TSP: Winnipeg Jets Prospects

Kristian Vesalainen Winnipeg Jets Prospects
WINNIPEG, MB - JUNE 29: Jets Kristian Vesalainen (42) participates in drills during the Jets Development Camp on June 29 at the Bell MTS Iceplex in Winnipeg MB. (Photo by Terrence Lee/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Welcome to the 2019 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2019 LWOH will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. We will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) and you can find all the articles here.  Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, we will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2019 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed. Today, we look at the Winnipeg Jets Prospects.

What we will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2019-20 roster of the NHL team in question. We will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who we pick as our dark horse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoff games) or is 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.

Winnipeg Jets Prospects

After a brilliant 2017-18 season, the Winnipeg Jets were a trendy pick as a Stanley Cup contender in 2019. Unfortunately, injuries and underperformance meant that the Jets never quite reached their full potential. While the team put up 99 points and finished second in the Central Division, it’s fair to say that more was expected. Following a first-round loss to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues, the Jets were left searching for answers.

The off-season saw the team mired in a cap crunch, with money needing to be set aside for high-profile RFAs Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine. This meant sacrifices needed to be made. The biggest losses occurred on the blue line, where Jacob Trouba was sent to the New York Rangers with Neal Pionk and a first-round pick coming back in return. Meanwhile, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot left in free agency. Upfront, the team could not retain trade deadline rental Kevin Hayes or useful forward Brandon Tanev. Reinforcements from outside the organization have been sparse, with only depth forward Mark Letestu qualifying as a recognizable name. Instead, the Winnipeg Jets prospects will be asked to fill the holes.

2019 NHL Draft Picks (Grade C+): Ville HeinolaSimon LundmarkHenri NikkanenHarrison BlaisdellLogan Neaton
Graduations: Neal Pionk (acquired), Jack Roslovic, Brendan Lemieux (traded),

 

Top Prospect: Kristian Vesalainen

Left Wing/Right Wing — shoots Left
Born June 1st, 1999 — Helsinki, Finland
Height 6’4″ — Weight 207 lbs [192 cm / 94 kg]
Drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in the 1st round, #24 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft

Vesalainen spent time with the Jets, picking up his first NHL point, an assist, in five NHL games. He also played 22 games with the Manitoba Moose, scoring four goals and 13 points. Finally, he finished the season with Jokerit in the KHL, picking up six goals and 17 points in 31 games. He also had one goal in six playoff games.

Skating

Vesalainen is a very good skater for his size. He has an explosive first step and very good acceleration, allowing him to be quick on loose pucks. He also has good top-end speed. Possessing good lower body strength, and a powerful stride, Vesalainen is very good at fighting through checks and getting to the front of the net. He also is strong along the boards, winning battles for the puck and controlling the game in the cycle game. His agility and edgework are exceptional for a big man, with the ability to change directions and manoeuvre away from defenders.

Offensive Game

A versatile player, Vesalainen has experience playing both wings. He has excellent size and uses it to protect the puck along the boards and extend plays in the cycle. Gifted with a large wing-span, Vesalainen takes advantage of it and uses his excellent stickhandling ability to play keep-away with defenders. He also has the passing skill to move the puck to teammates in good areas once he creates that time and space. A budding power forward, Vesalainen wins battles along the boards. He is also not afraid to fight through checks to get to the front of the net.

Vesalainen also has an excellent array of shots. His wrist shot and snapshot both feature great power and a quick release. He could work on his accuracy though. Vesalainen can also bury in tight to the net, with the soft hands to finish in close to the goaltender. He chases down loose pucks relentlessly. Vesalainen is involved in the play in all three zones. He has a very high motor and is almost always at the centre of the action.

Defensive Game

Vesalainen is a very good two-way player. As mentioned, he is willing to get involved in battling for loose pucks in all three zones. Vesalainen is committed to backchecking. He supports the defence down low and understands how to apply backpressure. He is very good positionally and cuts down passing and shooting lanes. Vesalainen has been used on the penalty kill at the international level. While he struggled in his first run through the NHL, that is true of many teenagers. He should show off his two-way play as his experience comes through.

Outlook

Vesalainen should be back in North America for Jets training camp. He looks to make a bigger impression this season. With all the changes in Winnipeg, there will be a spot open for him to earn it in training camp and pre-season. Even if sent to the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, it is unlikely he spends the entire season there and could make an impact on the Jets this year.

