The Winnipeg Jets have done their best to keep the core of their team together by handing out long-term contracts to players in their 20s. But there's still room on their roster for the kids.
In fact, the Jets are banking on a couple of recent first-round picks to give them the infusion of talent they'll need to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time in franchise history. Despite the loss of 2010 first-round pick Alexander Burmistrov, the Jets have been building depth in their system and could have two or three rookies in the lineup this season.
Here's a look at Winnipeg's top 10 prospects, according to NHL.com:
1. Jacob Trouba, D: After a sensational college season that ended with him signing an entry-level contract in April, it would be at least a moderate surprise if Trouba, the ninth player taken in the 2012 NHL Draft, wasn't in a Winnipeg uniform on opening night.
Trouba's lone season at the University of Michigan saw him named to the CCM Hockey All-America West Team, as well as to the CCHA's First All-Star Team, All-Rookie Team and All-Tournament Team after scoring 12 goals and finishing with 29 points in 37 games. He was named the best defenseman at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championships after his four goals and nine points led the United States to the gold medal. Trouba also played seven games for the U.S. team that won bronze at the World Championship.
Trouba is a shutdown defender and a punishing hitter with offensive skills and a heavy shot. The Jets expect him to play a significant role right away, and as his 6-foot-2, 187-pound frame fills out, he has the chance to become an elite defenseman. His goal is to be in the lineup when the season opens Oct. 1.
"Obviously I want this place to be home for quite a while," the 19-year-old said this summer. "I'm working to get there and we'll see how things go."
2. Mark Scheifele, C: The third time figures to be the charm for Scheifele, a talented center who has started each of the past two seasons with the Jets, playing a total of 11 games before being returned to the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League.
Scheifele, the seventh pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, thrived in Barrie under the tutelage of Hall of Fame member and former Jets star Dale Hawerchuk, scoring 39 goals and putting up 79 points in 45 games last season. He had 15 goals and 41 points in 21 playoff games for the Colts.
At Jets development camp, the 20-year-old measured 6-foot-2, 184 pounds and sounded like a player ready to make the jump to the NHL.
"The last two years I felt confident that I could stick with the team," he said. "I thought I developed well in juniors [last] year, and each and every year I get more and more confident. This year I just feel that much better, that much more confident in my game and my body.
"My goal is to get a role in the top-six [forwards] and do whatever I can to help the team win."
3. Josh Morrissey, D: The Jets grabbed Morrissey, a mobile defenseman, with the 13th selection in the 2013 NHL Draft after he scored 15 goals and finished with 47 points in 70 games with the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League.
Morrissey, 18, is a tremendous skater who gets to top speed quickly and has good hockey sense offensively. He's willing to compete, but at 6-foot, 186 pounds, he'll have to get bigger and stronger to handle 1-on-1 situations, particularly in his own zone.
"I think I'm a two-way defenseman with an offensive upside. I like to compete hard and my biggest assets are my skating and my hockey sense," Morrissey said. "I have to work on my defensive game but my offensive side has really flourished."
4. Adam Lowry, C/LW: Taken in the third round (No. 67) of the 2010 NHL Draft, Lowry was named WHL Player of the Year in 2012-13 after scoring 45 goals and 88 points in 72 games with Swift Current. The son of former NHL forward Dave Lowry also had an assist in nine games with the Jets' AHL affiliate in St. John's. At 6-foot-4, 187 pounds, the 20-year-old may have to fill out a bit, but he's eager for the opportunity to earn a roster spot in training camp.
5. Zach Redmond, D: Redmond's NHL debut last season ended when he sustained a ghastly skate cut to his right leg during a practice in late February. He needed surgery and sat out the remainder of the season.
Before the injury, the seventh-round pick (No. 184) in the 2008 NHL Draft had a goal and three assists in 12 games. That showing was impressive enough that the Jets made him a qualifying contract offer this summer. The 25-year-old is a solid skater, can move the puck out of his own zone, and at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds has the size to compete for one of the last three defense positions.
6. Connor Hellebuyck, G: The Jets' fifth-round pick (No. 132) in 2012 was one of the biggest surprises in college hockey last season. As a freshman, he won the starting job in goal for the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and led the River Hawks to their first NCAA Frozen Four. Hellebucyk's numbers were staggering; he went 20-3-0 with a 1.37 goals-against average, a .952 save percentage and six shutouts in 24 appearances.
At 6-foot-4, 185 pounds, the 20-year-old fills a lot of net. He'll try to build on his sensational freshman season when he returns to Lowell this fall.
7. Edward Pasquale, G: A fourth-round choice (No. 117) in 2009, Pasquale saw the majority of action in goal for the Jets' American Hockey League affiliate in St. John's last season and got his first taste of the NHL when he was called up in February to back up Ondrej Pavelec.
At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, the 22-year-old has the size teams are looking for, and he led the IceCaps to the 2012 Calder Cup semifinals. He'll battle veteran Al Montoya for the backup job with the Jets.
8. Ivan Telegin, C: The 21-year-old Russian was a scorer and playmaker in junior hockey, where he was a year ahead of Scheifele with Barrie. But the 101st pick in the 2010 NHL Draft struggled to score in his first year as a pro, with three goals and 10 points in 34 games with St. John's. At 6-foot-4, 195 pounds, he's got good size and can really skate, though he's likely to need at least one more season in the minors before competing for a job in the NHL.
9. Nic Petan, C: The Jets' second-round pick (No. 43) in June has spent his entire career playing bigger than his 5-foot-9, 165-pound frame. The speedy center was a key to the Portland Winterhawks' run to the Memorial Cup Final last season, scoring 46 goals and tying for the WHL scoring title with 120 points in 71 games before contributing nine goals and 28 points in 21 playoff games. So far, Petan's speed and skill have compensated for his lack of size. If the 18-year-old is able to do that as he matures, he could be one of the steals of the 2013 draft.
10. Eric O'Dell, C: In his second season with St. John's, O'Dell led the IceCaps in goals (29) and points (55) playing 59 games. That was a big jump after getting 12 goals and 22 points in his first AHL season. A second-round pick (No. 39) by the Anaheim Ducks in 2008, O'Dell, 23, is a useful two-way center who sees the ice well. But at 6-foot, 185 pounds, he still needs to add strength.
Author: John Kreiser | NHL.com Columnist
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