Welcome to Last Word’s Draft Boom and Bust series. As the 2020 NHL Entry Draft approaches, we decided to examine each team’s best and worst pick since the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. The biggest boom is a player that had the best value relative to where they were selected. Meaning, no one in the first round will be considered a team’s best value pick. However, the biggest bust picks will almost always be in the first round. We will examine each player, why they were picked where they were, and what their NHL career was like. Today, we look at the Winnipeg Jets draft, and their biggest boom and bust.
For the purpose of this article, we will also be including the selections made by the Atlanta Thrashers.
Winnipeg Jets Draft Boom and Bust
The Winnipeg Jets drafted Connor Hellebuyck in the fifth round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and boy has it paid off. Hellebuyck was the 13th goalie drafted that year and is arguably the best. He is top-three at the very least next to first-round pick Andrei Vasilevskiy and third-round pick, Frederik Andersen. At the time, the Jets were riding goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, however, knew they needed to groom a goaltender quickly in order to replace him.
Outside of one season, Pavelec just was not good enough for the Jets. When they picked Hellebuyck, they knew he would be a project. Hence, why they drafted Eric Comrie in the second round just a year later. However, Hellebuyck leaped over Comrie in the depth chart becoming the starter for the St. John’s IceCaps in the AHL in 2014-15 then splitting the season between the NHL and AHL the following season. Hellebuyck was outstanding in both leagues, landing him the starters role full time for the 2016-17 season.
Although his NHL career technically got underway in the 2015-16 season when he appeared in 26 games for the Jets, his career really got going in 2016-17. This is when Hellebuyck lunged in the starting job for keeps. That season, he posted a solid record of 26-19-4 with a 2.89 goals-against-average and a .908 save percentage. However, his Jets missed the playoffs once again. Since their return to the NHL, the Jets had only made the playoffs once. They were handed a four-game sweep at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks.
However, the following season Hellebuyck really stepped up his play. He recorded a record of 44-11-9 with a goals-against-average of 2.36 and save percentage of .924. He then helped the Jets secure their first playoff win since returning to the NHL. Hellebuyck was the team’s MVP that season. The Jets made it all the way to the Western Conference Final before being ousted by the Vegas Golden Knights.
After a small regression in his play in the 2018-19 season, Hellebuyck bounced back in 2019-20 putting up a Vezina like season, carrying his Jets to what is now being referred to as the play-in rounds. After having their defence group dismantled in the off-season, losing four of their top six defenders, Hellebuyck knew he would have to turn it up a notch.
He did just that, stealing games for the Jets that they had no business being in. His 2.57 goals-against-average ranks him sixth amongst goalies with at least 35 games played, and his .922 save percentage sits him in second. At the very least, he will be a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, which will be his second time in his short career. This is why Hellebuyck is the Winnipeg Jets biggest boom draft pick since 2000.
Other Notable Booms
Toby Enstrom is a player who certainly deserves an honourable mention. Drafted in the eighth round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Enstrom went on to be a top-pairing defenceman for the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise for much of his career. Enstrom played in a total of 719 games over his career registering 54 goals and 254 assists for 308 points. The shifty puck-moving defenceman fell out of favour for the Jets in his final years with the club. He moved back to Sweden to play for MODO for the 2018-19 season and continues to play there to this day.
We have to mention Ben Chiarot as another honourable mention for the biggest boom for the Jets. A former fourth-round pick in 2009, Chiarot took the long road to the NHL, spending four years in the OHL before moving up to the ECHL and AHL for a number of years. It wasn’t until the 2015-16 season when Chiarot finally joined the Jets fulltime. The burly defenceman has become a strong stay-at-home defenceman who was known for his aggressive style of play and specializing at killing penalties. Chiarot put up some quality years with the Jets before signing with the Montreal Canadiens last off-season and served as a top-pairing minute eater alongside Shea Weber. While Chiarot may be miscast in his role with the Canadiens at the moment, he didn’t crack under the pressure and put together his best season to date. Earning him an honourable mention for the biggest boom.
The biggest bust between the Winnipeg Jets/Atlanta Thrashers franchise is most certainly Alex Bourret. Drafted in the first round, 16th overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Bourret was a short but stocky skilled forward who was thought of as more of a power forward. He played a hard-nosed game but was still a very creative offensive player. His production exploded after his draft year scoring 44 goals and 70 assists for 114 points in 67 games.
The next year, Bourret made his professional debut for the Chicago Wolves of the AHL. After scoring 11 goals and 21 assists in 45 games with the Wolves, the Thrashers elected to move their promising prospect to the New York Rangers in exchange for Pascal Dupuis and a third-round pick.
Despite injuries, Bourret would go on to have some quality seasons in the AHL. However, that’s as far as his career would go. He never managed to play a single game in the NHL. Bourret would spend the rest of his playing career bouncing between the ECHL and the LNHA (Ligue Nord-Americaine de Hockey). Bourret spent the majority of his career playing in the LNHA where he played from 2012 until 2018 when he eventually retired from hockey.
Other Notable Busts
Another notable bust for the Jets/Thrasher franchise is Boris Valabik. Drafted higher than Bourret, Valabik was selected 10th overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. However, unlike Bourret, Valabik managed to get to the NHL. However, it was short-lived. Valabik only managed to appear in 80 games over his career registering seven assists and 210 penalty minutes. The 2009-10 season would be the last time Valabik would see the ice in the NHL. He spent the next few years playing in the AHL until 2012-13 when he decided to finish his career overseas. Valabik retired after the 2016-17 season.
Much like Bourret, Leveille never made it to the show. After being drafted in the first round, 29th overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Leveille committed to Michigan State University to play in the CCHA. He spent the rest of his career playing in the ECHL outside of two short stints in the AHL and in France where he played a total of 50 games in those leagues. Leveille finished his playing career after the 2016-17 season.