 

#2 Prospect: Ville Heinola

The Jets drafted Heinola with the 20th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Heinola. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.

 

#3 Prospect: Sami Niku

Defence — shoots Left
Born October 10th, 1996 — Haapavesi, Finland
Height 6’1″ — Weight 194 lbs [185 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in the 7th round, #198 overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft

After being the AHL defencemen of the year in 2017-18, it was hoped that Niku would be NHL ready last year. He was given a chance with the Jets, but still had some maturing to do. In 30 games he scored a goal and had four points. In 20 AHL games, Niku had three goals and 12 points.

Skating

Niku is an average skater. His stride is long and smooth, but his footwork could be a bit quicker. While he has decent speed and acceleration, its nothing to write home about either. This is also true about his backwards skating. His agility and pivots are particularly strong. Niku can change directions on a dime, allowing him to avoid forecheckers, or to stay with his man. He also transitions quickly from offence to defence and vice-versa. Niku has added lower body strength in recent years, becoming stronger on his skates and better in battles along the boards.

Offensive Game

Niku has a powerful shot from the point. He uses his lateral agility to walk the line, opening up shooting lanes to get that shot off. Niku understands how to keep it low, and on the net, in order to give teammates opportunities for rebounds, deflections and tips. He also sneaks down from the point to take a wrist shot. It is powerful and has a quick release.

He is also a strong playmaker. Niku sees the ice well and has good passing skills. He can skate the puck out of danger in his own end, as well as start the transition with a good first pass. Niku has even been known to lead the rush, showing good stickhandling skill and the ability to beat defenders one-on-one. He retrieves pucks quickly and can move them out of dangerous areas and up the ice.

Defensive Game

Niku has gotten stronger over the last year. He can still get pushed around on the boards and struggles to clear big forwards in front of the net but has improved in this aspect of his game. He still needs to add more muscle especially as he transitions to the NHL. Niku has a quick stick and can poke-check the puck away from opponents. He is also very smart in his positioning and anticipation. While he will likely never be a bruiser, he can be an effective defender if he gains that additional strength.

Outlook

With the departures on the blueline, there is an open spot on the Jets defence group this season. Niku heads to training camp expected to win that job and make a much bigger impact on the team this year. With Trouba gone, he should also get the power-play time needed to make an impact at the offensive end of the ice.

 

#4 Prospect: Dylan Samberg

Defence — shoots Left
Born January 24th, 1999 — Hermantown, Minnesota
Height 6’4″ — Weight 223 lbs [193 cm / 101 kg]
Drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in the 2nd round, #43 overall at the 2017 NHL Draft

Samberg had another solid season at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, playing a top-four role and helping the team to a second straight National Championship. His offensive game improved with seven goals and 19 points in 39 games. Samberg also played for Team USA in the World Juniors, putting up two assists in seven games, and winning a silver medal.

Skating

Samberg has excellent size and combines that with very good skating. His top-end speed is very good, allowing him to join the rush, or pinch in at the blueline and still get back defensively. He is also quick when skating backwards. Good agility and edgework allow him to keep defenders in front of him, on the rush. Quick pivots also let him transition from defence to offence, or vice-versa quickly. Samberg also has good balance on his skates. His lower-body strength makes him hard to knock off the puck and effective in battles for loose pucks.

Offensive Game

Samberg has a decent slap shot from the point. He generates good stick flex and power. He also has a hard wrist shot with an excellent release. However, Samberg has a tendency to fire the puck into traffic, getting his shots blocked before they get to the net. He must work on moving laterally as well as opening up the shooting lanes before letting his shot go in order to improve his goal totals.

Samberg’s passing game is also a bit of a work in progress. He seems to rush his passes at times. Samberg could stand to hold onto the puck for an extra second and wait for the play to develop and then pick out his man. He doesn’t make bad passes and giveaways when this happens, he just makes plays that are less than optimal.  A short, safe pass or a chip off the boards as opposed to something that will generate speed and offence. These are issues that could be caused by the move from high school hockey to the NCAA. Samberg may just need a bit more time to adjust to the speed of the league, and at that point, would be more effective.

Defensive Game

Samberg is a solid defensive player with good positioning. He uses a long and active stick to cut down passing lanes, as well as being willing to put his body in position to block shots. Samberg is willing to take a hit to make a play. He also uses his big frame to lean on opponents in the corners and to clear the front of the net. However, Samberg is not a big hitter. He keeps himself disciplined in his position, and forces his man to the outside, but does not look for that big body check.

