Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The Depth Is Coming

It was announced today that the Winnipeg Jets signd their first-round pick in Nikolaj Ehlers to a three-year, entry-level deal. Ehlers will most likely skate with the QMJHL's Halifax Mooseheads again this year, but the Jets inked a solid play-maker who should contribute in the years to come. I have no issue with the signing of Ehlers, and commend the Jets for getting the young Dane under contract. With his signing, the Jets are slowly building a solid pack of young players who should take this team to the next level.

If you look at some of the players who the Jets have drafted, there is a sense that the team is starting to turn the corner from where they were when they moved from Atlanta. There is optimism that these younger players will contribute when they are ready, and the team is content not to rush them into the NHL in order for them to develop properly. As seen with players like Alex Burmistrov, the Thrashers may have done more harm than good in his development, and his return to the KHL may have actually helped him become a better player if he is to return to the NHL next season.

Comparatively, you could stack the Jets up against the Edmonton Oilers. The Jets haven't had the luxury of three first-overall picks like the Oilers have nor have they attracted a marquee free agent like Justin Schultz, but the Jets actually compare quite favorably to Oilers, especially when one considers that the Oilers seem to always be on the precipice of "turning it around" year after year.

The one issue that Jets fans will have to understand is that time will not leap forward for them this year. Ehlers and Josh Morrissey may not see the NHL ice this year, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Players like Adam Lowry, Nic Petan, and Eric O'Dell will get shots, but may be back in St. John's to start the season as well. While the Jets made two outstanding picks with their selections of Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba, there just aren't that many blue-chip prospects ready to take the step from junior or college hockey into the NHL. Therefore, letting the youngsters develop at their own pace in the AHL or junior ranks is ideal for their careers.

For all the can't-miss prospects that the Oilers have amassed, they have the same total of playoff appearances as the Jets since the Jets returned to Winnipeg. It's not so much that the Oilers don't have great young players, but rather they push them into NHL roles immediately. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was a great junior player, but it took him some time to get his NHL legs under him. The same could be said for Winnipeg's Mark Schiefele, but the Jets are content with letting him find his NHL legs at his own speed. As we saw last season, Scheifele was beginning to break out before being sidelined with an injury. The ability is there, though.

This season will be another long, cold one in Winnipeg as the winter months crawl past. The Jets will compete, but they're likely to miss the playoffs in an ultra-competitive Central Division once more. Given enough time, though, this Jets team will be young, fast, and competitive in their own rights if the young players being developed by the Jets start to reach their potentials.

At that point, there might be some joy in April for Jets fans.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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