Winnipeg Jets: An Inside Look at Some Top Prospects
The Winnipeg Jets have been one of the best teams in the NHL for the past two years, but they have not won the Stanley Cup. Even though Winnipeg has not won it all, they have been very good because of very good drafting and the Winnipeg Jets have one of the best prospect pools in hockey.
One of the marquee guys they have drafted over the past couple of years is winger Patrik Laine with the second overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. Who are some of Winnipeg’s other key prospects in their system?
Goaltender Eric Comrie might be the Winnipeg Jets best prospect in their system. He has the potential to be a starting goaltender in the NHL. Comrie is only 23 years old, but the problem is he will not get play time as long as goaltender Connor Hellebuyck stays healthy. Teams will probably call Winnipeg about Comrie’s availability this offseason, but it is possible they may not want to get rid of him in case something were to happen to Hellebuyck. In 47 games played with the Manitoba Moose last season in the AHL, Eric Comrie’s record was 25-20-2 with a .917 save percentage and a 2.69 GAA, along with two shutouts. He played in one NHL game last season. Comrie lost that game and his save percentage was .821 and his GAA was 5.01.
Centerman Austin Wong was a seventh-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. Wong has been a surprise so far in his development and he is only 18 years old. The Winnipeg Jets took a risk on him and it could potentially pay off in the long run. In 47 games in the AJHL with the Okotoks Oilers, he scored 29 goals and recorded 33 assists. His plus/minus was n/a. In 13 postseason games, Austin Wong scored six goals and recorded six assists. He will be playing hockey next season at Harvard University (NCAA). Playing in the NCAA will help his development and possibly increase his chances of reaching the NHL.
Defenseman Leon Gawanke was a fifth-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. Winnipeg seems to do a very good job in finding players later in the draft and this is how teams stay good for a very long time. In 62 games with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in the QMJHL, he has scored 17 goals and recorded 40 assists. His plus/minus was 14. In 11 postseason games, Gawanke scored two goals and recorded five assists. His plus/minus was -11. He will start next season with the Manitoba Moose in the AHL and Leon Gawanke is 20 years old. The Winnipeg Jets are not that deep on the blue line and he will look to crack the roster within the next year or two. Josh Morrissey and Leon Gawanke could potentially be the future top pairing in Winnipeg.
Centerman Nathan Smith is an interesting prospect for the Winnipeg Jets. He was a third-round pick in last year’s draft. Smith has a ton of speed and skill and it showed in the USHL last season with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. In 50 games with them, he scored 18 goals and recorded 35 assists. His plus/minus was 35. In four postseason games, Nathan Smith recorded one assist. His plus/minus was -4. He is 20 years old and Smith will be playing next season at Minnesota State University. It is quite possible he will sign an entry-level contract after that.
Left winger Kristian Vesalainen is only 20 years old and he was a first-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. Vesalainen has the potential to be a very good player at the NHL. He still has a lot of room to grow as an offensive player, but there is a reason why Winnipeg thinks highly of him. Kristian Vesalainen was able to crack the lineup for five games this past season in the NHL. He recorded one assist and his plus/minus rating was even. Vesalainen scored four goals and recorded nine assists, in 22 games in the AHL. His plus/minus rating was -1. He went to play in the KHL for 31 games on a loan. Kristian Vesalainen scored six goals and recorded 11 assists. His plus/minus was 3. In six postseason games, he scored one goal. His plus/minus was even. Vesalainen will be back in the AHL to start next season.
Centerman David Gustafsson was a second-round pick by the Winnipeg Jets in the 2018 NHL Draft. In 36 games played last season with the HV71 Jonkoping in the SweHL, he scored two goals and recorded 10 assists. His plus/minus was 2. Gustafsson is only 19 years old. He was signed to an entry-level deal level already, but he will remain with his team in the SweHL to start next season. David Gustafsson doesn’t have the greatest offensive talent in the world, but his two-way excellent could provide him a long stay in the NHL.
Defenseman Giovanni Vallati had a break out year in the OHL with the Ottawa Generals. In 68 games played last season, he scored 11 goals and recorded 38 assists. His plus/minus was 7. In 15 postseason games, Vallati scored two goals and recorded five assists. His plus/minus was -7. He is only 19 years old and Giovanni Vallati has the potential to dominate in the OHL next season. Because of that, it is very possible he signs an entry-level contract. He was a fifth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. Vallati is very good offensively and it is very possible he could be a Top-4 defenseman on the Winnipeg Jets one day.
Centerman Santeri Virtanen played in 40 games last season with the SaiPa Lappeenranta. He also appeared in three postseason games and Virtanen didn’t score a goal or record an assist. His plus/minus was -3. He also appeared in seven games with the Finland U20 team in the WJC-20. Santeri Virtanen scored one goal and recorded two assists and his plus/minus was 3. He will be back with SaiPa next season in the Liiga league. Virtanen has not been signed yet by the Winnipeg Jets and it might be another couple of years until he comes to the United States potentially. He still needs to work on his offensive craft and if Santeri Virtanen is able to develop into an offensive player along with his two-way game, he has the potential to be dangerous. He was drafted in the fourth round by the Winnipeg Jets in the 2017 NHL Draft. Virtanen is only 20 years old.
The Winnipeg Jets will only have four draft picks in the 2019 NHL Draft. They hope all of those potential draft picks could help them out in the near future. Winnipeg would have had only three draft picks in this draft if they weren’t able to trade defenseman Jacob Trouba on Monday night to the New York Rangers. What is ironic is that the first-round pick they acquired from New York, was originally Winnipeg’s own pick. That was the pick that was a part of the Kevin Hayes traded that sent him to the Winnipeg Jets from the New York Rangers.
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