Outlook

Samberg returns to the University of Minnesota-Duluth for his junior season this fall. The Jets will hope to see his offensive numbers take another big jump this year. Following the season, he could sign with the Jets and join their team (or the AHL club) for the end of the regular season and playoffs.

 

#5 Prospect: Mason Appleton

Right Wing/Centre — shoots Right
Born January 15th, 1996 — Green Bay, Wisconsin
Height 6’2″ — Weight 201 lbs [188 cm / 91 kg]
Drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in the 6th round, #168 overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft

Appleton split time between the Jets and the Manitoba Moose. He was a dominant player in the AHL with 15 goals and 32 points in 40 games. In 36 NHL games, Appleton adjusted to the quicker pace and stronger opponents of the world’s best league, scoring three goals and 10 points in 36 games played.

Skating

Appleton’s skating has improved but is still a bit of a work in progress. His first step needs a bit of work and his acceleration can be improved. Once he gets moving, he has decent top-end speed. However, that lack of start-up speed can be an issue in races for loose pucks. Appleton has good edgework and agility, making him elusive both with and without the puck. He has a strong lower-body which allows him to fight through checks and win battles along the boards.

Offensive Game

Appleton sees the ice extremely well and has the hockey IQ to make smart plays with the puck. He is a good playmaker who opens up passing lanes with quick stick movement. He can use both his forehand and backhand to make tape-to-tape passes to teammates. Appleton can extend plays in the cycle game, waiting for a linemate to get open. Once they do, he can hit them with the pass to set up a scoring chance. While he can make plays at even-strength, he is even better working off the half-boards on the power play with the added time and space.

Appleton is very much a pass-first player, but he can score goals as well. He has a very good wrist shot and a quick release. He is also not afraid to go to the net, both with and without the puck. Once there, Appleton has the hands to finish plays in close, be they a pass from a teammate, a rebound, or a deflection. He battles hard on the boards and wins loose pucks.

Defensive Game

Appleton brings his gritty and tenacious game in all three zones. He supports the defence with effective backpressure against the rush. He also battles hard for loose pucks and looks to contain his man on the cycle. Appleton uses his hockey sense to anticipate plays, cut down passing lanes and create turnovers. He does a good job of keeping his feet moving and keeping himself between his man and the front of the net.

Outlook

With Tanev gone in free agency, there is room for a gritty forward who can provide some secondary scoring in the bottom of their lineup. Appleton comes to training camp looking to take that role and he looks like he’s ready for the job. While Appleton played centre in college but spent most of his last two years on the wing. He is likely a winger going forward as his skating is just not good enough to be a centre in the NHL.

 

#6 Prospect: Logan Stanley

Defence — shoots Left
Born May 26th, 1998 — Waterloo, Ontario
Height 6’7″ — Weight 231 lbs [201 cm / 105 kg]
Drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in the 1st round, #18 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft

In his first pro season, Stanley put up six goals and 22 points in 73 games for the Manitoba Moose. He also added 70 penalty minutes, continuing to play the physical game that became a staple of his at the junior level.

Skating

Stanley’s skating is a bit of a work in progress. It can take his long legs a little bit to get going, as he seems awkward in his start-up, and can use some work in his acceleration. Once he does get moving though, he has decent speed for a big man. He could stand to work on his edgework and his acceleration as small, quick forwards can take him wide and take advantage of the fact that his pivots are a little slow and awkward. In terms of balance, he does have a strong lower body and will only get better as he continues to mature.

Offensive Game

Stanley’s offensive game wasn’t quite at the level he showed in junior but six goals and 22 points for a 20-year-old rookie defender is nothing to look down on. As he matures, there is the promise that he can continue to develop that offensive game. He generates a lot of power with his big frame and has a strong slap shot. It could stand to be a little more accurate, but he is able to generate a lot of flex on his stick and a ton of power.

His stickhandling has really improved as he is much more poised in carrying the puck out of dangerous areas in his own end as well as playing the point. He shows a lot more poise and patience than he has in previous years. He is still better in the role of triggerman than quarterback though. Stanley has a decent first pass out of the zone and can start the transition game. He has become more comfortable getting up in the playing and joining the rush.

