put up big stats following his draft year, in large part due to injuries in ’13-14, and a lackluster team in ‘14-15. There’s still a chance that he could produce offence at the next level if he’s given time to improve his skating and acceleration, and of course, bulk up. He will turn pro this fall and will likely suit up for the Moose.
What do you think of the Jets prospects? Where do you see them fitting into the Jets in the future? Were there any you felt deserved to be mentioned, or you’d simply like to know more about?