by Scott Swail

Since 2011, the Winnipeg Jets have selected 78 players in the annual entry draft. Of these, 31 have played at least one NHL game and 47 have not. Of those from the 2018 class or earlier, 29 of 58 have played an NHL game for an average of exactly 50 percent. Thus, half of our draft picks never play in the NHL. Probably not uncommon.

If we filter by round selected, the picture is slightly different. Winnipeg has selected 14 players in the first round out of 12 draft years, five of whom were in the top 10. Three of the 14 are from the last three drafts and have not yet had a chance to earn an NHL spot, although Chaz Lucius will likely get his first chance this year. Of those 14, Trouba, Roslovic, Laine, and Vesalainen are gone. Trouba and Laine are blue chippers, of course. Roslovic is doing about average in Columbus, and Vesalainen is basically AWOL.

There is a reasonable chance that Heinola will become trade bait. He is a better-but-kind-of-like Sami Niku. Talented but small. Morrissey is small, too, but he is much broader and tougher than Heinola. This year is make or break for the Jets/Heinola. Discounting the three who have not played, 7 of 11 first rounders are still with the team. The average number of games played by those who have played an NHL game from the first round is 313.

The Jets have made 10 second round draft picks. Again, discounting draft years after 2018, 5 of 6 have played at least one NHL game. Only three are still with Winnipeg: Gustafsson, Samberg, and Harkins. Petan and Comrie are no longer with the team. The average number of games played by those who have played an NHL game from the second round is 72.

Winnipeg has made 13 third round draft picks. Only five of these players have played an NHL game (or 5 of 10 before 2019). Adam Lowry has played in 539 games. Beyond him, the other four players never got beyond 10 games (Nathan Smith). Names like Kosmachuk, Lipon, and Kovacevic may ring a bell. The average number of games for this group is 114. Remove Lowry and it is 8.

The Jets have made 10 fourth round picks. Of these, only three have played an NHL game, none of whom are with Winnipeg (Nogier, Copp, and De Leo). From the fifth round, the standout is Connor Hellebuyck who has played in 381 NHL games and is a Vezina winner. The other three names on this list that have played in the NHL include Tucker Poolman, CJ Suess, and Declan Chisholm. Only 2 of Winnipeg’s 9 sixth rounders have played an NHL game, and one of those two played one game (Kasdorf). The other is Mason Appleton, who has played the chunk of his 206 NHL games with Winnipeg and is a solid third liner. Finally, Winnipeg made 11 seventh round draft picks. Only one—Sami Niku—played in the NHL and is now back in Finland.

So what does this mean? First round is king. Second round is good. Everything else is a crap shoot.

From the first and second round, Winnipeg drafted 16 players (think about that for a minute: in 12 drafts we only have 16 choices, meaning that Chevy traded all the others). Of those below 2019 draft year (14), all have played in the NHL; 9 have played over 100 games; and 8 are still with the organization, meaning that 6 are with other teams or out of the NHL (Vesalainen).

Winnipeg drafted steller lower round players, including Hellebuyck, Copp, and Lowry. Appleton is the only other major player on that list of third rounders and lower. Thus, from the third to seventh round, only five players have significant NHL experience (above 100 games) and two are with other teams (Copp with Detroit and Poolman with Vancouver).  

For Winnipeg, two of the top four players they have ever drafted are no longer with the team: Laine and Trouba. Scheifele and Connor are still here. But the other notables make up the core of the 2022-23 team (Josh Morrissey and Nik Ehlers). Others could be major presences (Harkins, Stanley, Samberg, Gustafsson, Heinola, and Perfetti).

Over the 12 years of Jets 2.0, as stated, Winnipeg has had 14 draft picks. Winnipeg traded away 3 first round picks and received 7 via trades. Included in these trades was the pick that resulted in Montreal receiving Nick Suzuki, who arguably could have been a Winnipeg Jet even before the discussions of a potential Pierre-Luc Dubois trade to Montreal.

Bottom line is that the first round matters. Winnipeg has had a middling experience, made a little better by a lottery win in 2016 (Laine).