Defensive Game

Standing at 6-foot-7-inches tall, Logan Stanley is a giant on skates. He has a huge wingspan and long reach, giving him the ability to really cut down passing and shooting lanes, as well as to control attackers on the rush. Stanley is not afraid to block shots. His size is a real advantage on the penalty kill as he can be extremely disruptive to what the other team is trying to set up in the offensive zone. He also has a real mean streak, as he loves to be physical in throwing big hits, fighting for loose pucks, or clearing the crease. He can sometimes take the physical play a little too far, which can cost him in terms of taking penalties. Stanley has good hockey sense, as he reads the play well, and generally keeps himself in good defensive positions.

Outlook

Stanley will likely start another season in Manitoba, as there is still room to grow in his game. He has made strides since finishing his junior career but there is still more growth needed. For bigger players, there is often a period of adjustment needed when moving to higher levels and facing bigger, stronger, and faster opponents. It should not be too concerning if Stanley isn’t quite NHL ready yet. His size and skill make him an excellent prospect, but one who still needs development time. The Jets should have patience.

 

#7 Prospect: David Gustafsson

Centre — shoots Left
Born April 11th, 2000 — Tingsryd, Sweden
Height 6’2″ — Weight 196 lbs [188 cm/89 kg]
Drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in the 2nd round, #60 overall at the 2018 NHL Draft

After being drafted, Gustafsson returned to HV71 in the SHL. He put up two goals and 12 points in 36 regular-season games. Gustafsson also added one goal and four points in nine playoff games. He also played for Sweden’s team at the World Juniors, scoring three assists in five games.

Skating

Gustafsson has an awkward skating stride. While he still generates decent speed and acceleration, it could be a lot better with some refinements in his technique. His agility and edgework are also areas that can continue to improve in the coming years. One area that Gustafsson does excel though is in his lower-body strength. This allows him to fight through checks, and get to the front of the net. Strong balance helps him to win battles along boards and makes him strong on the puck.

Offensive Game

Gustafsson is a goal scorer. He gets to the front of the net and uses his size to screen goalies and create havoc in front of the net. While there, he has the hand-eye coordination to get deflections as well as the quickness to pounce on rebounds. He also has a quick one-timer in tight. Gustafsson has a strong and accurate wrist shot and snapshot. Both shots feature an extremely quick release that fools goaltenders.

Gustafsson is strong in puck possession and works well in the cycle. He controls the puck down low and keeps the play moving. However, he is not a creative playmaker. Gustafsson makes the simple pass to an open teammate. Off the rush, he also plays a very north-south style of game, looking to create opportunities by getting the puck to the front of the net. He is also strong on the forecheck, pressuring opposing defenders, and creating offence out of the turnovers that are created.

Defensive Game

Gustafsson already plays a strong defensive game. He provides support and backpressure against the rush and supports the defence down low against the cycle game. Gustafsson is a smart player. He reads the play well and cuts down passing and shooting lanes. He uses his strong play on the boards in all three zones. Gustafsson is a strong penalty killer. He creates turnovers and can transition quickly to offence. He is also excellent on faceoffs.

Outlook

Gustafsson will head back for another season with HV71. A year older and more mature, the Jets will hope to see him take the next step and become a better offensive player in this tough league playing against men. Gustafsson should also be part of Sweden’s team at the World Juniors.

 

#8 Prospect: Mikhail Berdin

Goalie — shoots Left — Catches left
Born March 1st, 1998 — Ufa, Russia
Height 6’3″ — Weight 180 lbs [191 cm / 82 kg]
Drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in the 6th round, #157 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft

Berdin split time between the AHL and ECHL and excelled in both leagues. In 23 games with the Manitoba Moose, he put a 2.34 goals-against-average and .927 save percentage. He also added a 2.66 goals-against-average and a .912 save percentage in 28 games. In the playoffs, he had a 3.67 goals-against average and .904 save percentage in three games with Jacksonville.

Skating and Talent Analysis

Berdin is an athletic goalie, with very quick reflexes. His legs are particularly quick and help him to take away the bottom of the net. His glove and blocker are also good. Berdin is good at tracking pucks and moves very well laterally. He could stand to work on his rebound control, which is often an issue for goalie prospects. Berdin comes out of his crease to challenge shooters and take away the net. He’s increased his weight from 160 pounds when drafted to over 180 pounds today. This is something that he must continue to work on in order to battle through traffic at the pro level and have the stamina for a longer schedule.

Berdin is also good at handling the puck. He comes out of his net to stop pucks and makes a quick outlet pass to his defencemen, acting as a third member of the defence on dump-ins. If he catches the other team on a line change, he is able to quickly throw a long pass up the ice and create an odd-man rush.

Mental Makeup

Berdin is able to deal with traffic and chaos around his crease without letting it get to him. He has also shown the ability to maintain his focus through stretches when his team dominates the game and he doesn’t see shots against. The ability to adjust in these two different situations shows Berdin’s adaptability and resolve. He recovers quickly after giving up a goal and is ready to face the next shot and continue to make saves.

Outlook

At just 21 years old, Berdin is still young and very much a project. He will play for the Moose this season and likely has a minimum of two or three years of AHL ahead of him before he is ready for a full-time NHL opportunity.

 

#9 Prospect: Michael Spacek

Right Wing/Centre — shoots Right
Born April 9th, 1997 — Marianske Lazne, Czech Republic
Height 5’11” — Weight 187 lbs [180 cm / 85 kg]
Drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in the 4th round, #108 overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft

Spacek had a solid second year in Manitoba, scoring 10 goals and 41 points in 74 games with the Manitoba Moose.

Skating

Spacek is a decent skater with good acceleration and speed. He also has strong agility and good edgework. Spacek can change directions quickly and weave through traffic. He is very elusive, and while he is undersized, he has a real knack for deftly dodging opponents looking to make a big hit. Spacek will need to get stronger, to improve his strength on the puck. A low centre of gravity helps him, but he will still need a bit more muscle to take the next step in his game.

Offensive Game

Spacek controls the puck well, slowing things down and looking for openings. He is a very good stick handler and protects the puck extremely well. Spacek works well controlling the play down low and playing the cycle game. He has very good hockey sense and makes smart plays. Spacek uses his vision and slick passing skills to set up teammates if they get open for a good scoring opportunity. He also has the patience to make the simple play and keep possession if the pass is not there.

Spacek also reads the defence well and can sneak into openings when he doesn’t have the puck. He has worked to develop his shot and has a good release now. He is also willing to get to the front of the net without the puck. In fact, this is where he does most of his damage. Spacek causes havoc in front of the goalie, pouncing on rebounds and fighting for loose pucks.

Defensive Game

Spacek is responsible defensively. He reads the play well and is rarely caught out of position. He supports the defence on the backcheck but lacks the size and strength to handle bigger forwards. Red Deer used him on the penalty kill where his ability to create turnovers was a real plus. He hasn’t played that role a lot for Manitoba yet, but it would not be a surprise to see him get more minutes with more experience this year.

Outlook

There is a lot of depth in front of him, and Spacek will need to fight for a chance to play in the NHL. He should start the season in Manitoba. The Jets hope to see his offensive numbers take another step forward and earn more responsibility. He is likely at least a year away from a serious challenge to the roster.

 

#9 Prospect: Jonathan Kovacevic

Defence — shoots Right
Born July 12th, 1997 — Grimsby, Ontario
Height 6’4″ — Weight 215 lbs [193 cm/98 kg]
Drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in the 3rd round, #74 overall at the 2017 NHL Draft

Kovacevic finished up his junior season at Merrimack with similar numbers to his first two seasons. He scored four goals and 18 points in 31 games. Following the season, Kovacevic signed with the Jets. He scored a goal and an assist in his first AHL game.

Skating

Kovacevic is a decent skater, especially for a big man. He gets around the ice well enough to keep up with the play, with decent speed in both directions. His agility and edgework help him to maintain good gap control and keep himself between his man and the net. He is strong on his skates, difficult to knock off the puck and able to lean on opponents along the boards and in front of the net.

Offensive Game

Kovacevic is more of a triggerman than a quarterback on the point. He has a very heavy slap shot and a good wrist shot with a decent release. He sneaks in from the point and likes to let that shot go from the top of the faceoff circles. However, he must do a better job of getting his shots through to the net. Kovacevic needs to do a better job of getting himself open and avoid shot blockers. Using his agility to move sideways and open up passing lanes would also help.

Kovacevic is able to skate the puck out of tight areas in his own zone and start the transition game. He also makes a smart first pass. However, he does not often carry the puck through the neutral zone, choosing instead to move the puck up the ice to forwards. In the offensive zone, he moves the puck quickly and finds the open man, but is not really creative. He prefers the safe pass to a creative one that might create a scoring chance.

Defensive Game

Kovacevic uses his size effectively. If a forward is not careful in carrying the puck on his side of the ice, he is willing to throw a big hit. He keeps his man to the outside, forcing him to bad areas and away from scoring opportunities. Kovacevic protects the middle of the ice and clears the front of the net when he is away from the puck. He is also willing to play physical in fighting for loose pucks and containing the cycle game. He needs to continue to be disciplined.

Outlook

Kovacevic is set for his first full season of pro hockey. He will likely head to Manitoba, looking to get experience and translate his game against bigger and faster opponents. If things go well he could challenge for a spot on the Jets blueline in the next year or two.

 

Sleeper Prospect: Leon Gawanke

Defence — shoots Right
Born May 31st, 1999 — Berlin, Germany
Height 6’1″ — Weight 196 lbs [185 cm / 89 kg]
Drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in the 5th round, #136 overall at the 2017 NHL Draft

The German defender had a strong season with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. He scored 17 goals and 57 points in 62 games. It was the most goals by a defenceman in the league. He also added two goals and seven points in 11 playoff games. Gawanke also played for Germany at the D1A World Juniors. With three points in five games, he helped the German team to a gold medal and promotion to the main tournament.

Skating

Gawanke is a solid skater. He has good acceleration and speed in both directions, helping to build on his two-way game. Solid edgework and pivots also help him to get around the ice and transition quickly from offence to defence and vice-versa. His agility allows him to avoid forecheckers and to walk the line in the offensive zone. He must get stronger though, especially as he begins to face bigger and stronger opponents at the next level.

Offensive Game

Gawanke is excellent at running the play from the point. He has poise and very good stickhandling skill. With his ability to walk the line and his ability to change angles on his release, he is able to open up both shooting and passing lanes. Gawanke has very good vision and puts the puck through those seams in order to set up teammates. He is especially accurate with his “slap pass” which freezes opponents into thinking he is going to fire the puck on net, and instead, he leaves it for a teammate. Gawanke also has the ability to carry the puck through the neutral zone, making strong plays on the rush.

He has an excellent slap shot, with very good power and accuracy. Gawanke’s wrist shot might be even more dangerous though. When he slips down to the top of the circles, he fires it on the net with a lightning-quick release. He can also let his shot go as the trailer on the rush. Gawanke understands the importance of keeping his slap shot low and allowing his teammates to create screens, tip-ins, and pounce on rebounds.

Defensive Game

Gawanke’s defensive game is a bit of a work in progress though. He needs to be more physical and work on containing his man on the cycle. A quick stick helps him to poke-check the puck away from opponents and create turnovers. Once a turnover is created, he gets it up the ice quickly, creating scoring opportunities in transition. Gawanke could use some work on his positioning however.

Outlook

Gawanke leaves junior hockey behind and heads to the Manitoba Moose this season. The Jets hope that he can continue to bring his offensive game at the AHL level. He will need to continue to improve his defensive game before he is ready to challenge for a spot at the NHL level, but if things go well he could be a year or two away.

 

System Outlook

A strong team in recent years, the Jets haven’t had the high draft picks necessary to have elite prospects in the system (and their previous elite prospects have all graduated). One could make an argument that Vesalainen is a draft steal and close to that level. However, beyond him, the Jets don’t have names that stand out. When one looks closer though, what is seen is an exceptionally deep system. Kevin Chevaldayoff and the Jets scouts have done a great job in continuing to amass talent.

The Jets are deepest on the blue line. In addition to the players listed above, they also have Giovanni Vallati, Declan Chisholm, Simon Lundmark, Luke Green, and Nelson Nogier as players to watch in the system. Upfront Henri Nikkanen, Jansen Harkins, Nathan Smith, Santeri Virtanen, Skyler Mckenzie, Harrison Blaisdell, Joona Luoto, and Austin Wong are worth keeping an eye on. In net Eric Comrie still qualifies as a prospect but his time in the organization is running short. The Jets also have Jared Moe, Arvid Holm, and Logan Neaton as goaltending prospects.

 

Winnipeg Jets Prospects Main Photo

Embed from Getty Images

WINNIPEG, MB – JUNE 29: Jets Kristian Vesalainen (42) participates in drills during the Jets Development Camp on June 29 at the Bell MTS Iceplex in Winnipeg MB. (Photo by Terrence Lee/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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